Japan trip reports 1: Yohanes

The shop managers who went to Japan are here to tell us what they thought and learned. Check out Yohanes‘ writeup!

Japan Trip: 29-09-2023 to 05-10-2023

It starts from here! The flight from Auckland to Tokyo took 10 hours 6 minutes.

After another two hours, finally we are at the hotel where we stay during our Japan trip.

My first impressions: Japan is very small. Everything is very compact and close together. For example, as you can see there is no proper garage like in New Zealand.

Tokyo has a lot of convenience retail such as vending machines. You can find machines like this on every street corner.

Our first dinner in Tokyo, food was delicious. We sat at a table outside in a narrow alleyway, perfect in the hot weather.

Here is our first breakfast in Tokyo, at Yayoiken, a chain offering home-style set meals at reasonable prices. I had the oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice).

Time for sightseeing around Tokyo, starting with the Tokyo Food Show underground deli floor. So many nice foods, and the sushi here is different to St Pierre’s. Sushi in Japan is mostly nigiri and onigiri. They do a lot of deep-fried items too, which is good for bento bowl. Each deli counter specialises in a different food category, which is a totally different retail style to NZ.

Finally we are here at Shibuya crossing, known as the world’s busiest crosswalk.

Dinner time with Mr Nakashima from a major trading partner. The shabu shabu nabe (beef and veges hot pot) was great!

The Tokyo subway map is so complicated! We need to read it properly otherwise it is very easy to get lost here.

The next day we went to Kamakura to see Big Buddha and sightseeing with Mr Takagi, former salesperson for St Pierre’s. We saw lots of interesting food such as fried mince katsu plus cool mochi and noodle ice cream along the way. The real fruit mochi was great!

Nick needed his new umbrella, the weather that day was very hot.
Finally we are here at the Big Buddha. A long way but an impressive sight!

Back at Yokohama Station, we checked out the Food & Time Isetan food hall. Their nigiri shops had karaage and nigiri in cool single-serve containers. I think we could use containers like these as they look great and are very hygienic. The famous spam and egg nigiri looked delicious, I’d love to sell that too.

After Big Buddha we went to Ramen Museum, as you see here is a map of Japan but featuring different types of ramen from every region.

Shoes with noodle picture in it. Cool alley place inside ramen museum.

Of course we need to try the ramen too – soy based ramen from Hokkaido in the north and tonkotsu base ramen from Kumamoto in the south. Such amazing diversity of flavours!

Along the way home we see a cool 5D cat billboard in Shinjuku – so many people standing and watching!

The next day we are going to the soy sauce factory, about 2 hours by train from where we live.

We were greeted by Ms. Miku Kobayashi, the salesperson for St. Pierre’s, who took us to a nice sashimi lunch overlooking the sea.

Each tank full of soy sauce makes 8000 litres and they have 16 giant tanks. The photo shows the outdoor maturing tanks, which are much bigger again!

Ice cream with soy sauce flavour. A great snack before the train home.

Dinner time – pork katsu curry at CoCoIchibanya. Yummm!

The next day we went to the vinegar factory. Here is part of the process of making vinegar.
They are very strict with hygiene – as you can see, we need to wear special overall dress, including shoes.

We only take one of their products, but they make all sorts of vinegars and dressings. Do not to forget lunch and sampling time! The simple and beautiful flavours of the sushi went really well with the natural vinegar dressings and jellies.

Next, we went to ginger factory, where we were greeted by the owner.

Finally, we visited a historic sake brewery, Ryujin Shuzo and got a tour from the master brewer.

Back in Tokyo, for dinner we tried Japanese BBQ food at Taishoen in Ueno. It was simply delicious!

The next day, Wednesday, we went to our mayo supplier.

As you can see in the picture, this is a room shaped like our small mayo bottle. Inside is where they tell us the story about their mayo.

Another cool photo if you see this, it looks just like normal eggs hanging on the wall…

but if you see it from far away, you can see a picture of the mayo baby.

