90% of umbrellas in Japan are plastic umbrellas

The Japanese rainy season is known as “Tsuyu” (or plum rain) because the rain happens at the time when plums are ripening.  As the plums ripen, supermarkets and shops sell green plums.  It is also the season that provokes feelings of good things from Japanese culture such as umeboshi (pickled plums) and ume-shu (plum wine).

Originally, during the Japanese rainy season, light rain would fall continuously all day, however recently it often becomes dark suddenly and rains heavily.  Looking at the water droplets that accumulate on lotus leaves and at the color of the hydrangeas makes us think that the rainy season is a good thing, especially as the rainy days become fewer.

It is believed that the abnormal weather is due to global warming, but there are no forecasters or scholars that say it is abrupt climate change.  Historically, climate change in Japan has taken place a number of times and is said to be related to the number of spots on the sun, but it’s unclear.

Japanese people don’t really like to get wet when it rains.  In foreign countries (outside Japan), many people walk in the rain without carrying umbrellas, however you don’t see this in Japan.  Instead, convenience stores and train station kiosks sell simple rain products such as plastic umbrellas and rain capes.  Convenience store clerks say that plastic umbrellas sell very well.

According to the MOTTAINAI Umbrella Project (http://mottainai-3r.jp/kasa/), annual consumption of Japanese umbrellas is 130 million umbrellas, 90 percent of which are plastic umbrellas.  The population of Japan is approximately 128 million, which means that each person is purchasing 1 or more umbrellas per year.

In the umbrella stands of corporate offices are numerous plastic umbrellas, and I must confess that there are a number of them in my own home.  Plastic umbrellas cost 500 yen and fairly reasonably priced.  (However, today’s young people say this is expensive.)

A plastic umbrella is 55 to 70 centimeters wide.  Recently colorful ones for women and umbrellas with patterns are being sold.  Besides plastic umbrellas, we often see Waterfront brand (http://www.water-front.co.jp/ ) umbrellas that are similar to plastic umbrellas for sale in convenience stores and station kiosks.  These are nearly twice as expensive at 1000 yen, however customers can select the color and shape and foldable types.  I am also a user of these umbrellas.

The number one reason that people don’t carry umbrellas in Japan is that they are misplaced or left behind.  Many people likely forget umbrellas on the train while commuting to work, and according to a search on (http://news.mynavi.jp/c_career/level1/yoko/2012/11/jr.html), umbrellas are the second most forgotten items on trains behind clothing.  Umbrellas are items that are easily forgotten and easy to lose track of.

Besides forgetting them, people also end up buying new ones when it suddenly rains.  Japanese people really dislike getting wet when it rains.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the downpours and heavy rain during Japan’s rainy season.  Plastic umbrellas break when the rain and wind are strong and broken umbrellas are often seen scattering the streets after storms.  It is unlikely that the annual sales of plastic umbrellas will remain at 90 percent.  A check of numerous convenience stores revealed that there are now improved versions of umbrellas for sale.  For example, there are some with more ribs that make them stronger than plastic umbrellas.  Also, the plastic seems to have become slightly thicker (possibly my imagination).  Furthermore, the price is still 500 yen.  Plastic umbrellas were introduced in 1958 (and were luxury goods at that time) and have continued to protect the Japanese who hate getting wet for 55 years. Hopefully there will be flexibility in responding to the changing climate.

 

※To view a past television program on plastic umbrellas, please visit: http://www.tbs.co.jp/gacchiri/archives/20080629/1.html

If I use the same brand of bag

Something happened when I was out shopping.  I came upon a group of what I thought were Chinese tourists at a clothing store I often visit.  Since the outbreak of the island dispute, the number of tourists from China has dramatically decreased, however there was no indication of that at this shop.

They cheerfully examined each and every item and purchased one item after another.    I was interested in these girls, but they also seemed to be interested in me, a local, as they picked up the same clothing and accessories that I was looking at.  They chose some of them and of course there were some they did not select.

Because I was in the same area as these girls for a fairly long time, one of them asked me, “Do you like this brand?” but they only spoke Chinese and weren’t able to have a conversation.  Afterwards, one of the shop staff told me that this same brand was nearly three times as expensive in China and that there were many customers who came to Japan and purchased large quantities of the goods.  Also, many of these girls liked new items and it seemed that they tended to purchase the latest products.  They were purchasing 2 or 3 of the same item to give to friends and family as presents.

