Branded

Brand Loyalty in Japan

There is a huge obsession in Japan for luxury brands. Louis Vuitton reins supreme over the streets of Tokyo.

If you are not carrying, you ain’t no-one.

Japanese women make up just 2% of the population of Asia but make up 50% of the overall sales of luxury brands in the area. In 2010 a quarter of all luxury goods were bought in the Japanese market and Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Coach and Tiffany counts on Japan for an average of 13 percent of total profit.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912) Japan made a huge push to westernise and do away with the old political and social structures. Japan adopted the British government style, German medicine and French fashion. The people who survived these changes wore French clothes, held western style cocktail parties and engaged in social dancing. After the war, once again Japan adapted to the American style of education and business. Western brands were rare and highly valued, when food and clothes were cheap and poorly made, a famous name was the safest choice. The Japanese addiction to Western luxury fashion brands arose in the 1960s and 1970s with the rapid expansion of the new middle class that wanted to show off their success. Due to the tight space restrictions of Japan, especially in the cities, the Western way to enjoy, as well, as to exhibit one’s riches with mansions and large properties in leafy neighbourhoods, was near impossible. The Japanese chose to show their wealth by dressing richly. Additionally, the dense traffic and tight parking meant luxury cars were pointless. The more expensive the luxury articles worn the higher the status of the person wearing them. The ultimate status symbols in Japan were luxury fashion goods such as couture clothes, leather purses, shoes and accessories, silk scarves, watches, furs, and jewels.

But, in a country whose economy has stagnated for the last 20 years, there is a disproportionate amount of people walking around with the latest in high-end fashion. Young people including high school students who seemingly work regular jobs in offices and shops have enough disposable income to afford the best what Paris fashion has to offer. Japan has an issue with Parasite Singles, a recent survey showed that 60% of single men and 80% of single women aged 20-34 lived at home with their parents. A shocking 84% said they did not have to help with household expenses and 50% claimed to receive financial aid from The Bank of Mum and Dad.
An article in The Washington Post described one Parasite single;

Miki Takasu is 26 years old, beautiful, drives a BMW and carries a
2,800 USD Chanel handbag–when she isn’t using her Gucci, Prada or
Vuitton purses. She vacations in Switzerland, Thailand, Los Angeles,
New York and Hawaii. Happily unmarried, living with her parents
while working as a bank teller, she is what people here call a
“parasite single”…
…They shop. Rings and watches by Cartier, Bulgari, and Hermes
costing 2,000 to 3,000 USD are particularly popular among working
women, who buy themselves presents for special occasions–a Cartier
ring to celebrate her 10th anniversary on the job, or a gift to herself
on turning 30.
They travel. Miki, who earns about 28,000 USD a year, frequently
makes quick shopping trips to Korea, has been to Hawaii three times
and to Malaysia and Egypt as well–all with girlfriends.

This frees up a huge proportion of their salary to take trips, socialize and buy what ever they want.
As mentioned before Japanese society is seated in outward appearances and a sense of belonging to a greater group. Owning a brand that is coveted by others helps the owner to not only feel important and fashionable but also shows that they are part of the tribe. In the quest to fit in girls have been known to turn to more dramatic measures. The infamous enjo kosai problems of the 1990s when junior high school students would sell dates with themselves to older men.
Another reason brands are so important to young people especially women is the limited job market and low female social status. having the funds to buy yourself a bag, a watch, a car or to travel boosts your self-confidence in a way that a marriage and 1.67 children (the national average) can’t.

Brand loyalty in Japan extends also to food, electronics and cars although it is the opposite story. Japanese brands are trusted more than their foreign counterparts. Australian beef is cheaper than Japanese beef and vegetables from neighbouring parts of Asia are almost half what the Japanese versions cost. The 10 highest grossing brands in Japan are all domestic companies from Toyota to Sharp.

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今日の日本語 Today’s Japanese

本音 (honne) and 建前 (tatemae).

Honne is ones true feelings and desires while tatemae is behaviour and opinions one displays in public.

Japan is a small, mountainous island whose population was 15million in 1800. As space was always an issue and living, working and playing quarters were close, the idea of social harmony was key to a successful and easy life
Even today Japanese people go to great lengths to avoid conflict and arguments with each other and social obligations are considered more than personal beliefs.

Tatemae (literally ‘façade’) is a social institution. An example would be going to an acquaintances house for coffee and being asked to stay for dinner, a tatemae response would be “I’m not hungry but thank you very much” (even if you are starving). Tatemae did help society when people lived and farmed together in self-sufficient communities but in today’s interactive and international world the pressures of tatemae can have more dangerous consequences. Social commentators have attributed the violent and fantasy driven nature of Japan’s notorious pornography to the desire to voice the oppressed honne. Another depressing result is the hikikomori who shut themselves away from the world and hide away from any form of social interaction including (but not always) their parents who they still live with.

In 2011 when Japan was crippled by the earthquake and tsunami and the country was on the brink of nuclear meltdown, tatemae was blamed for the shocking cover up of how serious the problem was.