The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

I am sure you have seen notices explaining that this or that location is going to close while the building is being reconstructed, and that it will reopen on a specified day in the future.

Given the increasingly stringent earthquake code here in Tokyo, we are seeing many businesses opting to re-build their premises.

One notice, however, has become much talked about among Japanese retailers.

Toraya is a famous traditional Japanese sweets manufacturer and retailer. Mitsuhiro Kurokawa is the 17th generation of his family to lead the business, and his “we are rebuilding” notice is considered outstanding, even in a country where omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) is renowned.

Most such notices give facts, supply data, and provide the obligatory greetings about serving us again when they reopen.

Kurokawa’s message did all that and much more. He put the current change in historical perspective, noting the business started in Kyoto in 1586, toward the end of the Muromachi period (circa 1338–1573), moving to Tokyo in 1869, and to its current location in 1964.

By doing this, he is assuring us of their traditions, longevity, and capacity to change with the times.

The message then relayed stories about the customers that have patronized Toraya, a shop that has stood on Aoyama Street, in the Akasaka district, for 51 years.

Kurokawa mentioned that every three days, a male customer visited the shop to enjoy oshiroko (a sweet bean paste soup with grilled mochi rice cake).

This is considered a bit unusual in Japan, because men don’t normally have such a sweet tooth, so this customer stood out from among the others.

Another customer, a boy of kindergarten age, came with his mother to the shop every day and bought a bite-sized yokan (block of sweet bean paste).

One day he came to shop by himself. As the staff were worried about him, they accompanied him out of the store, only to find that the mother was secretly watching, to ensure he was okay.

A 100-year-old lady regularly came by wheelchair to the shop. She later was hospitalized and her family came to buy namagashi (fresh Japanese sweets) and higashi (a dried sugar sweet) to take to her in the hospital.

Even after she no longer could eat anything, the family found that, if they crushed the dried sugar sweet, she could still enjoy it.

Kurokawa mentioned that he couldn’t include all of the episodes they have shared over these 51 years with their customers, but he said he and the staff keep them, one by one, in their hearts forever.

Telling stories about customers is powerful. Kurokawa made the customers’ experiences come alive, and he linked them to the products they enjoyed.

Rather than just a cold statement of the facts, he crafted a statement of love for their customers. The feeling the notice gives is that there is a special bond the company feels with all of its customers.

And even though the business won’t reopen on that site for another three years, they won’t have forgotten their customers, and look forward to serving them always.

This begs the question: are we communicating the special bond we feel for our customers?

Often, corporate communications becomes machine-like and wrapped up in what can sound like marketing department dross.

Kurokawa conveys a lot of heart-felt concern in a simple notice about the main store being rebuilt.

What’s more: Are we weaving enough customer stories into our communications?

I don’t mean fake propaganda stories, but real episodes that the reader can visualize in their mind’s eye?

Kurokawa’s notice gets attention in Japan because of the sincerity in the message. He is regarded as epitomizing the spirit of a family that has served customers for 17 generations.

We may not be the 17th generation in our businesses, but we can “bring more heart” into the service we provide our customers. We can start right now, with the service we provide and how we communicate it.