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Supermarkets ‘supersizing’ to serve Okinawa market

Date Posted: 2005-07-15

Okinawa is making shopping an easy experience, with new supermarkets opening seemingly every month.

San-A just opened a new store near the Okinawa Convention Center in Ginowan. JUSCO just opened a new supermarket in Nago City. Kanehide is coming to Highway 58, and there are more in the wings, under construction or on the planning board. They are a new urban phenomena, gravitating to the suburbs from the crowded inner city locations which are seeing slips in patronage.

What doesn’t make sense, say some detractors, is that the new stores are opening at a time when business is in decline. The Japan Chain Store Association 2004 report notes that total supermarket sales last year dropped to the same level as in the 1990’’s, when the financial bubble burst and shattered a generation of businesses and families. Many financial analysts are trying to figure it out. Sales are down, but more and more square meters of floor space is being developed and put into service.

A big problem, they point out, is that Okinawans do not get a real deal on the new stores. At least, the employees don’t. Most supermarkets are hiring all workers as parttime employees, denying them the benefits of social insurance, security pensions and employee insurance. Only 30% of employees being hired by the supermarket giants offer fulltime work and its accompanying benefits packages.

That leaves disgruntled workers with little money and no place to go. With the economy soft, there are few places to get a job. The supermarket chains know that, and exploit it, knowing they’re in dire financial straits if they’d have to offer all workers fulltime employment.

Analysts say the supermarket bubble is far from ready to burst. They say thre are still more coming to Okinawa, some from overseas.

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