The queue to get to the registers was just as crazy. 

On 18 January, Ikea Maebashi will open in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture. As the first Ikea store in the northern Kanto region, which covers Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama and Ibaraki prefectures, the new branch is already attracting a lot of attention, and we got to attend a pre-opening event on the weekend, along with hundreds of other people who were just as eager as us to see what was in store.

We successfully applied to attend on 14 January between 10 a.m.-12 p.m., and when we arrived, there was a huge line to get to the entrance.

This was the very first slot for the pre-opening, with entry times limited to 10 a.m.-12 p.m., 1-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Only those who registered as members and made reservations in advance were allowed to enter the store so we thought it wouldn’t be that busy, but the branch had been in the works for such a long time, with original plans for it to open in 2015 before work was stalled, that it was crowded with curious local residents.

Located about five minutes by car from the Maebashi-Minami exit on the Kita-Kanto Expressway, the branch is relatively easy to get to, so it wasn’t just residents from the immediate vicinity but also from surrounding areas such as Nagano and Niigata who had travelled to see it.

▼ Ikea, but with a Japanese twist.

The queue to enter was surprisingly long, snaking its way around the building like a line for a theme park ride. We could hear some people muttering about the cold and wondering if they should return home, but we decided to persevere because it’s not every day you get to enter an Ikea before it officially opens to the public.

By our estimates, there were around 5,000 people in line, a number backed up by a newspaper report the next day, which stated that there were approximately 2,500 people waiting in line before the store opened, with even more people admitted afterwards due to popular demand.

▼ After slowly inching forward for 45 minutes, we were finally able to step into the store.

The line continued inside, with everyone making their way past the displays in an orderly fashion as some branched off to make purchases.

According to the chain, the pre-opening is meant to be a chance for staff to prepare for the official opening as well, but we couldn’t help but feel sorry for any staff members who had to deal with these crowds on their first day in the job.

▼ It was like a battlefield.

To their credit, employees did a great job of keeping things running as smoothly as possible, which made us think experienced staff from other branches had likely been called in to help with the customer surge during the store’s opening days.

Unlike a regular day at Ikea, there was a sense of urgency in the air, as everyone tried to grab everything they wanted to buy within the short two-hour timeframe. An hour seemed to pass in in the blink of an eye, and at 11:45 p.m., 15 minutes before everyone needed to leave, “Hotaru no Hikari” (“Glow of a Firefly”) began to play over the speaker system.

This Japanese song, set to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”, is often played at stores just before closing time, so everyone knew this was a sign to head to the registers. The only problem was, the queue to get to the registers was nearly as long as the queue had been to get into the building.

The cash registers were located in one direction, but to get to them you had to line up far, far away from them, and slowly make your way down the warehouse aisles.

The line for the registers took up the entire self-service warehouse area, which was a crazy sight.

In the end, we waited in line for about 50 minutes to pay and left the store at around 12:50 p.m. — just 10 minutes before the next group of customers were scheduled to enter the building.

▼ Cash registers — Hallelujah!

▼ The next group of customers, chomping at the bit to get into the building.

Ikea Maebashi is aiming to be the branch with the lowest environmental impact in Japan, with solar panels and water-saving toilets installed on the premises. There’s even a “Bistro Window” where you can purchase food from outside, but unfortunately we weren’t able to see any of that during the pre-opening.

So while there are perks to being amongst the first in Japan to shop at a new branch of Ikea, there are some drawbacks too. This is a branch that’s waaaaaay bigger than the ones in downtown Tokyo, so if you can, we recommend waiting a little while after it’s opened to visit, to give yourself the best chance of spending a relaxing time there without the insane crowds. Because whenever a new store opens in Japan, especially if it’s a big international brand like Blue Bottle Coffee or Krispy Kreme, you can bet there’ll be a line of people there waiting to get in!

Store Information

Ikea Maebashi / Ikea 前橋
Address: Gunma-ken, Maebashi-shi, Kamesato-cho 2008
Open: 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.

Images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]