Online Article: Starbucks comes to Kitami! Attracted by high school study team?

Kitami Hokuto High School students take their own commemorative photos after being invited to the pre-opening event. (October 30, 2020)
The first Kitami Starbucks, newly opened. Community residents wait in a long line. (November 2, 2020)

The coffee shop chain Starbucks Coffee Japan (Tokyo) opened the “Starbucks Kitami Miwa” shop in Kitami City on November 2 of last year. This is their first shop in the Okhotsk region of eastern Hokkaido. The final motivational push for opening was survey research conducted in class by five Kitami Hokuto High School students two years ago in an attempt to attract Starbucks to their city.

After opening, the line extended outside of the shop, and cars were lined up waiting at the drive-through. Previously, Okhotsk area residents had to make a several hour trip to places like Asahikawa or Sapporo if they wanted to enjoy Starbucks products.

Plans to open a shop in Kitami City already existed, but the final motivational push was “research” conducted by local high school students.

In April 2018, first year students who had just started attending Kitami Hokuto High School began working on research to identify regional issues and look for resolutions. A research team was formed by five students: Sasaki Yugaku, Horisawa Haruaki, Takeda Akari, Chaki Rinka, and Terada Fumi.

One of the five members voiced a question, “How come there are Starbucks shops in Kushiro and Obihiro, which are in the same eastern Hokkaido region as us, but no shops in Kitami?”

They focused on cities that have Starbucks shops and are similar in size to Kitami City, with its approximate population of 118,000 (as of October 2018). For example, though Inzai City in Chiba Prefecture has a population of only about 100,000 people, it has three shops.

Inzai City is close to Narita Airport, which is an international airport. The team considered the possibility that “Kitami does not have a large population engaged in interaction or exchange (as a reason that there is no Starbucks in Kitami).” In November of 2018, they gave an interim report. After that, they asked Starbucks what the considerations are for opening up a new shop. The answer included factors such as “a commercially active population within 20 minutes by car” and “the surrounding environment (if it matches the brand image).”

In December 2018, the team gave a questionnaire about “Points that should be improved for Kitami City” to 228 students at the same high school. Responses included opinions such as, “There are not many kinds of restaurants,” and, “There are too few buses on the bus schedule.” The research team felt that Starbucks might be worried about securing space for parking, and concluded that if they could present the conditions in Kitami as advantages instead of problems, that could lead to attracting Starbucks to come there.

Starbucks public relations employee Mr. Otake spoke of his feelings upon seeing the research conducted by the students, “When I leaned of what the high school students were doing, I thought, we really can open a shop there. The community wants us there.”

In 2020, their last year of high school, all five team members received special invitations from Starbucks to visit the shop on the evening of October 30 right before the opening. With their favorite drinks in hand, they thoroughly enjoyed their new local Starbucks.

Research team leader Sasaki Yugaku expressed his gratitude and hope, saying, “It felt really good to be taken seriously by adults. I really hope this shop becomes a place that is loved by the community for years to come.”


Starbucks Kitami Miwa