Virtual Road Trip: Starbucks Stores in Japan Honor Country’s Design Aesthetic

On a hot August morning in August 1996, Starbucks opened its doors for the first time in Ginza, Tokyo, one of the county's most famous shopping, dining and entertainment districts. At the time, Starbucks had fewer than 1,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, and many people wondered how Starbucks would be received outside North America.

“Yet from the minute the store opened until it closed, customers lined up 40-50 people deep for a taste of Starbucks coffee,” Starbucks chief executive officer Howard Schultz said in his book, Pour Your Heart Into It. “The Starbucks brand had the same power in Tokyo that it had in New York and Seattle. It had taken a life of its own.”

In the 18 years since that summer day in Tokyo, Starbucks has grown to more than 1,050 stores across 46 districts in Japan. The Starbucks design team brings the Starbucks Experience to life, fostering connections with the local community and culture in each store.

“Japanese design is influenced by our aesthetic feeling nurtured by natural beauty in all four seasons,” said Mayu Takashima, Starbucks Japan store design leader. “Our store designs not only reflect Starbucks brand and heritage, but also incorporate Japanese culture and aesthetics.”

Takashima shares some of her favorite store designs:

Meguro, Tokyo

Starbucks celebrated its growth in Japan in May 2013 with the opening of its “tribute store” in the Meguro area of Tokyo, which symbolically represents Starbucks 1,000th store in the country. Located on the first floor of Starbucks Japan’s Support Center, the store expresses Japanese hospitality and celebrates warm connection with its customers.

The store design drew inspiration from Japanese architecture and gardens in its simple and bright space, taking cues from traditional tea houses. Modern craftsmanship and translucent elements allow consistent interactivity between customers and partners. Green garden spaces bring nature into the space, and recycled coffee grounds were used to make original boards on some of the table tops.

“In Japan, there is a saying, ichi-go ichi-e, which means ‘treasure every encounter,’” said Takashima. “We reflect this welcoming spirit with the experience we created in the Meguro store.”

The store’s central art piece was created in collaboration with a local textile artist, and features the colorful quetzal bird from the original coffee stamp for Starbucks® Shade Grown Mexico. Reclaimed burlap coffee sacks were given a new life as part of the artwork.

“The artwork symbolizes biodiversity, representing the connection between a cup of coffee and quetzal, coffee farmers and natural environment around coffee farms,” she said. “It also represents our wish that our customers feel energy from the quetzal flying into the sky with red coffee cherry.”

Tsutaya Tokyo Roppongi

A 15-minute subway ride on Tokyo Metro from the nearby Nakameguro Station, the hip Roppongi area has a variety of architecture from towering office buildings, to vibrant restaurants and nightclubs, to graceful foreign embassies.

To create the space, designers stripped down existing artificial decorations to expose the original architectural elements in its raw forms. The natural rough materials such as brick, rough wood, steel and concrete express the authenticity of the coffee experience.

The Starbucks café in the Tsutaya Tokyo Roppongi bookstore caters to all phases of the day, from businesspeople on their way to work in the early morning hours, to customers enjoying the neighborhood’s nightlife after midnight.

“Roppongi draws a variety of creative people with sophisticated tastes, such as artists, dignitaries, designers and actors,” she said. “The Starbucks store here is intended to stimulate their intellectual curiosity, serving as an incubator of ideas.”

Tsutaya Bookstore, Takeo City Library

From Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, board a high-speed Japanese bullet train for a six hour ride to Kyushu Island, the southernmost of the four major islands in the Japanese Archipelago. From Fukuoka, a short commuter train brings travelers to the city of Takeo in the Saga Prefecture.

Here in Takeo, Starbucks collaborated with Tsutaya Bookstore to create another breathtaking space, this time inside the stunning Takeo City Public Library.

This award-winning library features large roof skylight, allowing natural sunlight to shine down to the café below. The store features a full-sized espresso bar and slow coffee counter, and a distinctive steel-framed body to distinguish it within the large open space of the library and bookstore.

“Japanese beauty is symbolized by wabi-sabi: wabi is taste for the simple and quiet, andsabi is the beauty of time-worn,” she said. “We are inspired by wabi-sabi, creating simple designs with artful detail and subtle craftsmanship that speak to the history of Starbucks while stirring one’s imagination.”

Did you know?

  • Starbucks is pronounced “STAH-buk-su” in Japanese, although most affectionately call it “STA-ba” for short.
  • Japan was Starbucks first market in Asia to certify a LEED® (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) store, and now has seven LEED® certified stores in the country.
  • Starbucks first store in the Ginza District is a destination for thousands of customers each year who wish to see where the legendary Starbucks Experience began in Japan, similar to Starbucks original store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

For your travels

Starbucks stores in Japan offer both hot and cold green tea beverages. Enjoy a Matcha Tea Latte, a rich and milky latte with lightly bitter taste of green tea; or a Matcha Frappuccino® Blended Crème, made with green tea powder blended with milk and ice, topped with whipped cream.

Our next stop

We’ll venture back across the Pacific Ocean to the Emerald City, where our Virtual Road Trip began.

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5 things to know about first-ever Starbucks Promises Day