British Brands Big in Japan

for March, 2014

British Brands Big in Japan

Posted on 16 March 2014 in Market Insight -
Herdy-made to make you smile-in Otoya Stationery Store

I have just recently spent 10 days in Japan for the first time in 16 years and naturally spent some of my time looking around the shops in Tokyo and Yokohama and was very interested to see the amount of British  products doing well over there. I work with British companies to inform them about the Japanese market and often use case studies and examples to help British businesses learn about their specific markets and consumer behaviour in Japan. So it was very encouraging to see lots of favourite household names doing well over there, some possibly better than they do here and in some cases being marketed in fairly different ways to suit the Japanese market.

First off was my stay in a very posh district in Yokohama overlooking the bay:a true haven for shoppers with plush shopping malls housing all the big names. However,what struck me how our favourite high street shops such as H&M, Top Shop and Next (which interestingly enough had a massive Union Jack in its window) were positioned alongside these high end shops and fitted in perfectly. Even Kit Kat, that once British brand and let’s be honest fairly bog-standard addition to any sweet shop counter has it’s own up-market counter at Seibu department store attracting queues to buy unique Japanese flavours such as matcha and sakura. This was all done in very Japanese style with luxurious packaging and plays well into the Japanese obsession with gift giving. Admittedly, I bought into it and purchased several for friends back home.

I also noticed some smaller British brands were positioned in very interesting settings: Belvoir Cordials was in Seibu department store not in the food and drink section but on a special display with healthy products-I was politely reprimanded for taking a photo of it but hopefully the picture will show how it was marketed as a luxurious, healthy product. In Itoya, one of Tokyo’s biggest stationery shops, Herdy, a small company from the Lake District selling cute sheep mugs and products had its products positioned right in the entrance. This small company seems to have hit the “kawaii” market right on target. Interestingly, Shaun the Sheep is apparently incredibly popular on merchandise, even amongst adults-my ex-boss’s wife proudly showed me her Shaun the Sheep purse!!

british cordials

Belvoir Cordials- interesting product placement in Seibu

Herdy-made to make you smile-in Otoya Stationery Store

Herdy-made to make you smile-in Otoya Stationery Store


Union Jack on a traditional kimono "obi"

Union Jack on a traditional kimono “obi”

Overall, I was very impressed with how British brands were being marketed in Japan and equated with quality-my favourite spot of all was an “obi” covered with union jacks in a very high class kimono shop window in Ginza-I wish I could afford to buy it!

Please contact me if you wish to comment on this or discuss your product in relation to the Japanese market.

Read more

Has Japan Changed?

Posted on 9 March 2014 in Inter-Cultural Training, Market Insight, womenomics -
Yanaka, Tokyo

After 16 years away from Japan, I recently returned on business to Yokohama and Tokyo and the question everyone was asking is: has it changed a lot? My answer would be yes and no. No, because on the surface the same levels of politeness are still evident in the service industry including uniformed subway staff ushering everyone through the station and apologising to everyone about disruptions at the station, overly attentive service and packaging still very evident in department stores with store managers greeting shoppers upon the opening of stores and female lift attendants directing and helping people plus there is the same high level of convenience including ice-cream vending machines now! The “kawaii” culture is still influencing products and advertisements and some British companies have embraced this too (I will blog about this separately).

Kawaii goods on sale on Ginza. popular amongst older generation too

Ice cream vending machine on subway


Yes things have changed in a sense of  there being more altruistic activities: people on the streets campaigning about anti-nuclear, collecting for Tohoku and dogs for the blind. There was a lot more evidence of homelessness and poverty out in daily life. With all the talk of Abenomics, it was interesting to see whether any of his policies had caused visible changes. Let’s start with globalisation: English was used a lot more than when I was last there (polite notices on the subway asking people to use their manners, people trying it out with me) although still lots of senseless English around advertising Japanese products that I think we have to accept is a feature of their relationship with the English language and doesn’t seem to bother the target audience. Think Pocari Sweat and Vanilla Air as big name brands and you will see where I am coming from.

Enjoy your life! Enjoy your inner style, your socks & your inner & your homewear style

Enjoy your life! Enjoy your inner style, your socks & your inner & your homewear style

There was a lot more katakanisation of words (foreign words adapted into the Japanese language) and also lots more foreign faces dotted around although I still caused a group of High School boys to giggle nervously and say “hello” to me in Yokohama-nice ego boost for me admittedly.

Next up: Womenomics and child care issues. I spoke to a few women in Tokyo still struggling with this and finding it almost impossible to get places at their local state funded centre-one who wants to go back to work as a nurse has since got a place although the only option is full time. I also spoke to women about the stringent work hours expected and lack of flexible working hours within Japanese companies even for women with children and the Chairwoman of a governmental organisation said she had often come across counterparts asking her when the Chair was about to arrive, mistaking her for someone of lesser status. Encouragingly though, Nomura Bank has just appointed its first female head.

Emerging markets: I visited a Smart Week Expo (I will be writing on this for Cambridge Clean Tech next month) and there was certainly a massive interest in this area from all parts of the globe-Caroline Kennedy opened the Expo! I have never seen so many booths and prototypes of wind turbines!

All in all it was a positive re-affirmation of my love for Japan and confirmation that there are still many cultural differences but Japan is still resilient. Please feel free to contact me about this blog or any other aspect of doing business in Japan.



Read more