Success Built in Japanese Products

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Success Built in Japanese Products Photograph courtesy of Tokyo Journal

How the Japanese Build Success into Their Products

The Japanese have a culture of achieving a profound degree of refinement in the products they build – and they have come to expect the same quality in what they buy. This tradition must be considered when selling foreign consumer products in Japan.

When Westerners first began to visit Japan in the mid-1540s, they were struck by the sophisticated beauty of its arts and crafts, which reflected a kind of charm and utility they’d never witnessed before. There was an appealing uniqueness about Japanese-made products that gave them a distinctive look from similar things made in Korea and China, from where the original technology had come. This special quality of Japanese products was archetypal; the Japanese did not consider it unusual. For them, everything they made, including ordinary household utensils, had the same quality.

After generations of refining their designs and techniques, Japan’s master artists and craftsmen achieved a quality of beauty that transcended the surface manifestations of their materials – a kind of splendor described as yugen (yuu-gane), meaning “mystery” or “subtlety.”

Yugen in Japanese products refers to a beauty that doesn’t only lie beneath the surface of the material but in delicate harmony with it. This attractiveness registers on the conscious and subconscious mind of the viewer, thereby radiating a kind of spiritual essence. By the 14th century, the yugen qualities of Japan’s arts and crafts had become so deeply embedded in their culture that they became indistinguishable from daily life, and they were reflected in everything Japanese, from homes to interior decorations and gardens, and hand-made paper items.

The distinctiveness of Japanese arts and crafts stemmed from a merging of the cosmic and Shinto concepts of harmony, sensuality and spirituality – a cultural factor that remains evident among present-day Japanese artists and craftsmen, and in the mindset of most consumers.

The Shinto concept of harmony in Japanese products includes the size and shape of things, how they are to be used, and their relationship with people. The spiritual element in Japanese things is based on respecting the essence of the materials and taking full advantage of their inherent qualities.

The sensual element in Japanese arts and crafts is reflected by what most people automatically find attractive: harmony in shape and size, the relationship of the parts, the interaction of colors, the feeling when touched, and the vibrations that emanate from them. Despite the mostly Western façade that today’s Japan presents to the world, yugen beauty is still very present in the arts and crafts, in traditional restaurants, inns, shops, traditional apparels, and even in the most unexpected places.

Yugen is a Japanese word that I recommend people learn and use because it clearly identifies a concept that in other cultures requires several sentences to explain, and in itself is an example of the traditional Japanese propensity to refine things down to their essence. This compulsive nature to refine consumer products is dramatically demonstrated in their ability to design and manufacture miniaturized hi-tech products as well as in using nanotechnology to create new processes and new materials.

Achieving the yugen character and quality in product manufacturing is one of the cultural barriers that foreign manufacturers of consumer goods must overcome before they can succeed in Japan. This is one, if not the main reason, why French-made products often outsell their American-made counterparts in Japan.

For a more definitive discussion of the Japanese view and creation of yugen beauty, please see: ELEMENTS OF JAPANESE DESIGN – Key Terms for Understanding & Using Japan’s Classic Wabi-SabiShibui Concept. [Tuttle Publishing]. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #279 of the Tokyo Journal.

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

Boy Lafayette De Mente has been involved with Asia since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, journalist and editor. He is former Associate Publisher and currently a regular columnist of the Tokyo Journal. He is a graduate of University in Tokyo, Japan and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, USA. In addition to books on the business practices, social behavior and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico he has written extensively about the plague of male dominance and the moral collapse of the U.S. and the Western world in general.



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