In a country that loves breasts as much as Japan, how is Hooters failing?

It was with great fanfare in 2010 that Hooters, famous for the spiciness of its kitchen’s wings and the size of its servers’ chests, arrived in Japan. The chain’s first Japanese branch opened in Tokyo’s Akasaka neighborhood in October of that year, but unfortunately for anyone hoping to celebrate the eatery’s 10th anniversary this fall, that’s not going to be an option.

On Friday, Hooters Japan announced that the Akasaka branch will be closing almost immediately, releasing a statement in the characteristically respectful tone of the Japanese food and hospitality industry.

“Hooters Akasaka branch will be closing on August 21, 2020.

Since opening as the first Hooters in Japan in 2010, many customers have dined with us, but do to various circumstances the branch’s continued operation has become difficult, and we hope for your understanding in this matter.

We wish to express our sincere gratitude for the patronage shown to Hooters Akasaka, and ask that in its absence you choose to dine at our branch in Ginza.”

This development is the latest in a string of struggles for the chain in Japan, most notably filing for bankruptcy protection in the spring of last year.

▼ Though the Miss Hooters Japan contest still went ahead as planned.

The question then becomes why Hooters is having trouble in Japan. After all, it’s a country that feels little embarrassment about open admiration of the female form and spending lavishly on eating out, so shouldn’t the bosomy basket of goods and services offered by Hooters be a recipe for success?

Maybe one reason for Hooters Japan’s troubles can be summed up by the Japanese phrase chu to hampa (“in the middle with just a bit more”), which describes something that’s between two desirable situations, but not enough like either to really make anyone happy. For decades before Hooters showed up in the country, Japan already had countless hostess bars where men who wanted food, drink, and the companionship of lovely ladies could procure all three, and where the hostess would sit and chat with him for his entire stay. Hooters waitresses, however, have other tables to take care of, and while they may be happy to spend a brief moment for a little chitchat or to take a quick photo as they drop off your order, they’re soon off to do the same with other customers.

At the same time, Hooters’ uniforms, featuring tight, low-cut tops, are definitely outside of mainstream food service attire (especially since Japanese fashion doesn’t show a lot of cleavage in general), so it’s not the kind of place you can eat at without also implicitly saying “Ya know, I really do like big boobs.” That leaves the chain in a sort of limbo where the atmosphere of “Here are pretty girls!” is too much a part of the experience for anyone who isn’t craving eye candy, yet there also isn’t enough prolonged interaction with said pretty girls to compete with what’s offered at hostess bars or, to a lesser extent, maid cafes.

Hooters Japan’s choice of physical locations for its branches might not have been the best either. Yes, Akasaka is in downtown Tokyo, which means there are a lot of people/potential customers milling about. But it also has an image as a high-class, refined part of town, so it’s not most people’s first choice of place to hang out if they’re after the slightly rowdy fun Hooters promises. Hooters’ now-closed Shinjuku branch likely had similar problems, since it was located on the west side of Shinjuku Station, near department stores and electronics shops, and not on the opposite side of the rail hub where Japan’s busiest bar district is.

The Akasaka Hooters closure makes the Ginza branch the chain’s last remaining location in Japan. In terms of the local vibe, Ginza has a lot of similarities with Akasaka, though, so it’s likely going to be an uphill battle for the brand that’s already tried to diversify itself as a remote work space and a hangout for Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog.

Source: Hooters Japan via IT Media via Otakomu
Top image: Hooters Japan
Insert image: @Press, Pakutaso
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