Tim Spangler

Tim Spangler

Maki Nibayashi

General Manager of Recreational Equipment, Inc.' Tokyo Flagship Store

Time in Japan:

One year

Where are you from?
Washington State, USA.

What brought you to Japan?
Work. I was managing a store for REI in Spokane, Washington when I heard the announcement that we were going to open our first international store in Tokyo. When the store manager job was posted, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

What was your first impression of Japan?
Probably the same as a lot of newcomers. I rode the bus from Narita into the city as evening was falling and I couldn't believe the size of Tokyo. Having just left a city of 250,000 people it was a bit overwhelming. Once I got off the bus though, I was surprised at the contradiction. What looked huge and confusing was in reality, clean, accessible, and easy to negotiate. It was a nice surprise.

What do you do here?
Until now I have been responsible for opening and operating our first store in Japan. I'm beginning to focus my attention on the development of future stores.

Can you tell us a bit about REI?
REI stands for Recreational Equipment, Inc. We sell gear and clothing designed to meet the needs of the hiker, camper, climber, cyclist, snowshoer, and adventure traveler (in the US we also specialize in skiing, snowboarding, and paddlesports).

REI was founded in Seattle in 1938 as a consumer cooperative. Since that time, the company has grown to 60 retail stores in the US as well as our websites and We have over 5,000,000 cooperative members, 90,000 of whom live in Japan. In April of this year, we opened our first international store in Minami Machida's Grandberry Mall. In September, we launched our Japan-based website  

This 15m high rock sclimbing pinnacle is inside of REI's Tokyo Flagship store

REI's Tokyo Flagship store includes some very innovative interactive features. We have a 15 meter high free-standing indoor climbing pinnacle; an outdoor mountain bike test trail; a hiking boot test trail; water filter and camping stove test stations; and an indoor kids play area. We also have full-service bicycle and camping repair shops on site. The goal is to provide our customers with a great selection of outdoor gear and clothing; friendly expert staff to assist and offer advice; and an environment in which gear can be tested and experienced prior to purchasing it.

What do you think are the main differences between managing a store here and in the US?
In US stores, most of our employee teams are made up of part-time staff who stay with us for various lengths of time. Most do not consider REI their long-term career. Our store team in Japan is made up of a high percentage of people for whom this is their intended career. It's a nice change because the commitment and dedication level among my co-workers is exceptional. They are absolutely invested in our future success, because they see it as their future too.

What's your favorite thing about Japan?
Watching my kids experience life in a different culture.

And your favorite restaurant or watering hole?
Sushi Chu in Minami Machida. Great fish, reasonable prices, and a nice casual atmosphere. Suzuki-san, the owner, is an exceptional host.

What is your recipe for a happy and successful life in Japan?
Try to keep some balance in everything that you do. Remember that a good sense of humor and a bit of patience make all the difference. Get out of the city and go to the mountains whenever you have the chance. If the opportunity doesn't present itself, go anyway. You won't regret it.

REI: Grandberry Mall, Minami Machida. 3-4-1 Tsuruma, Machida-shi 042-788-3535.

Tim Spangler spoke to Maki Nibayashi.

Do you know someone who has an interesting life in Japan? Email us at

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Issues 250-299

Issues 150-199