Grand Opening - Apple Computer's Ginza Store - 2003
Monday, Dec. 1st - Tokyo & California
After sleeping for 15 hours, I packed, had some lunch and then headed over to the Ginza Apple store in the continuing rain for one last look, and to experience the store as it might regularly be occupied. It was very busy, but not crowded, and it was easy to catch the elevator to tour each floor. There were lots of employees on-duty, and lots of one-on-one conversations between them and customers. Taking the elevator down from the 4th floor, I counted the visitors by floor: 36, 15, 20 and 50, but naturally those numbers were constantly changing. By the way, I noticed today that the floors in the elevators have the same stone flooring as the ground floor.
I returned home to California on Monday morning (gaining 17 hours in the process), and noticed several on-line mentions of the Ginza Apple store grand opening, but not many details---continue reading and click the links to the left to find the real story!
Some on-line news sites are carrying a correspondent's statement that there was, "a line of 5,000 people waiting outside the store." I personally counted the number of people in line at noon, and there were 1,054 people in line. I also counted the number of person depicted in the video (left), which appears to be near the line's longest length--there are 1,982 persons in line. I've seen photos of the line being about one block longer around 10:30 a.m., or perhaps 250 people. All this leads me to believe that perhaps 5,000 total persons entered the store, rather than being "in line," as the news stories state.
If you look closely at the grand opening photos in the Drift Diary (check thumbnail rows 7-9), you'll notice Sr. vice-president for retail Ron Johnson walking the entire length of the line at about 10:30 a.m., which extends almost eight long blocks.
I read the account of one blogger who said he arrived at 1 p.m., and after three hours was still two blocks away from the front door! He waited a total of five hours to get inside the Ginza store. Check his photo of the long line.
Sunday, Nov. 30th - Tokyo
Where does one day begin and the other end? Especially when it's raining! There were 12 persons in line overnight in front of Apple's Ginza store, but it quickly grew as the 6:30 a.m. sunrise arrived (sun not visible). Apple's security employees, some of whom have been on-site since Nov. 23rd, decided to move the growing group directly across the street under the protective construction barricade of the giant Matsuya department store. That prevented everyone from being rained upon, but it was still a windy and damp experience.
Overall, the rain and circumstance prevented much on-line communications during the overnighter. First, there was no way to start up or use a laptop in the wind and rain. Even under the nearby construction barrier water was flying sideways, and would have been an instant "killer" for any unprotected electronic device. Second, Japan has apparently not embraced the wireless revolution when it comes to Wi-Fi, or at least at the ordinary consumer level. Overnighter #3 brought his laptop, but had no wireless card. Others in the line were completely unaware of the store's open Airport network, and so were unprepared to use it. By the way, the trademark "Airport" isn't used in Japan, but rather "Airmac."
By 8 a.m. there were 192 persons in line, extending about 30-35 feet past the construction overhang. At the front, a security guard held a sign on a stick with Japanese on one side, and English on the other saying, "Front Row." The crowd was mostly quiet, and there was one group of people with an electrically-powered heater, although it wasn't obvious what was powering it. Unlike U.S. grand opening lines, there were only one or two Powerbooks being used, including Devin's 15-incher, which he used to iChatAV with several people in Tokyo, Australia and the United States. Those at the head of the line were very impressed with the Powerbooks' capability to display and send audio and video. By the way, the Apple store's Internet connection was hot--it consistently showed speeds of 2.5 Mbps on uploads (standard DSL limits uploads to about 384k). At the end of the line was another security guard with a sign on a stick that said, "Tail End" in English, and something corresponding in Japanese on the other side.
At about 8:30 a.m. Apple's security staff moved the entire waiting line to the store side of the street--it was an elaborate endeavor. In consultation with the local police, they used an entire team of local security personnel to count out 20 persons, and then move them across the street in compliance with the walk-wait pedestrian signal. The waiting crowd was then formed into a 3-abreast, leading eastward on the sidewalk from the store.
By 9 a.m. the crowd had grown to 705 in line, extending past two intersections along the Ginza. Store openings traditionally generate the delivery of flowers and plants, and so in the final hour delivery trucks arrived and unloaded elaborate stands of fruit, flowers and other greenery. Store employees also brought out the flower displays that had been already delivered to the store, and which had been stored in the side entrance of the building. A Japanese Web site claims that one of the flower displays was sent by Microsoft!
Sunday is a big shopping day for the Ginza, so there was a huge crowd passing by the store starting at about 9 a.m., straining to get a look inside, and crunched up against the waiting line--it all generated increased excitement as the countdown continued. Members of the press arrived during the last 30 minutes, creating an even more narrow passage-way near the entrance of the store. Stanchions were arranged to manage the flow of the waiting line and still allow pedestrians to pass by.