Lunch time and sampling time, some very nice salad mix dressings. Lots of variety – creamy, oil and non-oil. The rich and aromatic Japanese style dressings were particularly good, so refreshing. I think they would be good for St. Pierre’s to use such as in fresh salads.

The team also made us sushi sandwiches for lunch, which were yummy and easy to make. I think they could be a good menu option for us.

Tonight is our last night in Tokyo so time to finish off with nice meal including seared tuna tataki and Kobe beef at an izakaya in Shimbashi, a bustling eating district popular with office workers.

Next morning we met with another trading company and had samples from our mochi suppliers. Here is our last lunch, amazingly tender tonkatsu at Isen Honten, before heading to Narita Airport.

Lastly I would like to say big thank you to all the bosses who make this trip happening, such an amazing experience, seeing the original country where we make their food in New Zealand. I really learned a lot!

Thanks also to Glen who help with the trip and translation. You’re the Best Glen.

The flight back from Tokyo to Auckland took 9 hours 20 minutes.

Thank you again everyone!


Introducing the Japan trip participants – part 2!

Welcome back! Here are Toon and Yohanes – the other two trip participants – talking about what they want to see in Japan – check it out!

Toon (Market Room, Auckland)

I have worked for St. Pierre’s since 2010 and been Market Room manager since late 2022. I love Japanese food culture and the food – but I’ve never been to Japan! I’m really looking forward to the experience.

I would like to see if there are any other Japanese local foods that I am not aware of that can be incorporated into sushi – or even make something new with our current ingredients!

I want to bring interesting new food experiences to NZ. People in Auckland especially are always looking for new taste experiences. St. Pierre’s has a reputation for freshness and innovation, so we are the perfect company to provide customers with something new.

Toon (centre) celebrating the shop’s success with the team

Yohanes (Rotorua)

I’ve never been to Japan either. Before I joined St. Pierre’s in 2012, I trained to be a chef. Food has been such a big part of my life, and now I want to dive into food culture in Japan!

I want to first find new ingredients and flavours that Rotorua people will like. For example, people here love cream cheese and we sell a lot of cheriyaki chicken rolls. I’m sure there are lots of other innovations we can do by finding new ingredients and techniques in Japan.

I also want to find machines which we can use to reduce preparation time. Kappabashi sounds like a great place to look! If we reduce prep time, we can focus more time on customer service. The more we interact with customers, the more we learn, and the better we can serve them. Then everyone is happy.

Yohanes and his team after the shop Christmas party
Relaxing with family 🙂

By the way, have you wondered how the trip participants were selected? In January 2023, we asked shop managers and assistant managers who wanted to travel to Japan to work on initiatives which great managers excel at. They included:

  • Developing a new manager
  • Encouraging staff to engage in the 7 Steps programme
  • Encouraging staff to complete online training
  • Working on great 2nd mile service
  • Achieving shop bonus targets

21 management team members applied, and after careful evaluation across the January 1 to June 30 period, we selected these four managers to go on the trip.

We’ll be posting regularly about the trip on the magazine site and managers’ Facebook group – look out for lots of news!

Introducing the Japan trip participants!

Welcome back! Here are two of the shop managers talking about what they want to see in Japan – check it out!

Annie (Northlink, Christchurch)

I have worked for St. Pierre’s since 2014 and been Northlink shop partners since mid 2020 – but I’ve never been to Japan!

I’m looking for inspiration about new ingredients, new ways to display food and ways to improve our service. Japan is famous for its attentive and engaging service, and I hope to learn from every kind of food place we visit.

Annie (on right) with husband Leo and director Perry

Crystal (Karaka, Auckland)

I’ve only been to Japan once, for a week ten years ago. It was such a short visit!

As well as learning about Japanese food culture more generally, I want to learn how our ingredients are produced so we can make the most of them. I also want to get new ideas about sushi – what new ways can we display products, what new products can we make with innovative use of our current ingredients, and what could we make with one or two new ingredients?

I want to get lots more ideas to meet the needs of different consumer groups, all of which will attract more customers and increase shop sales.

Crystal enjoying the great outdoors

We’ll be back soon with inspiration from Toon and Yohanes – look out for our next article!