Abstract: Japan's Retail Revolution: Political Economy and Concept Innovation

Michael Smitka


Twenty-five years ago two extremes dominated retailing in Japan: local shopping districts populated by small mom-and-pop stores, and large-format department stores and general merchandise stores adjacent to (and often physically above) major railway and subway stations. Shopping was done on foot or by bicycle; bulky purchases were delivered. Today neighborhood shopping streets are shuttered or in decline, as are department stores. They have been replaced by large-format roadside stores and shopping malls, remote from train stations; by medium-sized supermarkets, replete with parking lots, that operate long hours; and by small-format franchise chains (especially convenience stores). This paper traces that evolution, which reflects the diffusion of automobiles, the growth of suburbs, and the relaxation of legal restrictions on floor-space and operating hours restrictions on retailers, backed by complementary shifts in wholesaling, IT, and management methods.