Each year, the sidewalk outside of the Apple Store in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district takes the semblance of a campsite. The impeccably clean street, lined with high fashion and chauffeured luxury sedans, doesn’t look like the kind of place where you’d find a row of folding chairs, coolers and sleeping bags.
Ginza’s Apple Store campers wear baggy athletic pants and sweatshirts with the hoods up, a stark contrast to shoppers dressed to impress in Chanel or Cartier (both of which have flagship shopping outlets a stone’s throw away). They came in the name of technology – not fashion. A new iPhone is about to be released.
“At the moment I’m first in line. With 10 days until the iPhone 5S goes on sale, I lined up outside the Apple Store. This might be tough, lol,” read a tweet from 44-year-old businessman Tetsuya Tamura (also known as @Xxxprius) on September 10 – the same day that new iPhone models were officially announced at an Apple press event in Cupertino.
“Being here gets my adrenaline going,” Tamura said in an interview with AFP. “I am using up my annual leave to be here, but getting the first handset will make it all worth it.”
One person in line behind Mr. Tamura drew the fury of Japan’s netizens after taping a printed place holder to the ground and retreating home for the night. RocketNews24 reported that the note said, “I’m in line, in the 10th spot. Please keep my place! For various reasons I will be away from this spot and I won’t be here at night. Thank you.”
“If there’s no one around that note, it’s simply a piece of garbage. Throw it away,” said one angry commentator. “When this idiot comes back, we should take a picture of his face and expose him on Twitter,” said another.
Yesterday, Ginza’s Apple Store made headlines yet again for providing refuge for the iPhone campers as a typhoon brought strong winds and torrential rains to the Japanese capital.
“Those in line [were] moved into the empty Ginza Store, which hadn't opened, a little after 7:30 am. There, they were allowed to bring in their wet possessions, rest in the Apple Store theater until 10 am, and were even given bottled water,” said Kotaku.
Apple is becoming increasingly popular in Japan. The country’s top wireless carrier, NTT DoCoMo, will be offering the new iPhones this fall – a first for the Japanese carrier that had previously supported home-grown brands like Sony, Sharp, and Fujitsu.
“NTT DoCoMo has built an impressive network, the largest in the nation with over 60 million customers,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a press release. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous success with iPhone in Japan, in fact it’s the top selling smartphone in the country, and we look forward to delivering iPhone into even more customers’ hands through NTT DoCoMo.”
On top of making the best-selling smartphone in Japan, Apple was named the top consumer brand in Japan by Nikkei BP Consulting for the second year in a row. Nikkei’s Brand Japan Survey evaluates the strength of 1,500 companies and products, garnering responses from about 60,000 consumers.
“The reasons for Apple’s strength lie in a high evaluation of the ‘innovative’ and ‘outstanding’ qualities of the corporate brand and the existence of a series of products that do not betray expectations,” read the report from Nikkei. “Among 1,000 brands, Apple came top in both the ‘innovative’ and ‘outstanding’ rankings. It receives high appraisal as a brand that is clearly different from others, has news value, and attracts attention. Apple’s aggressive approach of launching new products one after the other and not letting people get bored strengthens its corporate brand power.”
In product-specific rankings, the iPhone placed 18th, with the iPod and iPad in 38th and 40th place respectively.
It is clear that Apple is a strong force in Japan, with intensely brand-loyal consumers willing to brave severe weather in their quest for the latest gadget. But there must be something else driving these people to camp outside for more than a week. Could it be internet fame? Simple attention-seeking?
One Kotaku commenter has a different opinion: “Check out the price of a 5S on eBay on the day the stores open … it will be self-evident.” While Japan doesn’t use eBay – Yahoo Auctions is the preferred auction site – a quick payout may be the driving force behind some of the Ginza campers.