The Word Works

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Changing Preferences in Car Colors

Published By: John on 10/08/06
Categories: Hit Products

image The graph you see here is taken from the Sunday, October 8, 2006 edition of the Asahi Shimbun. It shows how Japanese tastes in car colors have changed from 1965 (top bar) to 2005 (bottom bar).

The article that follows the graph tells us that since 2004, grey is the most popular car color in Japan. Add the fact that white has been in first or second place since 1975 and one might be tempted to conclude that an era dominated by “colorless” cars continues. In this respect, Japan contrasts with Europe and the USA where, while grey cars have become more popular, red and blue cars also sell well. The author notes, however, that the precise meaning of white and grey has varied over time. The currently most popular grey is silver with a small touch of pink. One authority cited suggests that this is a “therapeutic color” soothing to drivers stressed by an increasingly competitive society. The author observes that he chose silver-grey because it is the color on which dirt is least likely to stand out.

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Why is Egg Souffle an Ingredient in Sushi?

Published By: John on 10/06/06
Categories: Hit Products

image No, it’s not a piece of yellow styrofoam. It’s tamagoyaki(sweetened egg souffle) about to be sliced into strips and used, like fish or shellfish, as an ingredient in sushi. But why? And where did it come from?

“It isn’t fish or shellfish. How come it’s used in sushi?” That’s the question her kindergartner son put to a Chiba housewife, who then posed it to the author of Monjiro, a Q&A column that appeared in the October 6, 2006, morning edition of the Asahi shimbun.

Kids love the sweet taste, so was it created for kids? The answer is no. The history of tamagoyaki goes back at least to the Edo period, appearing in collections of popular customs from the early 19th century. On Sushi shop signboards from this period, tamagoyaki appears at the top of their lists of sushi ingredients. Sushi itself appears before the advent of modern refrigeration and was made of salted or pickled seafood. At this stage in sushi’s history, eggs were still a relatively rare and expensive ingredient, sometimes cooked into thin omelets used to wrap the vinegared rice from which sushi takes its name. We don’t know who first had the idea of using tamagoyakistrips as toppings or exactly why it became so popular. The sweetness may have been a nice change from the salty or sour taste of other ingredients, making tamagoyakia good way to cleanse the palette between other courses. Another hypothesis notes how the eggs’ bright yellow color contrasts with the red, gleaming white or almost-black green of other popular sushi ingredients. Which is right? Who knows?

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And the winner is...Somen!

Published By: John on 09/25/06
Categories: Hit Products Marketing

When summer’ heat drags on for days, we like eating somen (thin wheat noodles). Once we do we want more, but at the supermarket both somen and somen sauce are sold out. In the noodles world of noodles,  there is no doubt about it, somen is a winner! (From Michi Shioya’s Value Research Bulletin Board, No. 103)

What about hiyamugi (iced noodles)?

In the noodle section of the supermarket, we find shelves well-stocked with soba (buckwheat noodles), udon (thick wheat noodles), and somen. But hiyamugi are barely visible. If we don’t look hard, we won’t find them. They have no hardcore supporters. Noone who wants them no matter what. In the noddles world, they are losers.

Hiyamugi  and somen: what’s the difference?

I don’t know the precise definition, but hiyamugi are usually thicker than somen, which are very thin. We might speculate that the thinner somen go down more easily in the heat of summer. But, no, that’s not it. Famous examples of somen from many parts of Japan are as thick as udon.

Udon  are winners, too.

Udon are a little thicker than hiyamugi. But the hit movie UDON has strengthened udon‘s presence. The biggest reason is Sanuki Udon,  which plays a starring role in the film. Its fame has put other local varieties of udon in the spotlight, too. Many have long histories, and numerous udon shops are renowned for unique tastes. The sheer number of examples throughout Japan is awesome. Thus, once you have tasted Sanuki Udon, enjoyed the rich taste and been startled by how inexpensive it is, you find yourself wanting to try the udon from other places as well.

