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Pandemic-hit Japan eateries, hotels focus on selling New Year's meals to consume at home

A traditional Japanese "osechi" one-person meal is shown in this picture provided by Hakata Hankyu department store.

FUKUOKA -- Restaurants and hotels in Japan hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic have committed themselves to try and make up for lost profits by selling traditional New Year foods to the many people who will stay at home during the holiday this year as they will be unable to travel overseas.

    Such businesses are searching for alternative options to sell Japanese New Year dishes called "osechi," as the battle for sales heats up.

    Chinese restaurant Hassenkaku, based in the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka, has begun selling a frozen meal of Japanese and Chinese cuisine packed in two-layer bento boxes, in collaboration with a Japanese restaurant within its group of affiliated businesses. The osechi box costs 19,800 yen (about $188) and the meal can be shared among three to four people. The restaurant plans to prepare 1,000 bento boxes -- 300 more compared to usual years.

    A corner where samples of traditional Japanese New Year food are on display is seen at the main store of Izutsuya department store on Oct. 12, 2020. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Hisano)

    Although the meals had previously been handed over in person at the restaurant, the method has been limited to home delivery this year so that orders can be made from a wide range of areas. A representative of the Chinese restaurant, which has been affected by moves to refrain from holding dinner parties in large groups, commented, "Dinner parties with large numbers of people are the most difficult to recover, and reservations for year-end parties also remain low. We'd like to at least work hard for osechi sales."

    Hotel New Otani Hakata, also based in the city of Fukuoka, has also added a frozen osechi meal to its existing lineup of products. The meal, designated for home delivery, is meant to be served to between two and four people, and costs 17,280 yen (about $164). The price is reasonable compared to products sold in normal years, and the meal can be delivered to nationwide areas excluding the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. A representative said, "We'd like to call attention to the fact that you can send these meals to relatives while people are unable to return home during the holiday due to the novel coronavirus."

    While eateries that handle osechi meals every year -- such as a restaurant in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kitakyushu that claims to be receiving many requests from customers this year -- aim to boost sales, selling osechi poses difficulties for eateries that do not usually deal with the traditional New Year food. Osechi comprises a large number of food items and preparations prior to cooking require plenty of work. A Japanese cuisine restaurant in Fukuoka that gave up on pursuing the endeavor commented, "Once we prepare for osechi, we're unable to run the restaurant for several days during the year end. We considered it, but osechi meals are unfeasible."

    Meanwhile, Shiseki Ryotei Kagetsu, an eatery located in the southwestern Japan city of Nagasaki, engages in selling individual ingredients used in osechi. It currently sells mail-order processed products such as roast beef, sweet black soybeans, and five other items, and also plans to add four or five additional products before the year end. President Yukiko Nakamura said, "The amount of orders will be adjusted based on the circumstances of the kitchen area. We came up with a way to respond to demand for osechi while running the business as usual."

    Department stores have also shown enthusiasm for osechi sales, and stores have been competing to prepare a great selection of osechi meals, including a one-person meal set that can be eaten straight out of the box, and luxurious meals that tempt customers to splurge to replace lost opportunities for travel. Fukuoka-based Iwataya Mitsukoshi, which operates the Iwataya Honten and Fukuoka Mitsukoshi department stores, has set their sales target as a 2% increase compared to the previous year. The Fukuoka Tenjin branch of Daimaru department store has prepared a collection of 181 meals -- a 10% increase compared to last year. The Hakata Hankyu department store in Fukuoka has enhanced its system for accepting online orders, and Kitakyushu-based Izutsuya has increased its number of products targeting a small number of people.

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Hisano, Kyushu Business News Department)

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