Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Kyoto Hard Rock cafe opens in restored traditional Japanese house in Gion

On July 12th 2019, the Hard Rock Cafe opened their international American food chain restaurant in a renovated traditional Kyoto townhouse along a traditional street in Gion.

Freelance videographer, Dave in Osaka was one of the first scopers on the scene live to document the Hard Rock’s new opening:

The Hard Rock cafe chain’s investment in restoring a traditional Kyoto townhouse, instead of building a typical American-esque giant guitar Hard Rock style which stands out from the cityscape instead of blending in, is an exciting trend happening across Japan.

In many cases, these decisions to use the traditional facade are due to government or city mandates restricting anything but traditional building styles. Typical global chains like McDonalds, Starbucks and Hard Rock can be seen following these strict guidelines in order to develop its brand in a new direction.

This regulation encourages companies to do the right thing as it has to include heritage preservation in its branding. This innovation gives it a competitive advantage as well as a positive image in the eyes of locals- such an important factor now in overtouristed Kyoto. For one it offers its loyal customers who seek out its locations across the globe a chance to discover new design and offers an introduction to the Japanese aesthetic to travelers who might otherwise not give it a second thought.

For the more refined inbound or domestic Japan traveler who already has an appreciation for Japanese culture and design, the Hard Rock Cafe Kyoto gives them an opportunity to appreciate an American chain they might normally never visit. This more refined customer may enjoy the juxtaposition of Kyoto’s stylish traditional design with American comfort food and lively atmosphere, or they may feel it cheapens the traditional appeal- only time will tell.

It’s interesting to take a closer look at the marketing and see how this location is marketed differently to the domestic Japan-based customer versus the international American customer. The domestic customer is offered the traditional appeal as the main target of marketing whereas the American HRC webpage doesn’t even mention or show how it is located in a beautifully restored traditional Japanese house.

The American page doesn’t show any pictures of the exterior or traditional Japanese interior- only the typical food, drinks and smiling customers. In contrast, the Japanese page’s main picture is the traditional exterior.

In 2017, I was excited to have a coffee in a historical house run by the Starbucks chain in Kobe.

This Kitano Monogatari building was originally constructed by American settlers in 1907 and despite the Kobe earthquake and fires was preserved until opened as a building of heritage Starbucks in 2001 in a famous historical quarter in the hills of Kobe.

Of course, we all agree that travelers to Japan should seek out and appreciate the traditional, historical and important aspects of Japan’s heritage on their travels here, but that may be too much to ask!

For the typical holidaymaker, like the millions who visit Japan now, it is often too difficult to access the true, historical and culturally significant Japan due to the language and cultural barriers.

Therefore, creating urban planning regulations in traditional quarters is therefore vital not only to maintain social equity and a strong destination brand but also to help bridge the cultural gap.

There is great value in retaining traditional Japanese culture as an innovative and sustainability-focused part of international branding, I hope to see more examples like this opening across Japan.