As I was looking at a bag, a Chinese person in the back of the shop told me in a loud voice, (what I think was) “That’s in fashion.”  According to the shop people, they were looking at tortoise shell and dragon and snake scales, items seen as good luck.  I’ve been using the same brand of bag for many years, but I’ve never thought about that at all.

The shop people were told that if you buy something, silver is a good color.  When asked, “What about gold?” the shop people were told, “Right now, silver is popular with young Chinese people.”  After this, someone asked me with a wry smile, “Excuse me, but you are Japanese, aren’t you?”  I gave the same forced smile back.

The group of tourists left the store first.  Apparently, they were off to the same brand’s next store.  Although the same store, it seems that this was so they could buy 2 or 3 items.

I’ve been buying this same brand for over 10 years and have never had this kind of experience.  The reasons why it’s loved are different, but it is strange that there is a mutual feeling for the same brand.  I was reminded that an unintentionally created new meaning for the brand is an essential part of creating the story.

The thing that was the most interesting was that even for a short time, the power of the Chinese tourists seemed to turn the shop into China.  Because I was the only Japanese in the shop, maybe I was pulled into this “quantity.”

Kids’ conversations

Whenever I take the train there is something that I look forward to – the conversations of kids and young people.  It might seem distasteful, but it is a good opportunity to learn what kinds of things they are thinking about, what is popular, and what the hot topics are.  Today, while waiting on a platform along the Chuo line, I encountered some elementary school students (boys) on their way to school.  They looked cute in their matching uniforms and school bags.  The topic of conversation was smartphones.  Among elementary school students there are very few children who have smartphones (I think).  However, they seemed to be extremely interested in them, and a “survey” about which smartphones their fathers used began.  

“What is yours using?”


“Softbank, so probably iPhone”

“Softbank has other smartphones besides iPhone, you know”

“He’s been using it for 2 years.  Recently there are series, right?  


“Well”

(to another boy) “And what about yours?”

“DoCoMo, I think”


”Wasn’t there just some kind of accident?”

“I’m not sure, but it’s not the kind of mobile phone that folds in half.  The screen is big”

“That’s a not a smart phone, it’s, what’s it called, the one that’s bigger than a smart phone”


“Not that big”

I think that they were older elementary school students, but I was still surprised at the content of their conversation.  Even though they weren’t using smartphones, they knew all about them.  After the above conversation, they began pondering what types of smartphones their teachers used.  It seemed that they hadn’t really witnessed their teachers using them before, but the conversation perked up when they began to imagine “so-and-so teacher seems like DoCoMo, etc.”  

There were a few interesting points from their conversation.  The only smartphone carrier brand names that were mentioned were Softbank and DoCoMo.  Also, in terms of product names, no other names except iPhone were mentioned.  However, it seemed that they did not know that iPhone is Apple.  There was the impression that Softbank manufactured and sold it, and they used the phrase “Softbank makes it.” 

I was also surprised that the specific year, 2008, didn’t come up and instead “from 2 years.”  Also, I was shocked that they perceived last month’s DoCoMo email service disruption as an “accident.”  Today’s elementary school students are formidable, but seeing them call home (to their parents) in between this conversation was really cute. 

Working with Emerging Markets

My work is mainly focused on qualitative research and data gathering for countries called emerging markets.  I thought that I would write about it after gaining a little more experience, but it would be good to write as a first step.  The countries I often request data and research from are (in order) China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, Russia and Mexico.  Including some rare countries, I’ve made requests to approximately 30 countries.  Occasionally there are also requests for quantitative research, however the majority of the inquiries are for brand audit jobs and reports on how certain brands are developing in countries.  Communications (advertising, etc.) and marketing, as well as business trends of those brands are included. 

I experimented with using a format, however because the content that people wanted to know differed depending on the client, I am now using data gathering and research that is formatted to correspond to the requested content.  The fees are mentioned on the website, however I’ve decided to negotiate beforehand because, as with Japan, etc., the amount may change depending on the content.  Negotiations beforehand include confirming each country. 

I began the business a year and a half ago and country expenses have risen between 10 and 20 percent.  When I inquired as to why, I received a letter-sized page covered in words explaining that it is because of the increasing price of goods from South American countries including Brazil.   Also, they will receive contact late at night or early in the morning.  In particular, Brazil asks for prices in line with the West, which by Japanese standards is extremely high.  The response was the same from other countries.  I think that their reasoning is correct, however when I spoke about it with each of our partner businesses in these countries, many are doing well, constructing buildings, relocating to expensive office buildings, and increasing personnel.   It’s no wonder they are increasing fees.  This isn’t necessarily happening in all countries and companies, and there are places that deal with us honestly.  Although it’s best if the costs remain steady for repeat requests, unfortunately there are few places that will do such a thing. 

