When you move to a new country there are all manner of little things that you don’t think about, things that might make moving into your own home a little more difficult. This is particularly true of Japan.
For me, aside from there not being an oven in my first Japanese home (and I even checked the bedroom in a vain hope of finding one after first moving in) the hardest thing to get to grips with was finding adequate furniture. Having lived in Sweden for some time before coming to Japan, I had become used to finding furniture that was not only stylish and chic, but also reasonably priced. I quickly found, having moved to Nagoya some six years ago, that I had to forgo one of these choices. There was, at the cheaper end of the scale, furniture stores such as Nitori, where the products I felt very much looked their price. Or if I wanted to buy things that made my apartment somewhere that I wasn’t embarrassed to invite friends over, then I was going to have to break the bank.
“Don’t worry!” a friend of mine said at the time. “There is an IKEA opening in Nagoya soon.” “That’s great!” I said. “When?” “I don’t know,” came the reply, “but soon.”
That was six years ago.
But now, finally, lovers of inexpensive but stylish furniture can rejoice, for October saw Japan’s tenth IKEA open in Nagakute, just a short hop from Nagoya.
IKEA is the brainchild of Swedish entrepreneur Ingvar Kamprad, created first as a mail order businessin 1943, but later developed into a furniture store. Named after the initials of its founder and those of the farm in which he grew up, Elmtaryd, and his home town, Agunnaryd, IKEA has grown today to become one of the world’s largest companies, amassing it’s founder a fortune of some 40 billion USD.
Its success has been attributed to the chic Scandinavian design of its furniture, and the fact that it is relatively cheap thanks to its flat-packed, self assembly concept.
Over the years IKEA has spread across the world, becoming fairly ubiquitous in both Europe and the US. It is beloved by students, first home buyers, couples with young families and people moving to new countries on a shortish term basis. People like you and I.
When you visit the new IKEA at Nagakute, be sure to follow these (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) instructions.
Do come with a shopping list and stick to it. This is easier said than done, however, because as you wind your way around the store, with everything being so cheap, it can be easy to pick up a few kitchen utensils here, a couple of lamps there, oh and that rug would go lovely in the living room, and next thing you know it you have enough furniture to kit out the entirety of Stockholm.
Don’t get lost. Again, easier said than done. IKEAs around the world are structured in very much a maze formation in a way that you have to pass every department before you get to the cashiers. This can have two outcomes: you end up buying a tonne of stuff (see above. There is a reason why IKEA had resisted online shopping for so long); and you may be stuck there all day. I am speaking from experience, on both counts.
Do have a tool kit. IKEA’s reputation for flat-packed furniture that can be put together using a simple allen key is not 100 per cent accurate. While it is true to some extent, for some of the more intricate pieces there is a good chance that you will need screwdrivers – both philips and flat head – and a hammer. If you don’t have them at home, you can buy a reasonably priced set there.
Don’t call it Aykeea. If you are from an English speaking country you probably pronounce the first letter of IKEA as you regularly would the ninth letter of the alphabet. However, you will find that here in Japan the pronounce it as ‘E’. But before you start chuckling to yourself about how the Japanese have gotten a pronunciation wrong yet again, you should know that in Sweden they pronounce it in the same way. It’s you that’s been saying it wrong all this time, and not them. All together now “EEKEA!”
Do try some of the food. After a day wandering around the store (and it may be a full day if you fail to follow the first “don’t”, above), you may end up getting pretty hungry. In that case you should head to the restaurant to sample some of the Swedish food on offer, which is just as cheap and functional as the furniture. The Swedish meatballs with mashed potato drenched in gravy are a must, but if you can’t stomach a full meal, grab a hot dog. For some reason the Swedes go mad for hot dogs, and a trip to IKEA isn’t complete without one. You should also pick up some Swedish delicacies while you are there to take home. I’m a big fan of their crisp bread, or ‘knäckebröd‘, which is just as difficult to stop eating as it is to pronounce. If you like candy, the chocolate Polly are fantastic, but by far away my favorite is the gummy candy Bilar, which means ‘Cars’. The tagline on the packet says that they are ‘Sweden’s biggest selling cars’, which is a lovely touch of Sweden’s *ahem* famous sense of humor. (Edit. I have just discovered that there are Bilar flavored Polly. Mind. Blown!)
Don’t get the salty licorice. Unless you are experienced in ‘Saltlakrids’, the black salty licorice that all of Scandinavia adores, it’s best to keep away. To say that it is an acquired taste is something of an understatement.
By Mark Guthrie