Translated by Allie
Japanese Encyclopedia: Depachika (Department Store Basement)
The term "depachika" is the short version of a compound word meaning "department store basement food shops." Though it may sound strange to sell food in a basement, these are amazing gourmet shops!
Written by ニコ
A depachika is the basement floor of department stores where usually food and groceries are sold. Its name came from the combination of "depa" which is the abbreviation of "department" (store) and "chika" which means "basement" in Japanese. Depachika in Japan have developed in their own way and have now ended up as an unique commercial space rather like a gourmet theme park these days.
In this article, we will introduce the history of depachika, what is available on this basement floor as well as some of the more popular depachika in the metropolitan Tokyo area.
What is a Depachika like?
As mentioned above, depachika are the basement floor of department stores that specialize in deli or pre-made foods, as well as some specialty grocery stores. The first known depachika was created in 1936 at the Matsuzakaya Nagoya Department store.
Depachika, however, spread out in all over Japan a lot later than that. The Tokyu Department Store Toyoko shop opened its "Tokyo Food Show" in 2000 and was heavily promoted by the media, making it the first step in the spread of the depachika movement.
What is Available at Depachika?
Mainly prepared dishes, bentō lunch boxes, sweets, fruits, Japanese sake, shōchū and wines are found at various shops in depachika. Especially with regard to sweets and prepared dishes, famous shops from all across Japan often vie for space within depachika, which allows the consumer to enjoy a wide range of high quality dishes.
In fact, some stores become even more popular as a result of opening a branch within a depachika. Not only that, but sweets from other countries such as macarons and rusk owe their popularity in Japan to these depachika shops.
Other than having permanent shops, many depachika have food events wherein the dishes of a particular region in Japan are featured. Sometimes famous train bentō boxes, known in Japanese as ekiben, are sold in special depachika events as well. It is a widely accepted fact that a depachika is a place where you are guaranteed to find truly unique foods - a foodies' paradise.
For visitors from overseas, depachika are rather like a food theme park, where you can get to know more about Japanese regional cultures via their famous foods. Not only that but you can buy unique souvenirs and sample unusual dishes just by exploring the basement floors of department stores you may have already wished to visit. This makes depachika very convenient as well.
Why do Department Stores have Food Shops in the Basement?
Why do you think the food floor was placed in the basement? The main reason is that the costs of running the necessary utilities to higher floors is more expensive than would be reasonable during construction.
In addition, as a basement is underground, it is far easier to make an expansive floor space than on an above ground floor. Land space is limited and at a premium in Japan, with places in major cities costing well beyond seven figures to construct. Plus, there are numerous subway lines underground in Japan, so making a space that connects these stations to other areas or underground shops allows people in a hurry to do some shopping without having to exit the station, race upstairs, do their shopping and return to the station. This benefits both shops and consumers.
Department stores also expect customers using their underground parking areas to travel through the depachika. And even more than that, having the parking areas underground means that all deliveries must be made underground too - carrying fresh foods directly to the shops on the depachika enables shops to protect their food safety standards. You can just imagine what all these various advantages have passed on to department stores.
What are Depachika Like these Days?
Depachika are still developing in their own ways these days. The biggest asset of depachika is their specialization; through this they have been able to make their way into larger shopping centers across Japan as well as in department stores.
Sales battles between department stores as well as between popular or famous shops within different depachika have been brought to national attention via the media, which in turn makes these shops even more popular. It is not uncommon now to see lines of people waiting outside specialty shops just to buy limited edition products and seasonal treats which can only be found in certain stores.
And more recently, shops inside station buildings or within the stations themselves, known as "eki naka", have started taking part in this depachika sales craze. The sales battles of food products are sure to continue, bringing more high quality food choices to consumers in metropolitan areas.
Famous and Popular Depachika
Now let's take a look at some of the famous depachika found in the greater Tokyo area.
Seibu Ikebukuro Main store
Found at the east exit of Ikebukuro station, the Seibu Ikebukuro department store was the driving force behind the depachika movement in Tokyo. Here you will find a variety of shops selling condiments like Japanese pickles, side dishes and bentō lunch boxes.
Tobu Department Store
The Tōbu Department store is located at the west exit of Ikebukuro station has an enormous depachika, taking up both the first and second basement levels.
Isetan Shinjuku Main store
A 5 minute walk from Shinjuku station, the Isetan Shinjuku Department store is a very popular shopping destination for visitors to Shinjuku. Isetan is best known for their fashionable, high quality goods.
Mitsukoshi Ginza store
Directly connected to Ginza station is this charming department store of longstanding: the Ginza Mitsukoshi Department store. Here you will find numerous limited edition sweets for sale.
Connected to the north exit of Yaesu Tokyo station is the famous depachika known as Hoppe Town, which is managed by the Daimaru Tokyo Department store. If you are looking for some delicious souvenirs of your time in Tokyo, then this is the perfect place to find them.
It would be a shame indeed to miss out on seeing a depachika for yourself when visiting Japan. If you find yourself in a department store shopping, make sure to take a peek at the shops lining these basement floors. Who knows, you may find exactly the dish you have always wanted to try!