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STYLE FILES / Will Premium Friday take root in Japan?

Employees serve as waiters at the Matsuya Ginza department store on a Premium Friday

By Akira Miura / Special to The Japan NewsThe nationwide “Premium Friday” campaign kicked off on Feb. 24, with people encouraged to finish work at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of the month to enjoy some leisure time. The campaign is being led by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren).

The campaign was started at the right time as we were recently shocked at the death of a young employee at a large advertising agency who committed suicide due to overwork. The campaign was begun under the central government slogan that “The Japanese work too much and work style reforms should be promoted,” but the real intention seems to be boosting personal consumption.

The Hakuhodo Institute of Activation Design recently asked 800 people aged 20 to 59 about how they would spend their Premium Friday. The respondents were asked to choose a single answer; 31.5 percent of them chose travel and 30.3 percent said they wanted to relax at home. These two activities were followed by dining (8.8 percent) and shopping (7.4 percent). The results indicate that businesses like travel agencies, restaurants and shops may benefit the most from the campaign.

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  • Spa Resort Hawaiians, with its large swimming pool in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, was the destination of an overnight trip for Premium Friday.

Premium Friday is a golden opportunity for department stores to improve their slumping sales, as young people less frequently shop there and middle-aged people and seniors are tightening their purse strings due to concerns about their future.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that department stores made strong efforts to take advantage of the first Premium Friday.

Matsuya Ginza in Ginza, Tokyo — the main outlet of the Matsuya Co. department store operator — primarily organized interactive activities. They were offered at reasonable prices but designed to give consumers a bit of luxury, a Matsuya Ginza spokesman said.

The activities included a 30-minute session at the golf driving range on the store’s rooftop with an unlimited number of swings for ¥540, a tasting of four expensive wines for ¥3,240, and a jam and bread tasting for ¥500, which was a joint event with Nihonbashi Sembikiya fruit shop.

I was amused by a free event titled “Drink Service by Ikemen (good-looking) Garcon,” featuring handsome waiters serving sparkling wine to customers on the women’s fashion area on the fourth floor. The waiters were employees at the department store.

Takashimaya Co. department store also offered special programs, but on a larger scale at its outlets nationwide.

Its Nihonbashi outlet in Tokyo sold limited fukubukuro lucky bags, and there were freshly cooked delicacies on sale at an event titled “Sanji kara Ichi” (Market from 3 p.m.) in its basement food section.

Its Yokohama outlet hosted a two-day trip titled “Suits de Hawaiians” (Go to a Hawaiian resort in a suit), jointly with a travel agency and nearby shopping facilities. The tour had salaried workers in business suits depart Yokohama by bus at 4 p.m. for Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, to work off fatigue from their work and daily life.

Takashimaya’s Osaka outlet sold four types of deep-fried foods, such as skewered Omi beef. Titled “Premium na Fry,” the event was meant to be a pun relating “fry” to “Friday,” symbolizing Osaka people’s fondness for humor.

Takashimaya also targeted men by recommending fathers buy certain desserts for their family’s dinner on the day. It chose sweets likely to please families and sold them at several outlets.

I was also intrigued by the overnight physicals and cancer checks that were mainly offered by hospitals. Middle-aged and elderly people probably wouldn’t hesitate to pay for such plans to keep healthy, even though they’re reluctant to spend money. I expect this type of plan will be joined by programs to increase consumers’ abilities and improve their skills.

If the idea of Premium Friday is successful, it will help the central government and businesses, which feel like they are grasping at straws to boost consumption. But a survey shows that only 2.8 percent of people said their workplaces participated this time — the number should be at least 20 percent to achieve their aim. Steady, continued efforts are needed to further promote the initiative.

Miura is the editor at large of WWD Japan.Speech

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