All morning the Apple store employees had been busily working to make sure everything was in place, and ready to accept the huge crowd. During the last 30 minutes they were inside, in a circle, chanting loudly.
Miraculously, the rain tapered off in the final 20 minutes before the store opening, and by 8:50 a.m. had stopped completely, allowing the waiting line to stow their umbrellas and have an unobstructed view of the building and those around them. An Apple staffer was walking around the store with an open Powerbook G4 with an iSight camera attached, and came outside several times to give someone on the other end of an iChat AV connection a view of the crowd. Reportedly, the person on the other end was the store's architect, Peter Bohlin, back at the firm's office in Berkeley (Calif.).
At precisely 10 a.m. store manager Steve Cano quickly came out of the store, shook hands with the first two persons in line and stepped aside. Devin started into the store, not knowing what type of welcome he'd receive. But it was immediately obvious--it was the most energetic and exciting welcome in the history of Apple's retail stores! The chanting, yelling and applause from the Apple employees was deafening!
Devin ran the length of the store, giving the employees "high fives," and we then both stood and applauded as those in line behind us followed--with the roar continuing. Security personnel let in enough people to fill the ground floor, and then as those people moved to the upper floors, they let in succeeding groups of people, each accompanied by another round of very loud, rhythmic chanting. Looking upward through the opening to the second floor, I could see everyone on the second floor railing chanting and applauding. Two men with mops quickly swept up the water tracked onto the stone tile floor by the visitors--and they received a round of loud applause and yelling from the Apple staff for their energy!
Ron Johnson stood to the right of the door with other Apple management, and they all beamed as the crowd continue to stream in, and the applause and chanting continued for at least 5-6 minutes.
The stairs were open, and many visitors quickly went up to explore the upper floors. The store filled to its capacity of about 800 very quickly. Here's the floor-by-floor rundown:
It was completely impossible to really gauge the store's spaciousness, since there were, perhaps, 8-10 times as many people as would normally occupy the store on an "ordinary" day.
I left the store about 11:30 a.m. and received my white box (video) containing a black T-shirt, with the simple inscription "Ginza." On the back top, in small lettering, is "Designed in California by Apple." Outside the store, the sidewalk was still jammed, and security personnel were busily managing the intersection of persons waiting in line for the store, and the usual Sunday crowd of curious passersby. I counted 1,054 people in line at noon, which extended four long blocks east to the Shuto Expressway overpass. At each intersection, security personnel in white raincoats kept the crosswalks clear, and managed the crowd as the walk-wait signals changed. I understand that 850 persons passed through the store in the first 80 minutes.
At 2 p.m. the line extended one block less than before, indicating that at least 700 persons were still in line. Again, there were very few people waiting in line with laptops, although there were lots of iPods to be seen.
For those purchasing products on day #1, items were placed into the standard Apple, white plastic, backpack-type shopping bag.
For those interested in product pricing, here's a run-down, based on 109 yen to the dollar (Dec. 1, 2003), although the exchange rate was as high as 120 yen to the dollar as recent as August 2003, which would reduce the equivalent U.S. dollar price by about 9%.
Note that 800 yen is apparently the equivalent to pricing of 95 or 99 cents ($1.99, $5.95, etc.) in the United States.
The store prices are definitely more than the equivalent prices charged in U.S. retail stores or Apple's on-line store. Using the 120 yen exchange rate reduces the prices closer to what's charged in the U.S., but it's still a few dollars more expensive. View a fuller comparison here.
The rest of the day was a blur: my legs were wobbly and I was very tired. Before I left Tokyo, I did manage to visit the giant Bic store near Ginza and have posted some photos that show how most local retailers markets and display Apple's products--the Apple store has a much more refined, elegant and consistent presentation.
My thanks to the Apple grand opening team for their hospitality during our visit, and for a truly unforgettable event! And my thanks to those I met in Japan and tipsters back in the United States for their information and help in making this trip a success.
Now, on to One Stockton Street in San Francisco!
Saturday, Nov. 29th - Tokyo
It started raining in the early morning hours, and then either drizzled or rained long into the early hours of Sunday. Devin was the first person in line at the Ginza store at 6 a.m., followed by two men at 9 a.m., and then several more young men and women, until there was a group of 12 for the overnighter.
In the morning, Apple employees met on the ground floor and huddled around a portable easel to take lessons in an unknown subject. Workers polished the stainless steel front and cleaned out the grating just inside the front door. Later in the day, a worker removed the lettering from the outside glass on either side of the front door (the Apple logo and the word "Ginza" on the left, "Open 10 a.m. -- 9 p.m. daily" on the right), and replaced it with identical lettering on the inside. Around noon, an Apple employee exchanged the Japanese-language sign proclaiming the grand opening for a sign in English, presumably saying the same thing.
