The first big fad of the Reiwa Era in Japan was undoubtedly bubble tea, or as its called here “tapioca.” This simple concoction of milk tea with black pearls of tapioca in the bottom of the cup took the nation by storm, spawning a “theme park” and occasional EDM tune.
Easily, cheaply, and safely made by boiling some packaged balls of tapioca and pouring in a cup of bottled milk tea, the sudden demand for this drink was basically a license to print money. As a result, tapioca shops sprung up all over highly populated areas, many of which saw line-ups around the block, often with women in their teens and 20s making up the majority of the customers.
As the temperature gradually dipped, fewer and fewer people were willing to line up around the block for a cold beverage. Weekly magazine SPA! spoke with one tapioca shop proprietor who opened in the Ikebukuro neighborhood of Tokyo last March and said business was great for the first three days, but after a half a month fell into the red and never fully recovered.
By the end of October the shop had closed, one of the many in high-rent areas like Ikebukuro and Shinjuku that disappeared by the new year. Some tried to adapt to the changing climate, offering warm versions and Uber Eats service, but by definition all fads must come to an end.
Google searches for “tapioca” have plummeted since June of last year, and it certainly seems to have run its course, judging by the reaction to news that the tapioca fad might be through.
“Yes, yes, die.”
“Of course. It was stupid to begin with.”
“I definitely don’t see line-ups any more.”
“Teenage girls get tired of things quickly. Everyone knows that.”
“Tapioca customers just totally abandoned it. I’m actually surprised how suddenly it happened.”
“It looks like frog eggs. Why did people even like it?”
“I think it’s okay, but I wouldn’t drink it every day.”
“The tapioca place near me had huge lines in the summer. Now only a few people go there. It’s empty by closing time.”
With an ice age descending on the tapioca vendors, those wily enough to adapt will survive. According to a market analyst interviewed by Japanese magazine Spa!, those who could pivot to other foods like fried chicken or cheese dogs had a good chance of staying active while still offering tapioca as a secondary product.
Some establishments could also find maintainable success migrating to lower-rent areas in suburban and rural areas where they still might be seen as novel, so there is still hope for struggling business owners.
No one is perhaps more optimistic than self-proclaimed Tapioca Navigator and former tapioca shop clerk Mirei Umemura, with over 1,300 confirmed cup kills in her 11-year bubble tea-drinking history.
“The tapioca boom has been over before,” Umemura told Spa!, “This could be called the third boom, so even if the explosive popularity like last summer is gone, I think that tapioca will come into a boom period again around 2025.”
However, the departure of the milky drink has left a power vacuum in people’s innate need to cling to something fashionable. What will be the fad of 2020? T
Only time will tell…
Source: Spa!, Itai News
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