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An Apple on the Ginza

December 3rd, 2003

One of the first things one might do in visiting Tokyo is to visit the Ginza district. Made famous in the post-war years by U.S. military personnel doing their shopping and entertaining, the Ginza has today become a kind of upper-class shopping district. To me, this meant that it turned out to be kind of boring. Department stores and boutiques are not my kind of thing, really. There used to be a McDonald’s when I first visited in 1983, but it was more or less banished for not being upscale enough (kind of like the Stanford Shopping Center has been trying to do to their McD’s for a long time). For a while, there was a Mrs. Fields’ Cookie shop there, and that brought me down from time to time. Otherwise, I just regarded it as another overrated, overrun, high-profile street.

But a few days ago a new shop appeared that will again bring me down to the area: an Apple Store.

Now, when I was born my family lived in Cupertino, and I have worked with Apple products since the Apple ][, the Apple ///, and the original Mac. So this store opening in Tokyo was a bit of fresh air–like some other reminders from home, like Costco. And I have visited Apple stores since the one at the Apple campus in Cupertino, and more recently the University Avenue store in Palo Alto.

This one beats them, flat out. It is an impressive sight.

First of all, they have location. The Ginza is not just upscale, it is very high-traffic. And somehow, Apple got a corner lot across from Matsuya Ginza, and kitty-corner to the Ginza Mitsukoshi, two famous department stores, landmarks on the Ginza. Their new building is an impressive structure with the white Apple logo emblazoned on the sides, as well as a rotating Apple logo on top. And it attracts a good number of visitors–the store was crowded in the mid- to late-afternoon.

Coming into the entrance on the first floor, you see something akin to many of the Apple stores, displays with all of Apple’s major products right after the checkout machines (all iMacs, of course). And one of the first things you notice is the staff. Lots of them. I don’t know if some Apple stores in the U.S. are like this, but I do know that it is very Japanese, to have so many salespeople walking around that even in a crowded store, you can easily and quickly find someone who is free to help you; this is typical of Japanese department stores in particular, and Apple did not miss the cue. People in black with Apple-logo shirts everywhere.

The next thing you note is that there seem to be some strange but alluring metal-walled Apple-logo spaces toward the back. I had to come up and look closer to see that they were elevators. Extremely nice elevators, with heavy, rimless glass doors–you could tell it was an original design. I commented on them to a staff member, and he replied, “yes, very expensive elevators.” An interestingly candid comment there….

So I decided to take the elevator up to the fourth floor and then work my way down from there. (The fifth floor, the highest open to the public, is dedicated to Apple Studio lessons, the paid lessons for beginners, switchers, and artists.) The fourth floor is where they have the software and many of the third-party hardware products–for example, they have in stock many of the Belkin products, including the new iPod microphone and media reader. The software, as can be expected for Apple stores, is a good selection, but not great, and is priced at the high end. To be frank, I do my software shopping online, using the mail-order houses. Disappointingly, Apple did not provide educational pricing at the store, either–only at their online shop. A new policy, evidently, as I was able to buy Jaguar for Academic from Yodobashi Camera not too long ago.

In the middle of the fourth floor, there was a table for the kids, and very nicely set up, too. A low, round table equipped with CRT eMacs loaded with kids’ software, with nice, modern-looking black ball chairs set around. Not too many kids in the joint, but they had found this place. A very nice touch.

Also on this floor is a bank of sixteen iMacs, with iSight and high-speed Internet connections, ready and available for anyone who wants to sit down for a spell and cruise the ‘Net with them. Not many open spaces when I visited, but with enough patience you could find a seat and have some fun.

Also, this is the first floor where you notice windows (not Windows, thank goodness–though they do have Virtual PC). It kind of makes you wonder how the glare from the sunlight might affect viewing on the iMacs–I forgot to check for blinds (it was dark out). The second and third floors are windowless, the second housing the Genius Bar, and the third hosting the Apple theater. That’s what leaves room on the outside for the giant Apple logo on the metallic side of the building.

Going downstairs, one finds something that seems very out of place for a shop: a theater. You see this from the elevator going up. It really looks like a movie theater, except for the size and the fact that there is a podium with a tech person giving explanations to the shows. Here is where they give the Introductory Presentations and the Workshops. The Presentations seem pretty much like commercials, introducing the lineup of Apple products. But the Workshops seem to be a very nice service, especially for newbies. The Workshops are free, from three to five of them given each day, each day having a theme (e.g., movies, music, photos). If you want more advanced lessons, you have to pay for the Studio Series.

One flight down from that is the Genius bar, with more Apple and some third-party products lined up (mostly iPods and Digital video equipment, cameras and camcorders). In the middle, there is a railed terrace looking down on the first floor. And to the back, the bar. I stopped there for some time, getting help (in English) for a few issues on my Mac. Consider it a free support center–if you can haul your computer down there, they will look at it and try to help you figure out your problem with it. A lot of people were bringing their laptops in and having them looked at. Come to think of it, I forgot to ask if they could give me some footpads for my Powerbook–one of them has gone missing….

As it turned out, I didn’t get too many actual answers. They had never heard of my problem with browsing networks before (sometimes shared folders, which should appear as network-globes-in-a-glass-box icons, instead show up as plain folders with the same names, but empty), nor could they explain why some of my students’ USB Flash memory sticks were not showing up on my Mac’s desktop. But the Genius helping me did give me some ideas about how to test out why my father in the S.F. Bay Area and I can’t get a voice chat going, so it wasn’t a complete wash.

I’ve never been too excited by Apple stores in the past, as they tend to have sparse merchandise and relatively high prices for third-party products, but the Genius Bar and the available accessories in the Ginza store will certainly bring me back. It is an excellent store; I recommend anyone in the Tokyo area to pay it a visit when you have the chance.

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  1. December 4th, 2003 at 02:38 | #1

    Hello there!

    Nice review of Apple Ginza Store by Luis. I also went there on opening day and saw “Genius” Morihide Tenpaku (born in Mexico, raised in Canada and Japan) whom I spoke to in both Japanese and (perfect) English. I also had a networking problem, and broght my PowerBook TI. Morihide quickly solved my problem and tought me the proper settings of Sharing and Networking Panels for all 3 “Apples” in my AirPort (AirMac in Japan) system (AppleTalk must be turned (or off) on for the right function – either AirPort or Ethernet depending on the type of connection for each computer, and Personal Filesharing must be on when using a network). He also told me how to activate the dial-up connection for travelling and connecting on the road. He was extremely friendly and very helpful despite the fact that I saw him after a long and busy day very near closing time.

    My problem was mostly caused by the differences between 10.2 and 10.3 where Networking operational steps have changed to the point I was really lost (until I met the “Apple Genius” Morihide Tenpaku of the Ginza Japan Apple store).

  2. December 28th, 2003 at 20:39 | #2

    Hi from the second person in line for the grand opening of the Ginza store–behind my son Devin! He was in line starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, 28 hours before the doors opened. I think you did a great job of describing the store in words and photos. I should add that there was great enthusiasm for the store opening–I counted almost 2,000 persons in line at one point! Some visitors said they waited 5 hours to get in, too. Interestingly, there are lots of people in the United States who would like to have such a fantastic store in their city.

  3. Sophie
    June 27th, 2004 at 12:25 | #3

    Dear Sir,
    I have never been to Japan my whole life. But I used to meet your employee Morihide Tenpaku in my country. He always sings highly of the Apple Store in Ginza. That impressed me deeply. And this kind of passion and loyalty to the company touched my heart. I believe the attitude of the employees will make your company better and better.
    Best wishes!

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