I understand there was a trio of trainers working with the Ginza store employees, and that one of them from Australia spoke Japanese.
You should know that everything about the store is in English--the window displays, the interior wall displays, and anything else readily visible. It isn't clear from the outside if the product descriptions are also in English (they are). I also learned that pricing for all Apple products in the store is the same as the United States, taking into account the exchange rate of the Japanese yen.
In mid-afternoon umbrella wrapper machines were placed on either side of the main entrance, in anticipation of people bringing wet umbrellas into the store--the machines automatically wrap a plastic bag around the umbrella in one "down-and-pull" motion, and are used by many stores in Japan.
Also in the afternoon, an employee meeting on the ground floor included flyers and brochures apparently promoting "ADSL 2.4M" service. The materials were in Japanese, so it was possible to tell what carrier was involved. The employees were apparently also performing "check out" training at the point-of-sale terminals, and even how to stack and roll the merchandise outside to a customer's vehicle.
At about 5:15 p.m. Apple held a inspection and tour for about 125 family members of the employees. The attendees had been given small tickets, which they used to enter the side of the building, where there was a large collection of flowers and plants. The family members streamed into the ground floor retail space, moved upstairs via elevator, and were very busy taking photos of their employee-relative.
A group of workers was changing out the T-shirt boxes on the ground floor: one person removed small red boxes from a larger box, took out the black T-shirt, and two other persons assembled and folded a black-and-red box, with the white on the outside. The T-shirt was placed inside and a red sticker placed on the end. They essentially changed the color of the boxes on many T-shirts, presumably the ones given as gifts to the friends and relatives of the employees.
Early on Saturday the word got around--there's someone already in line for the grand opening! We could see one employee talking to another inside the store... they would then point outside to us, and the other employee would nod their head. Several times an Apple store employee would come to the front window and wave at those first in line. Employees came and went during the day, presumably for meal breaks and, in the case of U.S.-based employees, to take a break at their hotel room. On one of these trips, an Apple employee brought my son a hot chocolate from the nearby Starbucks! Other times the Apple staff would stop and talk to us out in front of the store, asking, "Are you the guys from Berkeley?" They were always friendly and hospitable, and were totally amazed that someone would spend so much time in line for the grand opening.
From an adjacent building I was able to see the fourth and fifth floors: the Internet cafe has double-rows of iMac computers available for surfing, and the typical wall-shelf software space. On the fifth floor, I could see a smaller training area with a podium, Cinema display for the instructor, and three large Plasma displays for the students.
The left front window display featured an interesting laptop pitch: there are five laptops, but the video on each one is actually a sub-screen. A red holiday ribbon rolls across all five screens, and there are synchronized words promoting Apple's laptop line-up. How did they get five screens--on laptops--to act as one?
The rain continued into the evening, stopping once briefly. The pedestrian traffic seemed to increase, as people came to shop and go to restaurants. As the night wore on, security guards in white rain coats stood watch at the front door, at the side window, the rear side door, and even inside the store, at the left rear. There were 12 persons who made it through the entire overnight event. At 3 a.m. taxi drivers saw this gaggle of persons on the sidewalk, and believed it was late-night party-goers pausing before they hailed a cab. The taxi drivers would pull over, and then realize--it's an group of Macintosh fanatics...they weren't going anywhere!
Friday, Nov. 28th - Tokyo
I've had my first look at the Ginza store during daylight, and it's an impressive place. Scores of people are stopping to look into the windows as they pass by, lending more excitement to the grand opening.
Tokyo weather is cloudy and cold--but so far no rain. The Ginza has been decorated for the Christmas holiday since Nov. 23 (Japan Thanksgiving), with lighted everygreen trees, store window decorations, and even a Santa Claus on the sidewalk promoting a café. As for the store, I've learned that (disappointingly) it does not have a spiral glass stairway, as I had been tipped (that feature will instead appear in the Osaka store). Instead, it has two constantly-running (no button pressing needed) elevators that will take customers upward from the ground floor. Steve Jobs was present on Thanksgiving day for the press event, but has returned home, leaving Ron Johnson and on-site for the grand opening (a later blogger claimed he had flown on to New Zealand with his family). The manager for the Ginza store is former Palo Alto (Calif.) and SoHo (NYC) manager Steve Cano, who was inside the store today greeting special guests.
Tokyo police have told Apple they are discouraging a "camp out," but will not take any formal action if people show up. Arrangements have been made to form an orderly line in front on Saturday morning, and one person estimated it will be blocks long! The grand opening will be absent of any ceremony, and will be very much like the U.S. grand openings. The sidewalk in front of the store is definitely wider than a standard business district sidewalk in the U.S., but not so wide that a large crowd wouldn't create a pedestrian obstruction.