For delivery to any country there is a tendency to protect.  In difficult cases, contact will come beforehand.  In requests from rare countries, the delivery date is adjusted to meet their own convenience and things are done on “that country’s time.”  Even so, it is sometimes delayed an entire day.  However, looking at the quality of the reports, honestly speaking, on average they are about 70 percent finished.  Because the person in charge also has an influence, it is hard to say country by country.  In particular, China and India often differ depending on the city.  The method I am using now is to first gather data using the internet and then base requests on that content.  When I started the business this was something that was lacking and I only proof-checked what I received.  I didn’t assume that the proof-check had taken place and I don’t know if the searching was poor, however incorrect information was written, and there are many times when outdated information was inserted into the report in order to increase the length.  Also, I was unable to make contact to say that it did not meet the requests, and there are cases where the information created was completely different.  At that time, on average 30 percent was completed and even though the deadline was met, the majority of the content had to be corrected.  While it is an amusing story to clients who really grasp the situations in other countries, it can be difficult to understand for people dealing with this for the first time.  Currently, in order to confirm things beforehand, workflow is being improved and the quality of items sent from other countries has improved as well.  And the earlier mentioned problem has increased to 70 percent.  Of course since I cannot submit something that is only 70 percent complete, I have to re-look up everything and confirm with the local area numerous times before submitting a report.  

The fact that Japanese apologize so often is often mocked, yet when receiving reports full of mistakes, I’ve only received apologies from 2 countries out of 30.  However, many countries will redo the work without any apology.  Instead of an apology, there is a “reverse” negotiation, etc. or possibly a direct phone call from the company boss saying that the fee is insufficient (requested work).  And, when trying to request that additional fees be paid, the content is laughable.  That’s all I can think.

What I’ve written up to now may sound critical, however it is not criticism.  There are probably some complaints.   I thought I had a high tolerance for stress, but I’ve developed three stomach ulcers.  Although the company is still young in terms of time, I’ve tried various methods and in the end, I think with a little more time, I’ll be able to write good reports.  Through this business, I’ve built new relationships and been able to grasp the situation in other countries through the eyes of representatives in each country, which has been huge.  Also, I’ve heard that representatives in other countries have learned a lot and utilize methods from here.  Some countries also have their own businesses.  Thanks to these things, the quality of reports on those countries has increased tremendously and it has become much easier to do business.  Also, I hope to write about ideas, etc. regarding brands in different countries and markets in about half a year from now.

Gold

In response to the soaring price of gold (metal), there has been a boom in the buying and selling of gold.  We’re not talking about just the futures trading of gold, but in Japan gold, coins and other gold accessories lying in safes and homes is being bought and sold.  When to sell and when to buy has become the independent decision of the agency acting as sales broker.  It appears that only in Japan is personal selling prevalent, while in other countries there are many people who want to purchase gold before the price increases further.  In response to the fluidity of recent currency values, from now many of the world’s wealthiest people will be purchasing gold when the price is expected to rise.  For them, gold is viewed as a “risk free asset.” 

So how much has the price of gold increased?  Looking at the last five years, the price has approximately doubled.  If we do a quick calculation, the price in 2006 with a yen base was 2300 yen/g and at the present time (2011) is 4600yen/g.   However, due to severe price flucuations, although the price rose 1.5 times in August of 2008, it also fell sharply in the same month.  No spiraling prices.  Yet, because of the recent surge in buyers, prices are skyrocketing and last week on the NY market 1 ounce (28.35g) exceeded USD 1900 for the first time.  Citigroup raised the price forecast for gold for 2012 to 1 ounce at USD 1650 and for 2013 to USD 1500.  The previous forecast had been 2012 at USD 1325 and 2013 at USD 1225. 

Countries famous for producing gold are South Africa, America, Australia and China.  However, the only one with increasing output is China.  In 2010, China surpassed South Africa to become the world’s largest producing country.  Besides these countries, Indonesia and Peru are also coming up, and attention is also being paid to North Korea.  It’s said that North Korea has large reserves of other minerals besides gold.   

