Monday, July 27, 2009

3 Lessons on The Culture Behind Japanese Brands

A couple of months ago, we had a wonderful week in Asia. While in Tokyo, we appreciated the business culture, as well as the social. Here's an excerpt of an article by Chauncy Zalkin with three lessons on the culture behind Japanese brands (shared with me by Nancy Burgess, a Verbal CHEMist at Stinson Brand Innovation).

"Historically, in a simpler time before the jet age, Japan was geographically isolated, surrounded by treacherous seas and formidable fault lines. Mountains cover three-quarters of Japan. Earthquakes and challenging terrain are constant reminders of nature's strength and have contributed to the importance Japanese people place on having a dependable, manageable social system. Japanese people value the group over the individual, and the society consequently possesses an enviable system of organization and an ethos that gave rise to innovative brands and services. The branding world has taken notice.

Lesson 1: Consideration of the Group
Kuuki wo yomu means to "read the air"-to get a sense or feeling of group sentiment. In a recent social experiment, Japanese and Western participants were shown a picture where an individual stood in front of a group and were asked to describe the situation. The Japanese test takers "read the air," meaning they considered the facial expressions of the group behind the individual, whereas westerners focused solely on the expression of the individual to make their assessment.

Lesson 2: Ritual and Restraint
One set of slippers is for the house. Another, for the bathroom. Sake comes before, not during, the meal. After a Japanese meeting, it's time for karaoke and raucous good times. The working day is done. Each experience has its place, and for that time, every other experience is put aside.

Lesson 3: Reverence for Nature and the Human Touch
Products that exhibit the human touch and an understanding of the environment are what consumers-and society-demand now. Japan is known for sci-fi style innovation but also for employing nature's materials in unique and reverent ways.

In Conclusion
Brands are about values, and values are about people. It is the Japanese people-their culture, their society and their sensibilities-that are the power behind Japanese brands. From Toyota to Sony and Muji to Uniqlo, Japanese brands enjoy global respect for their high quality, attention to detail, technological edge and commitment to the environment. Japan, take a bow."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Chauncey Zalkin is the founder and served as a senior brand strategist and resident trends expert at creative shops before moving to Paris to write and continue her cultural research projects from a different lens.


girlonthestreet said...

Hi, this is Chauncey. I just found this. Thanks for excerpting my article. I'm very pleased and I hope you enjoyed it. Find me now at You can also find a presentation related to this article on SlideShare:

Mark Stinson said...

Hello, Chauncey.

I appreciate the note, and the additional reading along with slides.

Your website led me to learn about another writer, Dr. Louann Brizendine, and her books THE FEMALE BRAIN and the new follow-up THE MALE BRAIN. Sounds fascinating. I'm adding both to my reading list.

girlonthestreet said...

Did you red the Female Brain yet? How was it? Happy New Year and all the best in 2010.

Girl on the street