Soba, udon, somen, hiyamugi, ramen

In contrast to other types of noodles,  hiyamugi has hardly any supporters. When we think of ramen, for example, we think of Sapporo, Hakodate, Onomichi, Wakayama or Tokyo, all places that have given birth to distinctive varieties of ramen. (After Tokyo, Ehime Prefecture appears to have the most ramen shops.) Soba has local varieties everywhere. That makes it easy for for anyone to don a soba maker’s uniform, pretend to to make his own soba and present himself as a soba expert. No wonder soba is so popular.

In contrast, no one can pose as a hiyamugi expert. Localities in which the hiyamugi is famous are rare. It’s hard to make up stories about the special flour, the handmade, freshmade, or fresh from the pot qualities of hiyamugi.

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Selling Creative

Published By: John on 09/22/06
Categories: Brain Design Hit Products

In the Aoyama Design Kaigi section of the September 2006 issue of BRAIN, graphic designer Kitagawa issay, copywriter Maeda Tomomi, and product designer Sumikawa Shinichi discuss the proposition that creative (words, designs and images produced by creative imagination) should be seen as corporate assets. They begin with an issue much how the minds of people like themselves who rely on their creativity for their livelihoods: How do people on the corporate side see their ideas.image

KITAGAWA. Creative has become a corporate asset. But there are other corporate assets as well. Technology, for example, taste, for example, communication ability: all are examples of assets whose value is, like that of creative, hard to quantify.

I fear that the heirs of those who founded corporations after WWII are not taking proper care of the invisible assets that the founders created.

SUMIKAWA. I work in product design. The example I have brought with me today is a shoehorn. It’s priced at 7,000 yen but recently has sold very well. When I noticed that previous shoehorns were made of celluloid and stuffed away in shoe closets, I was inspired to make a beautiful shoehorn. I said to myself, “Let’s make the world’s most beautiful shoehorn.” But I had the idea seven years ago, and it took me five or six years to bring it to fruition.
It’s very hard for corporations to accept an idea like that, which takes so long to realize. And when we outsiders bring ideas to corporations, it takes them a very long time to understand and accept them. To succeed we have to grit our teeth and have confidence in the ideas we’ve come up with.image

The problem is that when an individual designer brings ideas to a corporation, getting them through to an OK takes an immense amount of time. Or, perhaps I’m just not very persuasive (laughs). I kept hearing people say that “A shoehorn priced close to 10,000 yen will never sell.” I was young and lacked both experience and confidence. There are so many great young designers around, attitudes like that are a real waste. Corporations need to cultivate an eye for new ideas.

MAEDA. The newspaper ads for Takarajimasha in which I have been involved are a good example. We’ve been working together for 11 years [during which these ads have, by the way, one several prizes]. It might seem odd that a publishing company that owns its own media would spend money on expensive newspaper ads. But this is a strange company, and they don’t find it odd at all.

Once, there were two years in which they stopped producing these ads. As a result, their scores in corporate image surveys declined.  “So, those ads weren’t a waste, after all” they say.

The problem is that things we used to take for granted aren’t persuasive anymore. If all we can offer is 20th century-type talk about efficiency, the clients won’t see the need. Some are even asking, what is this talk about efficiency? It is easy if we explain and they buy it, but the era when that was enough is past.

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Matsutake Laundering

Published By: John on 08/31/06
Categories: Consumers Hit Products Marketing

Where else but in Japan would your evening paper (Asahi Shimbun, August 29, 2006) front page a story headlined “Matsutake Laundering: North Korea to China to Japan.”image

The story is no joke. Matsutake mushrooms are a seasonal favorite in Japan. Fall without Matsutake would be like Christmas without a turkey. But as shown in the chart reproduced here, in 2005 Japan only produced 39 tons of the 2881 tons of Matsutake consumed in Japan.  783 tons came from North Korea and 1,655 tons from China. But Japanese upset by North Korean nuclear sabre rattling are seen by the merchants involved as a threat to this lucrative trade. The result, a lot of North Korean mushrooms are slipped across the border to China, for reshipment labeled as Chinese mushrooms to Japan. That’s a violation of Japanese labeling laws and a cause celebre in Japan. Still, it all goes to show: Where there’s a buck, a won,  a yuan or a yen, there’s a way.

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