Despite this, gold is said to be a mineral that will be depleted twenty years from now.  The amount of gold reserves is between 50,000 and 60,000 tons.  The remaining amount of gold is about the amount of one 50-meter swimming pool.  From now, there are only about 4 pools worth remaining in the world, including the current reserves.  

As you know, gold is used in many products.  According to the Japanese National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), the cumulative amount of gold, silver, lead and tin used is expected to exceed the present reserves by 2020.  *In the report, the cumulative amounts of other mineral resources besides those listed above are also expected to equal the current reserve amounts or exceed them.  Because of this, Japan is paying attention to “urban mines.”  By recycling old electrical appliances you can recycle mineral resources.  The amounts of gold, silver, lead and indium lying in “urban mines” is the most in the world, and the amounts of copper, platinum and tantalum rank as 3rd in the world for country resources.  However, there are currently many challenges, such as the fact that one third of cellular phones cannot be recycled.  Also, 
foreign countries target Japan’s “urban mines” and recover old electrical appliances and then take them out of the country.  The country called “the Gold Country-Jipang” by Marco Polo long ago has changed and become the talked about “Re-Gold Country.”  In the near future, it’s rumored that the Japanese government will make the recycling of old electrical appliances mandatory. 

It’s a mini gold rush like the panning for gold dust was in the United States.  There is a strong element of leisure and so right now gold is taking the world by storm.  Just now (perfect timing) I got a phone call asking, “Would you like to sell some gold?”  In Japan, corrupt buyers of precious metals are increasing and becoming a problem.  Tanaka Precious Metals has a recycle business called Re:Tanaka and the purchase prices are listed on the homepage.  Because the prices fluctuate depending on the day, it’s recommended that individuals check before selling.

The dream airplane: B787

On July 5th, a test flight of Boeing’s 787 (B787) landed at Japan’s Haneda Airport. 
The development of the B787 is said to have started with ANA’s (All Nippon Airways) order in 2004.  The original plan was for the airplane to be in service for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, however due to part supply delays and electrical system problems this has been delayed.  This was Boeing’s initial attempt at distributing orders for parts around the world, which is said to have caused delays.   

The reason the B787 has been so widely covered by the Japanese media is because dozens of Japanese corporations have participated in the development of 35 percent of the aircraft.  Boeing is using the expression, “Made with Japan.”  Without Japanese technology, the B787 would never have been born. 
In particular, the solidified composite materials from Toray’s special carbon fiber resin is an innovative material that is 2.5 times stronger and half the weight of the aluminum alloy used in previous aircraft.    

The B787 is a mid-sized aircraft.  Because the body is lighter and the engines have been revamped, fuel economy has improved by 20 percent compared to existing models.  The flight distance for a single refueling has increased by 30 percent. 
For long distances, jumbo jets like the well-known B747 were used.  There is also the Airbus A380, which is known as the “flying hotel.”  Currently, nonstop flights using jumbo jets only fly to cities where there is enough demand to fill the seats.  However, with the arrival of the B787 there is the possibility that this could change dramatically.

In the past, we blogged about LCC (low cost carriers) and budget airlines, who focus on short distance (and occasionally mid-range) flights.  Because the distances flown are short, these airlines use one type of airplane and fly frequently to reduce costs.     
The mega carriers use alliances (groups of airline companies) and use LCC for connecting flights.  For example, when flying from Tokyo to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, you fly from Tokyo to Bangkok on ANA, and then Bangkok to Phnom Penh on Thai Airways.  In Tokyo, you can check-in all the way to Phnom Penh and the same is true for the return trip.  ANA and Thai Airways are both connected to the same alliance, Star Alliance.
When the B787 goes into service, it will be possible to fly nonstop to Phnom Penh from Tokyo, as well as to other long distance medium sized cities.  ANA has announced that it will offer service from Narita Airport to Boston.  It’s anticipated that flights to other European cities that were previously unreachable via nonstop flights will increase in the future.   
For the financially strong LCC, the B787 will give them the ability to fly long distances.  For mega carriers, the aircraft will allow them to fly to not only large cities, but also medium sized cities.  Increasing competition is inevitable and the role of alliances will likely change from the way they are today.  

The B787 has been nicknamed the “Dreamliner.”  Japan tends to focus on the  “Made with Japan” aspect, however the Dreamliner was created by combining the world’s best and newest technologies and with the participation of various countries and companies.  It’s quite simply the dream airplane.