From Hitotsubashi University to The Spotlight: The Story Behind A Woman Taking Over A Famous Snack Bar, Unveiling the Deep Reason Behind Her Choice | FRIDAY DIGITAL

From Hitotsubashi University to The Spotlight: The Story Behind A Woman Taking Over A Famous Snack Bar, Unveiling the Deep Reason Behind Her Choice

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We need a place where customers who have met each other for the first time can deepen their friendships.

Snack Mizunaka in Kunitachi City, Tokyo, is unique. The owner says, “I think of the restaurant not as a restaurant but as a theater. The customers of different genders and ages play the main roles, and the daily drama is very interesting to the customers.

This mama is also unique. Born in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1998, Chisato Sakane grew up in Tokyo and graduated from the Faculty of Sociology at Hitotsubashi University. I had been working part-time at Sunaku Setsuko since 2019 when I was a student studying urban policy, and the mother of the previous owner, who was thinking of retiring, asked me if I would like to take over the store, and I decided to take over the business. In April 2022, we opened Snack Water.

The snack bar appeared around the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The number of stores, which numbered about 100,000 nationwide in its heyday, has been cut in half due to the COVID-19 crisis and the aging of the mothers (PHOTO: AFLO).

Sakane recalls that after graduating from a top university and deciding to jump into the world of water trading, My parents gave me a reluctant look, but I persuaded them.

In the first place, I didn’t find the idea of working for a prestigious or top-notch company appealing.I had a desire to start my own business someday.

When Ms. Sakane was working part-time at a snack bar, she felt that there was a need for a place where customers who met each other for the first time could deepen their friendship, and she wanted to make it her business.

It was refreshing for Sakane to experience communication in the social setting of a snack bar for the first time. Customers from various backgrounds can get to know each other in the chaos of the snack bar. In everyday life, these are people you just pass by on the street. Sakane said that the juniors she invited to work at the store also found it refreshing.


The reason why she named the restaurant she took over the business Underwater is because it is located halfway down a flight of stairs from the main road. Sakane considers the snack shop to be a place of reproduction. Customers can spend their time in the social space of the snack bar, which is separated from reality, and then return to their daily lives.

Snack Mizunaka is located halfway down the stairs from the main road. The entrance door is made of glass, so you can see inside the restaurant from the outside.
“A snack bar is not a restaurant but a theater,” says Chisato Sakane.

Sales have increased 1.6 times!

Two years have passed since the opening of Snack Water. The total number of visitors was about 12,000. The average price per customer is around 4,000 yen. Sales were approximately 26 million yen in 2023, approximately 1.6 times higher than in 2021, before the succession.

At the previous store, most of the customers were men in their prime working years accompanied by their seniors, and there were only a few female customers a month, but at the new store, the percentage of female customers has increased to about 20%, and young customers in their 20s and 30s now account for about 25% of the total customer base.


The store has about 18 staff members, including mothers, who work in shifts. Of these, 14 are store staff, and the remaining four are behind-the-scenes staff in charge of PR strategies. The staff are not people with experience in the restaurant industry, but rather people who work regular jobs during the day or part-time students.

Sakane is enthusiastic, saying, We will renew the image of snack food as a healthy social gathering place. She depicts a situation in which the company supports the mother as an organization, rather than the mother having to deal with the store’s problems alone.

After the renewal, the clientele will be about 25% young people in their 20s and 30s.

Today’s snack bar moms are in their 70s.

Mizunaka’s target audience is young people who are working.

Japanese people are shy, and they feel more comfortable talking when there is alcohol involved.

That’s why snacks have a purpose as a social gathering place, says Sakane. At a typical snack shop, there are far fewer women drinking alone than men, but at this shop, the number of repeat customers is increasing, with the largest number being in their 40s.

The number of female customers is increasing because of three considerations. You won’t know what’s inside the snack shop unless you open the door, but the underwater door is made of glass, so you can see inside the shop from the outside. We have a selection of light alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks that are easy for women to drink. Staff give priority to female customers to seats near them to make sure they are comfortable.

We are aiming for 100 stores in the future.

Sakane has a business strategy in mind. The company hopes to increase the number of directly managed stores and have about 10 stores in five years.