There was considerable activity inside the store related to press and special guest visits. There was a steady stream of Apple employees in and out of the side door of the building, all with special "Ginza" ID cards that feature a red or green Apple logo. In the afternoon, scores of special guests toured the new store, and waiters in formal attire carried around trays of snacks and drinks. The attendees were given special gift boxes when they left: plain white rectangular boxes with a red sticker that had the white Apple logo on it. Inside? I questioned one person leaving, who opened the box to find a special edition black T-shirt (could it possible be the same one given out on Sunday? At U.S. grand openings, Apple has handed out white T-shirts).
The building was formally and traditionally "blessed" two weeks ago in a private, invitation-only ceremony, I learned.
Some other things not obvious in the photos I've posted: the front doors are electrically-operated, and slide open--no push-pull is needed. To the left of the front door is small, one-inch high white lettering that simply says, "Ginza." To the right of the door are the hours, "10-9 Daily" in the same lettering. Right now, the front window display includes a line-up of Powerbook and iBook computers to the left, and a mobile (those hanging, rotating thingeys) of round cards to the right. The elevators and shafts are surrounded by glass, which allows you to look through the elevator to the back of the shafts, where there is a back-lit Apple logo.
Word is that the Apple training classes are booked up through March 2004. Note: there are only 12 persons per class, but it's still an impressive sign-up.
The store was designed and constructed without any special arrangement or design for the Japanese market. Apple (that is, Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson) apparently wanted to present the same image across the ocean, and to use the same store prototype that's proved successful in the United States.
Apple is running iPod commercials on Tokyo television stations (the standard U.S. versions), and the ads are also appearing on the giant TV screens that mounted on the sides of buildings at various intersections around the city, and which show news, weather and commercials.
Thursday, Nov. 27th - Tokyo
I arrived in Tokyo at about 3:40 p.m. without incident after an 11-hour flight from SFO aboard a United 747. I headed for my hotel, just two blocks from the Ginza store--yes, crossing the international date line added about 17 "virtual" hours to my trip, but I'll gain it on the way back.
During my trip, Apple held a press event, during which media representatives were given tours of the building, T-shirts, and Steve Jobs (right) talked about the company and its products. [photos]
The first thing I noticed when my taxi made the turn onto Ginza St. at about 8:30 p.m. was a giant, lighted, rotating Apple logo on the roof of the building--it's quite noticeable from way down the street. The window coverings are now gone, and the interior of the store is visible: it seems smaller than I expected, but then again, it has three additional floors of retail space above it. In every way the store resembles the United States Apple stores: stainless steel exterior, stone floors, natural wood tables, bright lighting, window displays of laptops, etc.
Most interesting, no spiral glass staircase is visible (or present!), as a tipster told me (it'll be at the Osaka store). Instead, there are two glass-walled elevators at the rear of the ground floor leading to the upper retail floors (2F-4F). You can see the second floor through an opening in the first floor ceiling, but you can't see any of display area from outside the store.
The ground floor consists of the "home" and "pro" sections, and has computer displays along both sides. There are two check-out counters on either side at the front of the building, with three iMacs each. The second and third floors have no exterior windows, so you can't see what they look like from the outside. However, the fourth floor has windows, and I could see the software display and some computers lined up next to the windows.
There were several workers finishing up cleaning at about 9 p.m., including wiping down computers, picking up small items (invisible to me!) from the floor, and wiping down the tables. Many persons were stopping to examine the inside of the store, and several took photos, including one person with a wireless phone camera. Check the photos for a complete description, and check Apple's press release on the grand opening.
Wednesday, Nov. 26th - USA
I'm scheduled to leave San Francisco for Tokyo at 11:15 a.m. today, and will arrive Thursday afternoon in Japan. I'll immediately head for the Ginza Apple store to take photos and post an update right here! Check here early Thanksgiving morning for my first report.
Then stay tuned to this Web site for my on-going exclusive reports direct from the Ginza on the grand opening of Apple's most spectacular retail store yet to open! As I post photos and videos, I'll be adding links in the left column.
Also, I'll be keeping this running diary of my trip, my coverage, celebrity spotting (Steve, Ron, Eikoh, etc.), along with on-the-spot coverage of the line that forms in anticipation of the grand opening.
I'll also be checking a special e-mail address during my trip, and will no doubt be on iChatAV starting at 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. If you have questions, comments, restaurant tips (!) or other information, or would like to see some live video from the line in front of the store, zip me an e-mail or tune in with iChatAV!
By the way, the weather report looks good for Saturday, but there's a chance of rain or showers on Sunday--yikes!