Back to Contents of Issue: April 2001

Japanese shoppers are infatuated with clothes retailer UNI-QLO -- and prices alone don't explain it.

blowfish The big cleanup. In ranking 209 major manufacturers for their efforts at reducing emissions, business magazine Diamond (Jan. 27) gave its top nod to the Matsushita Industrial Group. Based on eight criteria, including environmental management and relations with its end-users, the makers of National Panasonic and other brand goods placed first with an overall score of 58.5 points. The others in the top five, with point totals in parentheses, were Toyota Motor Co. (57.0), Ricoh (51.0), Kirin Beer (50.6) and NEC (48.5).

Don't leave home without it. A survey by NTT DoCoMo noted that more than 90 percent of Tokyo-area high school students now possess a cellular phone. When 1,000 people aged 15 to 69 were questioned, it was determined that 94 percent of teen girls and 93 percent of teen boys owned such devices. Interestingly, while the ownership ratio among males in their fifties was still above 70 percent, it tends to taper off rapidly among females after age 30. Not coincidentally, that's when many of them are married and in charge of managing the family budget.

Shake, rattle and roll. Quick -- give the word that best describes what befell Japan during the 20th century. Tempestuous? Depressing? Confused? An association that ranks people's kanji (Chinese ideograph) literacy got these responses: gekido (upheaval), 1,354 votes; heiwa (peace), 747 votes; hatten (development), 584 votes; senso (war), 413 votes; and fukyo (recession), 396 votes.

Legal eagles. Perhaps one reason why Japan does not contribute to the pool of lawyer jokes is that there are barely enough of them to go around. Only 994 passed the national bar examination during 2000 -- that's six fewer than the year before. Since 36,123 people sat for the test, that means, uh, let's see, just 2.75 percent got a passing grade. The average age of these new members of the legal profession was 26.5 years. The largest number of new attorneys, 198, were graduates of Tokyo University, followed by Waseda (140) and Keio (116). And by the way, 270 were ladies -- down from 1999, when an all-time record 287 women made the grade.

A new spin on cocoons. An outfit in Shimane prefecture, seeking to diversify its silk thread business, tied up with a toy designer to begin offering "Mayu Club" accessories -- cute little figurines that are made from silk worm cocoons and poised atop a stick. So far they have produced five animal characters from the cocoons, including a porpoise, a whale, and a seal, for ¥450 each. Another creation is "silky bon-bon," a vase (¥600) into which colored silk flowers (sold separately at ¥80 each) can be inserted. Sales channels will naturally include the Internet -- typical of efforts by Japan's rural industry to get the word out.

Dressed to kill (the competition). UNI-QLO, the enfant terrible of Japan's apparel retailers, garnered the top ranking of Yokozuna (grand champion) in the Nikkei Ryutsu Shimbun's famous banzuke (ranking list) of consumer hits, which appeared at the end of December 2000. What makes its success so amazing is that the Yamaguchi Prefecture--based company didn't even open its first outlet in Tokyo until 1998. By the end of 2000, the company operated 50 stores in the metropolitan area. What is it about UNI-QLO that Japanese consumers find so irresistible? "Low prices," say 97.8 percent of 693 respondents to a survey conducted over the Internet by Nikkei Business magazine. Indeed, 75.9 percent of survey respondents (average age, 36) had been to a UNI-QLO store; of these, a quarter replied that they had shopped in one more than 10 times. While low prices were the main drawing card, shoppers also had high praise for product variety, design and store atmosphere.

Red tape pollution. While industry is knocking itself out to reduce waste, the government carries on business as usual. An accounting watchdog organization went over the books and reported that, for the 11th consecutive year, the Ministry of Health and Welfare led the national bureaucracy in squandering taxpayer money. During fiscal 1999, the ministry sent ¥10.73 billion gurgling down the drain. This figure far eclipsed the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which blew "only" ¥1.56 billion. Third place went to the Ministry of Finance, which flushed away ¥1.32 billion. Jeeze, you'd think being experts and all, they could have found a way to cover it up. By contrast, mighty MITI, er, sorry, make that METI -- its name changed to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry effective January 6, 2001 -- was downright thrifty by comparison, dribbling away a minuscule ¥20.72 million.

Charity begins at home. The Economic Planning Agency conducted a comparative survey regarding people's motivation to perform volunteer activities or make charitable donations. The survey polled 3,972 Japanese aged 15 to 69 and 2,671 Americans over age 18. Asked about their motivation behind such activities, replies given most frequently by Japanese included "To support the activities of organizations in which they or their families are involved" (72.7 percent). This was followed by "A feeling that one should help impoverished people," (63.2 percent) and "To fulfill the responsibilities of a working person or citizen," (53.1 percent). In contrast, Americans said they were motivated by "A feeling that one should help impoverished people," (83.7 percent), followed by "Because it gives a sense of satisfaction," (81.6 percent) and "It is giving something back to society," (74.4 percent). A separate survey by the Japan Foster Plan Association listed energy savings/recycling and community projects as the top volunteer activities of Japanese respondents.

In case of emergency, get me an elixir. Otsuka Pharmaceuticals announced the shipment of "Life Line Vendor," a manually operated vending machine. In case of a power failure, the beverages can be removed by hand -- on receipt of payment, of course. The maximum of 580 cans of isotonic beverage contained therein aren't likely to remain cold for very long, but hey, any port in a storm, right? Most of the 500 units to be shipped this year will be set up on public school campuses, typically designated as sites for evacuation in the event of natural disasters.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.