Taking the “Japan Brand” concept literally

The creation of a unified “Japan Brand” has been called for recently as a way to promote exports, boost tourism, and take control of how Japan as a nation is perceived abroad. To that end, the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency has recently announced a new logo for its campaign to help promote local products for export that to this blogger seems to lack a certain subtlety:


(Click the picture for the full size picture. It makes a great desktop wallpaper!)

Bluntness aside, it’s a simple and attractive logo. It seems intended as a sort of umbrella logo to bring disparate marketing strategies pursued by the various regions of Japan in under a unified concept that will “create new traditions” by very efficiently letting anyone who comes into contact with a product bearing such a logo that it DEFINITELY comes from Japan, which should let a potential buyer know that, like Japan, the product stands for “quality,” “beauty,” and “pride.”

And at least this logo should make sense to outsiders. “Yokoso Japan,” the tourism version of “Japan Brand” logos, was SLAMMED last year by American Japan theorist Alex Kerr, who told a government discussion panel that it would sound like “blah blah blah Japan” to those unfamiliar with the Japanese term for “welcome.”

UPDATE: I should note the similarity between this logo and the typeface at YH Chang Heavy Industries, a flash animation website known for its hit “Cunnilingus in North Korea:”


14 thoughts on “Taking the “Japan Brand” concept literally”

  1. Hmmm….

    I don’t really mind if Japanese business leaders get some kind of kick out of the fact that their products are Japanese, but I wonder if this will have any tangible affect on sales abroad. Most of the “Buy American/Aussie/Kiwi/etc Made” campaigns are targetted at local consumption. I doubt that anyone really cares that their instant noodles or waribashi are a “Japan Brand”. Does the campaign include labour intensive products such as electronics or cars? If so: a) isn’t it likely that such “Japanese” products aren’t made in Japan; or b) won’t they have a label attached to them like “Sony” or “NEC” which will immediately identify them as Japanese anyway?

    And, sorry to bang on my drum, but what, exactly, is Alex Kerr a “theorist” of? Inscrutable Japanese marketing habits?

  2. Yeah.Alex Kerr should stay in Bangkok and shut up about all things Nipponese.

    This “Japan Brand” is probably inspired by Blair era “Cool Britania”.And to my knowledge “Cool Britania” was pretty much about public relation of the nationhood
    instead of simply rebranding the product made by the nation.The thing is Japan is in the middle of soul searching phrase in all sector of the country,whether it’s imperial family,business sector,public education,social security or national politics.

    What’s lacking here is political explanation of the state of the nation and future road map.These can not be simply summed up in mystique of brand.
    I was in Korea for about six days and there,Koreans were desperate about this national brand thing for they felt being”sandwitched”by Japan and China on global presence.”Korea,Sparkling”and “Hub of North East Asia” is what they are trying to sell to the world.Personally I think they are falling the same trap with Japan.

    Any of you have read Asahi’s humongous special editorials over constitutional non-reform by the way?Like Regional contribution nation and all that?I’m very frustrated over snail like speed of Japanese progressive of gripping the reality of political climate.

    As for Yokoso Japan,it was pretty much of a success when it comes to having Koreans coming to Japan.Countless numbers of joint prefecture-enterprise effort was made under Yokoso Japan headquater initiative.
    Lots of OL’s from Pusan are heading for Kyusyu and local tourist industry is booming.It used to be the other way around.Although I agree with the success of attracting of Korean tourist is probably a byproduct of strong won/weak yen.
    So any concrete public image of the nation we can cast upon foreigners can only be made through personal intersection.And we are supposed to know all about this
    for everybody relates WW2 when talking about Japan.

  3. Ace – `Everybody` on the internet may be linking Japan and WWII but I think that for your average 16 year old (nerd) in North America, Japan = cool stuff. Those 16 year olds are going to grow up into a generation that can`t remember trade friction but does remember Inu Yasha. Ditto for Taiwan, India (we often forget that there are 1,000,000,000 people who overwhelmingly think that Japan is `great`), etc. I think that there is a lot of room to work with this Japan brand in the future. Korea is going to have a lot of trouble. No matter what the Korean government does, the average North America hears Korea and thinks `convenience store`. I`m not saying this as a jab and I know that it is not true. However, people associate Japan with high-tech, ninjas, anime, geisha, etc. Korea, in my opinion, really has to work on its image from the ground up. I`m not even sure that many know that Kia, LG, etc. are Korean companies at all.

  4. M-Bone:
    Just make sure that I’m no anti-Korea guy like you find at 2ch.I’m actually an apprentice Korea watcher in my office and had been kept my interest and affinity to the land of morning calm for almost 20 years.So there are lots of love and hate emotion when it comes to the bilateral relations.That was part of the reason I’m still reluctant for taking the language course ,because I was a bit afraid to find myself turn into the state of FG myself.And ofcourse there is an urgent need to learn Mongolian.

