A new economic crisis struck this weekend. No, not the possible collapse of the Euro, or the prolonged high unemployment and sloppy home mortgage foreclosures in the U.S. — swimming in a vast ocean of debt — but something even worse: The end of 30 years of seemingly endless growth of the Japanese convenience stores, one of few bright spots (until now) in Japanese retailing.
The CEO of Seven & i Holdings, Toshifumi Suzuki, summoned his counterparts at Family Mart, Lawson and Daily Yamazaki to an emergency meeting for Sunday evening to discuss countermeasures against these developments.
What triggered the sudden sense of crisis? On Sunday afternoon, Suzuki received reports from the automated monitoring systems of franchisees in western Tokyo of a cyclist who rode about 150 kilometers without a single stop at one of their stores. No ham and cheese burritos, no crappy sports drinks, not even yogurt products or a Snickers Bar. Numerous stores recorded the cyclist passing (first picked up by the RFID chip in his train pass, and confirmed by automated camera footage of him passing nearby, on the same route he had taken only 8 weeks earlier (Tamagawa, Akigawa, Tomin-no-Mori and back). A quick check of the POS databases of the other chains confirmed he had not stopped there either. How was it possible? What to do? Perhaps another new flavor of Kit Kat was needed to lure him into the store (Jalapeno and cheese Kit Kat)? Or maybe it had been a mistake to double the ham in the ham and cheese burrito — making it sit heavily in the stomach of a cyclist well onto the next climb?
Apparently, the cyclist survived on High5 products, a combination of energy bars, two gels on the last stages of the climb to Tomin no Mori. He filled one water bottle with a 4:1 carbohydrate/protein mix drink, the other, larger bottle with water. „Bootleg imports“, as Suzuki referred to the High5 products. „How can Japan meet its food security goals if people can order this stuff with free shipping from Wiggle and get it at their doorstep the next week?“ And the cyclist was able to refill his water bottles at public faucets, avoiding even the need for a 2 liter water refill from Seven Eleven. He did stop for a bowl of mountain vegetable (sansai) udon at Tomin no Mori, but no economy ever got wealthy off of mountain roots and tubers!
Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a ride, warm for mid-December as I basked in the sun at Tomin no Mori. I made the round trip as quickly as I have ever done, and improved my former „toge baka“ time by about 2 minutes — 1:08:43, down from 1:10:38 in April 2008, just before Itoigawa Fast Run, and almost 6 minutes faster than when I did this climb on October 17 this year (1:14:36). This time I used the Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels with tubeless tires — a bit slower on the descent and a bit more work to maintain speed on the flats, especially into headwinds, but also 200 or 300 grams lighter than the HED Jet 6’s, so noticeably more spin-worthy on the climb.