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WIT Life #28: Weathering the Economic Storm and Riding the Waves to Success

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03).  Recently she’s been watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese and sharing some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

Today’s news profiled companies that are not only surviving this tough economic climate but prospering in it. The first was McDonald’s, who in America was also one of the retailers along with Walmart that reported positive gains last year. In Japan its success

is attributed to the revamping of the coffee served there dubbed McCafe. Its taste was reformed last February, and 2008 sales saw great improvement over the previous year (for hot coffee growth of 40 million cups, for cold 20 million cups). It goes for 120 yen, and a survey of customers during the peak 7:45-8 a.m. 15-minute period found that 50 out of 63 customers purchased coffee. One of those 50 asked about its taste responded with a satisfied smile, “It tastes just like can coffee.” Keeping stores open 24 hours and expanding the 100 yen menu McDonald’s also contributed to the store’s success.

Japanese convenience stores have also been seeing their sales grow. This is directly related to the introduction of the Taspo last May. This is a smart card from the Tobacco Institute of Japan issued to adults (20 or older) so that they can use the age verification tobacco vending machines. A recent survey indicated that only 22% of cigarette smokers have this card. Underage smokers or those who have not procured a Taspo now turn to conbini as a source of cigarettes. Conbini surpassed department stores with their sales last year, with 7.9 trillion yen versus 7.4 trillion yen. Although a pack of cigarettes costs 300 yen and conbini make only 30 yen profit on each one, they say it is not this item itself but getting customers in the

store that counts, especially those who wouldn’t normally visit a conbini. Indeed, in addition to cigarettes smokers buy on average up to 1000 yen of goods such as gum, candy, juice, bread and other sweets. As one smoker remarked, “I always end up seeing something else I want.”

Another business that is on the upswing is companies that fortify buildings to become earthquake-proof. This strengthening can be done both internally and externally, and they do private residences as well as public buildings like schools. Whereas four years ago one company profiled had received only 57 orders, last year they had gotten 370. According to the head of this company, profits last year were 10 billion yen but were anticipated to be 15 billion this year.


Finally, shoe store ABC Mart has also seen fortune smile on it. This nationwide chain intensely scrutinizes its selling patterns, including having it automatically updated every three minutes to allow detailed analysis. Also, they put great effort into keeping their shop displays up-to-date by changing them often in accordance with current fashion trends.

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Quick follow-up to my recent post on Japan’s V-Day trends. I found the idea of gyaku choco interesting and asked some of my friends if they saw a lot of it this year. My high school Japanese teacher who now works at Nippon Terebi in Tokyo had this to say about it, also in regard to the “boy bra” phenomenon: “the media, as with everything, hypes up things like "gyaku choco" which is not even a trend here! i don't know anyone at work who got one of those--it was "giri-choco" all around. this reminds me of when someone in the states sent me a link to a cnn news article about how japanese men are now wearing bras! granted, there may be a few out there, but i haven't seen any being sold and definitely don't know anyone who wears one! maybe for a certain segment of the population (ie: cross dressers, etc.)? there are people out there who want to start trends/try something new to see if it sells, and the media picks up on those topics but reports as if everyone is doing/buying it when they're not. well, that's the media for ya.” From the mouth of someone in media, it just goes to show that you can’t always believe what you hear/read…

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