    Why I brought up about Korea here is there is a similarity over two nation facing identity crisis,such like
    a)end of cold war and shift of political climate Japan toward right and Korea left
    b)economic recession in Japan,IMF crisis in Korea
    c)social change like higher devorce rate,increase of international marriage and foreign worker in the society,collapse of existing social ladder like competiton for good college,etc
    d)rise of China as the regional superpower.

    These points require both Japan and Korea reconstruct their self image as a succesful society capable of competing in global arena.

    One difference is Korea can mobilize nationalism more easily than Japan(e.g Inter-Korean railway and other Sunshine policy related project that boost pan Koreanism.
    Anti Japanese sentiment like battle over sea of what ever,and sports game.)Thus it is easy to capture collective imagination.

    While in Japan,all you can do is promote “Beautiful Nation”(Abe Shinzo) or “Style of the nation”(Fujiwara Masahiko)which is politically vague at best.Gov,Ishihara’s Tokyo Olympic do not exactly stir any passion out of Japanese,let alone Tokyoite who do not wish any more mega project.National reform including constitutional revision are politicaly polemic,So I can understand why whole Japan brand thing is strictly remain in the field of commercial advertisement(or perhaps is this conspiracy by DENTSU?)

  5. One of the first places I saw this Japan Brand concept was in this detailed report from the Keizaidoyukai (a more radically Reaganish version of the Keidanren) calling for just such a thing that came out in April 2006. I’ve been wanting to dive into this concept for a while but haven’t gotten around to it, so I found this little news release as a cheap and easy to understand introduction.

    It is definitely inspired by similar plans in Britain, Germany, and even Korea as you mentioned, and lots and lots of other nations have jumped on the national tourism bandwagon since it is such a growing field — I remember a ‘come to Iceland’ ad on Washington-area NPR that sounded like it would be really offensive to actual Icelanders.

    2 points before bed — 1) The idea behind this concept as an export promotion tool is to sell high quality crafts/shochu whatever and brand it as Japanese, especially for countries that see Japanese stuff as either de facto high quality or culturally relevant. Buy native campaigns would not get you very far with upper middle class Thais, thank you very much. and 2) Aceface: Once again nailed it — I get the feeling that the ideas for economic reform that seem to pass against public opposition are made in the name of international competitiveness. But why should Japan rush to boost its international competitiveness (slash taxes for corporations while foisting increased social security/tax burden on regular people and slowly eroding job security, or in this case playing the role of trade association/parent company of last resort to design a single brand for local manufacturers) if there’s no clear idea of what Japan is competing for? I hate to sound like Fujiwara, but it seems like the only proposals that gain water are those that are being promoted either by the American government itself or its followers (like the former President of IBM Japan/Chairman of Doyukai) that want to make Japan into a version of America where the trains run on time or something.

    And another thing — I feel like the Japan Brand is only necessary now because there is such a diverse array of ‘brand messages’ coming from different sectors of Japanese society. Back in the 60s, weren’t most Japanese people doing business/studying outside of the country who weren’t leftists pretty much on the same page in terms of how Japan was to be presented to the world?

    Also Ace, judging from your immediate response, I have to say you remind me of a certain type of person typically seen at a nomikai (at least according to a late night NHK program): 酔うと国家を担う型

  6. “The idea behind this concept as an export promotion tool is to sell high quality crafts/shochu whatever and brand it as Japanese, especially for countries that see Japanese stuff as either de facto high quality or culturally relevant.”

    As I said before, won’t these high-end products have a label attached to them like “Sony” or “NEC” which will immediately identify them as Japanese anyway? (In the case of shochu or wasbi the hiragana will give it away.) I don’t think it escaped any attentive viewer’s attention that the last James Bond movie was essentially a three hour ad for Sony, but I doubt anyone believed that he was using British digital cameras and computers.

  7. I don’t know if this is the same initiative or not but last year METI launched the clumsily-named “Japanesque Modern” project.

    Google those terms to find the committee’s bilingual site

  8. Ultimately this logo will mean nothing, since branding and brand experience will have to go beyond these firms simply ‘being Japanese’ in order to drive overseas revenue.

    Let’s not forget that the auto and electronics companies established their foothold in the west despite being Japanese, when that still carried a stigma. They did it the old fashioned way, by competing directly in overseas markets. They are now established and have little to benefit from such initiatives – especially in the auto industry where they are again trying to downplay their Japanese-ness due to the (absurd) political reactions against their business practices.

    The newer firms will have to prove themselves in their sectors, by competing against established brands. Simply ‘being Japanese’ might give them some boost for a while, but is not a long-term strategy for hanging on to market share or developing brand loyalty.

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