It’s fairly common to find local, honor system stores here in the inaka. These usually take the form of a little table or stall set up on the side of the road by a farmer’s field selling extra veggies, flowers, nuts, etc. There’s usually a sign that tells you how much each item costs, and a box or can for you to put your money in. There’s also more sophisticated versions of this, like this store in Saitama selling veggies, accessories, and bread in different vending machines.
Recently, a new bakery opened next to one of my elementary schools. The store is actually run by the parent of a student here. At first, what interested everyone in the area was that the store was not actually a bakery that made it’s own bread. It’s a bakery “outlet” and buys day old pastries and sells them for only ￥100 a piece – much, much cheaper than the original price. I am a huge fan of this, because it means I have an excuse to buy a ton of bread on my way home from work.
However, in the last couple weeks, the store has gotten even more interesting. They put up signs that said that the store was now open 24 hours and would be “無人販売中” or, “open for business while unmanned.” This news was the topic for much chatter around the coffee machine in the school staffroom. A few days ago, I finally popped into the store during an unmanned period. The notice says that there are cameras running, but the entire store is still completely unlocked and the bread is just sitting on the shelves.
I don’t know what you’d do if you needed change, but the method of payment seems to be dropping your coins into a funnel that goes through the door into the back. They even had a little roll of plastic bags for you to take your treats home in. Over the weekend, the store isn’t stocked, but during the week, a truck comes once a day to fill up the store’s shelves. The earlier you get there, the more choices of cheap pastry you have.
The store has been pretty popular among locals, and even sometimes sends a truck of bread to sell directly to the teachers at school after the students leave for the day. It’s probably for the best that the store wasn’t there earlier, because I’ve been buying a shocking amount of bread. Anyway, there’s something inherently charming about opening a store based on selling very cheap bread, and trusting people enough to pay the right amount and not just grab the entirely unsecured pastries from the shelves. It feels like a modern take on the classic inaka stall, while keeping the unique sense of community these kinds of things bring.