Tokyo bookstore starts 24-hour operations

Nocturnal customers were seen popping into the store after staff had locked the doors at 7 p.m. on a recent night.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japan News


A customer pays for items on a self-checkout machine at an unmanned bookstore in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on April 19. The Yomiuri Shimbun

May 5, 2023

TOKYO – A bookstore in a residential corner of Tokyo’s Setgaya Ward has launched unmanned overnight operations for a trial period, as part of efforts to boost sales.

Nocturnal customers were seen popping into Yamashita Shoten’s Setagaya branch after staff had locked the doors at 7 p.m. on a recent night.

Customers have to scan a QR code with their smartphones to enter the 100-square-meter store, which is located on a quiet shopping street near Shoin-jinja-mae Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line.

“I’ve been shopping at this bookstore since I was small. But sometimes I can’t get here before it closes,” said customer Hidehiro Tomizawa, 30. “The 24-hour system is very convenient.”

Major book distributor Tohan Corp. decided to launch the trial at the Setagaya outlet in late March, amid sluggish sales of printed books and a fall in the number of bookstores.

Mujin Shoten, the system that makes it possible to operate the store without staff, is developed by the Tokyo-based tech firm Nebraska.

Customers have to use the Line messaging app to enter the store, which is locked during unmanned operating hours. After adding the store’s official Line account on a smartphone, customers can unlock the door by scanning a QR code at the entrance.

In the first month of the trial, more than 1,000 people added the store’s account on the app.

Customers pay for items on a self-checkout machine exclusively for cashless payments. Cameras and other security devices are used to deter shoplifters.

According to Tohan, a higher-than-expected number of customers have been visiting the shop early in the morning, presumably before going to work.

“Sales are rising. If overall results are good, we’d like to expand the system to other shops,” a Tohan official said.

The trial runs through July.

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