JFTC Essay Competition

Summaries of the Award-Winning Essays of JFTC Essay Competition 2006

The Grand Prize

The Potential of Brand Japan

Mr. Erik Magnus HAUAN (Norwegian, age 25)

40 or 50 years ago, a “Made in Japan” label had very few positive associations connected to it – they were maybe even negative. Japanese exports were considered cheap, low-quality, and inferior compared to western products. At that time, who would believe Toyota would once become the world’s largest car-manufacturer or that Japanese companies would come to innovate and dominate the consumer electronics industry? Today, the “Made in Japan” label has numerous positive associations connected to it – it has become a symbol of quality, innovation, and good value. This essay attempts to assess the future potential of “Brand Japan” by first considering what has brought Japan this far, and subsequently discussing its future threats and opportunities.

The Japanese society inhibits a unique commitment to quality that is present in almost every aspect of daily life – impressive public transportation systems, tidy and organized domestic life, and a sense of detail that cannot be found so widespread anywhere in the world. These are qualities that have been transferred to Japanese companies and exports and helped build the positive brand images Japan enjoys today.

Further opportunities for “Brand Japan” can be found in its unique culture. Japanese culture and pop-culture have risen in popularity during the past years. A key to the future potential of “Brand Japan” lies in combing the positive brand associations of Japanese culture with its products to achieve a beneficial synergy effect.

A major threat for “Brand Japan” is the growing gap between Japan and its Asian neighbors. Japan is an export-dependant economy and relies on its foreign relations for its continuing prosperity. As Japan’s trade relation with China grows stronger and stronger, the need for Japan to improve its political image with its neighbors is more important than ever.
Finally, the market for environmentally friendly products is likely to increase with issues such as global warming becoming increasingly important. As a fore-runner in environmental technologies, Japan has great potential for increasing its brand image and its competitiveness by continuously promoting and pushing such environmental innovations further.

The Prize for Excellence

“Shu-Ha-Ri” (守破離)

Mr. Daisuke SUGIYAMA (Japanese, age 26)
(the original text is Japanese)

Compared to fifty years ago, Japan has become more closely linked to other countries as Japanese corporations have entered overseas markets. To live together in a borderless international community, the people of each country must have a sense of belonging to their own nation and have a clear sense of national identity. The concept that “culture = brand” at the national level differentiates one country from the other nations in the global community and strengthens that country’s competitive spirit. A brand’s uniqueness is amorphous. This means that the value of a brand is created through the image people have of that brand in their minds.

In the case of Japan, I think that the “image people have of a brand in their minds” is an aspect of the Japanese philosophy of “Shu-Ha-Ri” which I came to know from kendo, I started during my thirteen-year stay in New York. In brief, “Shu-Ha-Ri” stands for the three stages of skill mastery: the Chinese character Shu (守), Ha (破), and Ri (離). In “Shu,” you follow the examples given and master them completely. At the “Ha” level, you add your own creative touch to what you have learned and make the techniques and skills your own. At the stage of “Ri,” you take what you have learned even further. In Japan, “Shu” is the heart of knowledge transmission, which is the basis for the creation of culture, in other words, the origin of education. Through “Shu” that has been passed down over the generations through intentional effort, the basics have been valued and the traditional mindset and atmosphere of Japan have been valued. “Brand Japan” which is Japan’s pride and glory is precisely this “Shu” from “Shu-Ha-Ri.”

The Prize for Excellence

The Cornerstone of ‘Japan-Brand’ : The Tradition of Succession and Transformation, and the Future of This Practice

Mr. Yoshimi SUGANO (Japanese, age 49)
(the original text is Japanese)

“Brand named Nation” does not symbolize a company or a product; it is an aggregate image of the nation’s companies and people itself. While there are all possible efforts of a company for success of each brand, behind the success there is also the culture, tradition, and national character of the country which was affected in the background without consciousness. Together, accumulation of an individual brand bore fruit as “Brand named Nation.”

As a background of “Japan-Brand,” there is the tradition of master craftsmanship “TAKUMI” that has been passed to future generations from ancient times and the national character that consider the master craftsman's own skill as possible to pass on. In addition, the philosophy of not letting oneself be seized excessively by tradition but welcoming change also that leads to the creation of new traditions that have further added value. The secret of Japan-Brand’s success is precisely this comprehensive brand image strategy that brings together not only efforts on the production side but also those on the sales side. Another special feature of Japan-Brand is the customer-oriented attitude which aims to satisfy consumers. We Japanese do not regard only the quality as most important issue to technical specialists, we create goods that are easy to use and truly needed by users and customers. Based on an exhaustive analysis of consumer behavior, we create conditions that inspire consumers to buy and conduct sales efforts in a purchasing environment that makes it easy for consumers to shop.

For continuation and future development of Japan-Brand, it is an extremely critical issue that we create a framework on the national level to pass on the national character and the Japanese tradition of master craftsmanship “TAKUMI” which lie behind Japan-Brand as the common property of the nation to future generations.

The Prize for Excellence

Building Depth into ‘Brand Japan’

Mr. Hideki SATO (Japanese, age 38)
(the original text is Japanese)

With international M&A becoming commonplace, corporate interest is no longer synonymous with national interest in the long term. Nonetheless, many companies are affected even today by the reputation of the nation from which they hail. Japanese corporations have spread throughout the world and are affected by the government and diplomacy of Japan, the image that the international community has of Japanese products in general, and the world’s expectations for Japanese corporations. What kind of brand equities can Japanese corporations retain/enhance and apply to their own brand strategy?

Communications are said to be the core of brand tactics which will enhance the value of Brand Japan. This essay surveys the environment surrounding brands today and then looks at the elements of communications – the sender, the recipient, the message, and the media – and compares them with how they could ideally be.

With the increase in information provided via the Internet by individuals, the range, speed, and unpredictability of word-of-mouth communication about brands have risen. Looked at overall in light of the anti-Japan sentiment in East Asia, there is also a fragile aspect to Brand Japan. If you break each element down and study it, however, you will find that robust brand equities can be built even amid negative rumors about Japan. “Depth” should be planned and built into Brand Japan by having the Japanese government take and disclose objective quantitative measurements of each element in brand equities and by having Japanese corporations announce values on the corporate level through the improvement and expansion of management prizes and by having corporations develop people who can spread the word about Brand Japan on the individual level.