We’re also thinking about taking over an existing snack bar that is going out of business.

She is also thinking of taking over some of the existing snack bars that are going out of business. She also plans to hire people to work three days a week in two shifts per store. For example, if a woman who has reached the end of her child-rearing years is looking for a job, she would like her to make use of her child-rearing experience. She also said that the company will support women as an organization to make it a job they can be proud of.


The number of snack bars has decreased by half since their heyday.

Many of today’s snack bar mothers are in their 70s or so, and Sakane says there will be a rush to close the business. According to Koichi Taniguchi, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Tokyo Metropolitan University and representative of the Snack Bar Study Group, snack bars are unique to Japan and first appeared around the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. In the beginning, there were stores with jukeboxes where people could dance, but around ’77, karaoke started to appear.

According to Taniguchi, there is no definition of a snack bar; just put the word snack on a sign and it becomes a snack bar. There are no statistics on how many snack bars there are. According to a check of the town page, there were about 100,000 in the beginning, about 70,000 in front of Corona, and about 50,000 in ’21.



The median price for a snack bar is about 3,000 yen for a set, and 5,000-6,000 yen if bottles are included. In urban areas such as Ginza, the price is higher.She estimates that about 80% of the sales come from regular customers.

In the past, most of the customers at snack bars were middle-aged businessmen, such as company employees using the bar for company expenses. It is only recently that young people have begun to patronize them, says Koichi Taniguchi.

According to Mr. Taniguchi, young people’s lives had become more restricted due to the COVID-19 crisis, and they were no longer able to meet for drinks with a large group of people. After the Corona disaster, they began to seek a place to communicate, and snack bars may have become an option for them.

The snack bar is a private business, and people come because of the personality of the mama. They come to the bar with no purpose and talk about nothing. A snack bar is a place where the mama is present and customers who don’t know each other communicate with each other, and I think that is what makes it fresh and attractive.

The snack bars that Mr. Taniguchi describes facing some challenges.

One is the aging of mothers. The mothers who started their own shops in their 30s in the 1980s are now in their 70s. It is said that some shops have gone out of business due to the coronavirus pandemic. Another problem is the recent labor shortage. Restaurants open at night have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and the people who worked there have moved on to daytime jobs.

Chisato Sakane says she hopes to open 100 restaurants in the future. When she was thinking of retiring, the previous owner asked her if she would like to take over the restaurant, so she took over the business and opened “Snack Mizunaka” in April 2022.

I want to enjoy being a mom for one day on the weekend, young people showing interest in entrepreneurship and urban development.

On the other hand, recently there have been cases of young women, like Ms. Sakane, starting their own snack bars. A license is not required for a snack bar, and people often gather together because they share the unique ideas and personality of each mother, which Taniguchi points out is just like starting a business, so to speak. The old image of the snack bar as a water business has recently been replaced by that of a healthy social gathering place.

The increase in the number of young, female customers is also a tailwind for women who view the operation of a snack bar as starting a business. There are women who work for rather stiff companies and want to enjoy being a mom for one day on the weekend, says Taniguchi.

Taniguchi, who graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Tokyo, views the changes in the employment opportunities of talented students this way. In the past, people went to work for bureaucrats or top-tier companies, but since then foreign-affiliated companies have become popular, and today the best people are aiming to start a business or build a town.


Nursing Snack is also available, which is completely barrier-free and comes with a nursing care transportation service!

Meanwhile, traditional snack customers are also getting older. Places where elderly men living alone could go to karaoke during the day have disappeared due to the coronavirus. It would be great if there was a social space that such people could easily use. According to Taniguchi, nursing care snacks are also appearing.

In Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, there is Ryugujo, a snack bar with a nursing care transportation service. According to its website, the store is fully barrier-free, with transportation services provided by nursing care vehicles and alcohol control services provided by staff.

The number of young people using the snack bar may increase if adults who can afford it invite them.

Young people don’t drink anymore because they don’t have money; they like to drink. An adult has to take them with them.

In today’s society where socializing with others is becoming rarer, it would be great if snack food became a healthy social gathering place for men and women of all ages, creating a virtuous cycle in which more women would start their own snack businesses.

  • Interview and text Hideki Asai

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