Misako Fujimoto shared her market knowledge of Japan with Singapore-based design firms keen to break into the Land of the Rising Sun
Q: As Japan has such a strong design culture, what are Japanese consumers really looking for in a product?
Japan’s passion in design is heavily rooted in its ties to traditions, its own culture and in craftsmanship. Much of this has since evolved since modernisation and its outward fascinations with other cultures, technological advancements and industrialisation.
Nonetheless, Japan generally maintains strong connections in design with an emphasis to humanistic values (practical, contemporary lifestyles) and/or with a connection the elements with simplicity.
Simple solutions to a complex problem in design, are generally well-received in Japan.
Q: Does that mean that only minimalist designs like those with Muji aesthetics tend to get popular in Japan?
It would depend on the service or product in question. Minimalist items (such as Muji) have succeed not just regionally but internationally. Even ‘baroque’ styled items can be popular in Japan. It depends on its purpose and its target social/age groups. There are many of such product and designs existing in Japan, but they are often accompanied with by strong storytelling which reinforces the brand or product. For instance, brands could use their own narratives for effective crossovers, such as the Louvre Museum and Uniqlo collaboration.
It’s not true that only clean, mimalist designs are favoured by consumers in Japan.
Q: In general, are the Japanese market and consumers receptive to new/unknown foreign designers?
It depends on a variety of factors. Factors such as exposure through advertising or social media, and local representation through a partnership would play an important part. Accessibility to the service or product is also very important.
Q: Why is it important to have a friend or guide to the Japanese market for designers keen to break into it?
Beyond language, there are subtle nuances in Japan’s culture which may also differ regionally. It is important to have and respect local representation to ‘translate’ these to designers outside of the region.
During my market entry webinar, I had touched on getting ‘small yeses’, in order to lead to a ‘big yes’. This is an obvious cultural difference between Japan and other places. But etiquettes may vary even regionally within Japan in small ways. For instance, people in Osaka are more direct than those in Tokyo. It would be wise to observe and respect local knowledge, especially with help from contacts and representatives in Japan.
Misako’s firm Inu LLC is dedicated to the expansion and development of design-led brands.
Q: Lastly, what’s your advice to designers/design studios thinking about expanding to Japan?
It would serve them well to gain local representation and support in Japan and invest time in understanding the market through their knowledge and advice. Conduct research over various sectors and hear from representatives of trade institutions and/or the consulate in your country (and/or representatives of the creative sector for your country in Japan) if that is available.