A smackdown is shaping up between Nagoya and Seattle, and the weapon of choice is coffee.
Komeda Co., the Nagoya-based operator of the Komeda's Coffee chain, plans to double the number of its shops in the Kanto and Kansai regions by February 2014, areas where Seattle-based Starbucks enjoys strong popularity.
Observers expect a fierce battle between the two coffee chain operators, which offer customers a completely different experience at their shops.
Starbucks is known for the sophisticated, urban atmosphere of its coffee shops, and it is especially popular among young people. People who favor Komeda stress its approachability and unique services, such as serving a free slice of toast and a boiled egg to customers who order a drink in the morning.
A wide range of customers, including children and the elderly, visit Komeda coffee shops.
Of 417 Komeda shops, 320 are located in Aichi, Mie and Gifu prefectures. According to Komeda, it plans to increase its number in the Kanto region to about 100 from the current 51 by February 2014.
The company now has 28 shops in the Kansai region, but it plans to increase the number to 70 to 80 over the same period.
Komeda was established in 1968. According to the company, it wants its customers to have a warm feeling when they visit the coffee chains.
Shops feature wood walls and sofas so customers can relax. In contrast to the service at Starbucks and other modern coffee chains, Komeda staffers take customers' orders at their tables.
The coffee chain offers a standard drink menu with such items as hot and ice coffee and pork cutlet sandwiches. But it is also famous for unique offerings like Shironowaru, a Danish pastry topped with soft ice cream, and Ogura toast topped with sweet bean paste.
Most shops are divided into smoking and nonsmoking areas. Newspapers and magazines are available for customers to read while drinking coffee.
"We're trying to revive the tea-drinking culture of the good old days at our coffee shops. Komeda emphasizes winning the hearts of local residents--notably those of older generations--in the hope they'll be loyal customers," a Komeda spokesman said.
There are 933 Starbucks shops in the nation. Many are in urban districts, such as the first Starbucks shop, which was established in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1996.
Some of Starbucks' most popular products are its Starbucks Latte, made with steamed milk and espresso, and the sweet Caramel Macchiato. Starbucks played a huge part in introducing U.S. cafe culture to Japan.
As the number of Starbucks coffee shops increased, Japanese became used to drinking coffee while walking on the street. Many Starbucks services were new to Japan, such as holes in the lids of coffee cups for customers to drink through while walking and putting coffee in tumblers.
Smoking is completely prohibited in Starbucks coffee shops. An internal team designs their interiors, and all the shops are different, according to the company.
Starbucks takes care not to put too many seats in the shops, and carefully selects the background music and artwork, a Starbucks spokesman said. All this contributes to the shops' polished atmosphere, the spokesman said.
Both chains have weaknesses and strengths. Starbucks introduces about 60 new menu items a year, trying to constantly stimulate customers. However, some observers have said this makes it difficult for older customers to become comfortable with Starbucks' products and shops.
Komeda's style resembles that of a small, approachable neighborhood teahouse, but the number of such teahouses has decreased dramatically. There were about 160,000 neighborhood shops in the 1980s, but there are fewer than 80,000 today.
However, Komeda and Starbucks shops are not likely to face off in the same areas. Many Starbucks shops are in busy districts, such as areas in front of stations, while many Komeda shops are located in the suburbs of cities as to secure parking space.
Many people may enjoy drinking coffee at both shops, such as visiting Starbucks during work breaks on weekdays, and stopping at Komeda shops while on a weekend drive.