TOKYO -- Laox, a major Japanese duty-free shop operator, recently opened a restaurant specializing in cup ramen within Chiba Port Square Port Town, a shopping center in Chiba, near Tokyo.
The restaurant, dubbed "3 Minutes Kitchen," offers a vast array of instant noodles in cups, including hard-to-find local varieties from all over Japan.
Target customers include foreign tourists as well as local consumers seeking a quick bite.
Port Town, a 10-minute walk from Chibaminato Station, is the core facility of Chiba Port Square, a shopping, leisure and business complex that was acquired by Laox jointly with a major Chinese real estate company.
The cup ramen restaurant is operated by Food Creation Works, a restaurant and food company established by Laox earlier this year.
Customers can choose from about 50 brands of cup ramen displayed on specially designed shelves illuminated with light-emitting diode lighting, with examples of each piled up like towers inside.
Customers pull out their choices from the bottoms of the towers and take them to the checkout counter.
"Cup ramen is a Japanese food product recognized and beloved around the world," noted Taishi Yamanaka, the manager of the restaurant. "We want to see our customers enjoy the whole experience including the pulling out the noodles part."
Items offered at the shop start at 150 yen ($1.34) before tax and are also available for takeout. Various toppings can be added for 50 yen each, including slices of roast pork, pickled bamboo shoots and quail eggs.
The shelf for each brand of cup ramen shows recommended toppings for the product.
In order to differentiate its cup ramen offerings from the items available at ordinary supermarkets and convenience stores, the restaurant focuses mainly on rare local brands.
The hard-to-get items include a 298 yen cup ramen featuring noodles made by Watanabe Seimen, a Chino, Nagano Prefecture-based noodle-making company owned by Chikaranomoto Holdings, the Fukuoka-based operator of the Ippudo ramen shop chain.
Watanabe Seimen's own brand, Teshikaga Ramen, which is not sold at stores in the Kanto region around Tokyo, is also offered for 360 yen.
The most popular brand at the store is Gyoretsu no Dekiru Mise no Ramen: Wakayama, priced at 280 yen, a hot-selling product of Nissin Food Products, which invented the Cup Noodle.
The favorite among children is 180 yen Hokkaido Miso Butter Ramen of Yamadai's long-selling New Touch series of instant noodles. Yamadai is a Yachiyo, Ibaraki Prefecture-based maker of instant noodle products.
The menu also includes some instant food items other than ramen, such as a small bowl of rice topped with slices of roast pork, priced 250 yen.
"We plan to increase our variety of items other than cup ramen," Yamanaka said.
The restaurant, with about 60 seats, sells 70-80 cups of instant ramen on weekdays, mainly to people working at nearby offices and elementary school children on their way home. On busy holidays, sales rise to as many as 300 cups.
The restaurant, which opened on July 1, is part of Laox's efforts to diversify its business portfolio amid dwindling sales at its duty-free shops. The company saw its overall revenue fall by more than 30% in 2016, mainly due to lower per-customer spending among Chinese and other foreign tourists visiting Japan.
The company sees the restaurant business as a key element of its strategy to boost customer traffic at its shopping complexes.