Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Notting Hill Cakes ... in Tokyo

Last week I visited Notting Hill Cakes near Hiroo and met the president, Mark Petersen. Notting Hill also has a shop in Nishi Azabu but the Hiroo shop has a cafe. The shop is small but scrupulously clean. The cupcakes and muffins are displayed behind a glass counter. All along the back wall of the shop is a large black and white photograph of Victorian era Notting Hill.

We talked about how foreign products must be specificially targeted to the Japanese market. As you may expect, the customer base at Hiroo is primarily female. Only Japanese housewives have free time to spend with their friends. Mark said that Japanese females are much more selective than Brit customers (he previously owned a shop in Knightsbridge), and ask many questions about freshness and the quality of ingredients and before making a choice.

The company also does events at upmarket department stores especially around Valentine's Day and White Day (one month after Valentine's). Around Valentine's, Mark noticed, female customers will spend days visiting various shops and comparing products before returning and making a purchase of around 2,000 Yen. They also have specific gift-wrapping requirements. Japanese men, however, will walk in and pick up the first ready-wrapped box they see and pay on average 800 Yen. Japanese men also do not frequent the cafe. The obvious reason is that Japanese working men do not leave work until late evening and then they do so in the company of their colleagues to visit a bar and drink beer. They drink coffee in the winter and beer in the summer and cannot be swayed by the herbal teas at Notting Hill.

I am planning a little assignment with my Culture and Society students. We are going to try to market a selection of Brit food products for the Japanese market. And vice versa.

As I left, Mark kindly gave me some cupcakes. Look at the design of the box and at how the lid opens without spoiling the cakes. And see the work that has gone in to presenting each cake: one a delicate taste with pastel decoration, the other a rich chocolate. 'Cup'cakes they may be but but I couldn't eat a whole cake in one go. I think Japanese women may buy cakes to share.

Notting Hill Cakes: www. nottinghillcakes.com

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Wrapping Culture

Spring is here, the weather is warm and the rainy season is still six weeks away. Time to buy some books and read them in the park. I like buying books in Japan because you can choose between a paper cover or a bag. I prefer book covers because they keep the books clean and because I can read trashy thrillers on the subway without worrying that one of the senior professors might see me. Japan has a 'wrapping' culture. Goods that are beautifully presented and well-wrapped are more pleasing than something that has just been thrown into an Asda Bag for Life. But as a result the Japanese have to be more pro-active about recycling.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Not 'Extra Special' enough?

What has happened to the Asda Extra Special range of biscuits that the Seiyu department stores were selling? The shortbreads, the choc chip cookies, the hazelnut and chocolate cookies, they have all disappeared from the shelves. I guess they weren't big sellers in Japan. I am not surprised. Although the biscuits themselves were delicious, they were poorly presented for the Japanese market, especially for the price which was Y299 to Y399, depending on the type of biscuit. In the first place, the boxes were unappealing. I often gave the biscuits as presents to friends and colleagues but would have to preface my handing over of the gift with the assurance that they were actually tasty British biscuits. The box might not look good but, trust me, the biscuits inside were delicious. Secondly, the biscuits were not individually wrapped. Once the packet was opened all the biscuits had to be eaten quickly or put in a plastic container. It is not exactly a treat to eat a biscuit out of a plastic box. And the biscuits would have to be stored like this because it would take the average Japanese consumer - by which I mean woman - several weeks to eat one packet of such biscuits. Why? The biscuits are much too large. I could eat one with a cup of tea. Your average Japanese woman would manage a half. Japanese people, as I have said before, eat much less than Brits but they want every mouthful to be enjoyable. They want what they eat to be aesthetically pleasing and ... they don't want to overeat and risk putting on weight. The Japanese are known to be the choosiest of customers. Foreign companies know they have to adapt their products to the Japanese market. Consumers will pay large sums of money but only if they know they are getting value for that money. Seiyu and Asda are part of Walmart. They sell good basic products cheaply. But the Extra Special range may not have appealed to Seiyu's recession-hit bargain hunters. If you want a cheap packet of biscuits you can go to the Japanese Co-op and get biscuits such as my two favourites above. The 'ship' biscuits are Y178, while 'Shall we Dance' are Y248. Teeny biscuits, individually wrapped and packaged in boxes with lids which close. Small treats for morning tea.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Obento (Lunchbox)

There's a book called "Japanese Women don't get Old or Fat". It gives recipes for tofu dishes and noodles. However the real reason Japanese people don't get fat is that they eat a lot less than Brits. Here's the tasty lunch box handed out to lecturers after last weekend's opening ceremoney for the new academic year.

In the left box: one slice of carrot, one slice of bamboo, two dumplings made from fish, one shrimp, one teaspoonful of spinach, one teaspoonful of a brown vegetable - tastes like wood and is full of fibre.

In the middle box: one piece of omelette, half a slice of renkon (Japanese radish) with the edges dyed pink, a small piece of fish (under the renkon), one meatball, one mushroon in batter, one slice of sweet potato in batter, one slice of pumpkin in batter, one teaspoonful of pink Japanese pickles in a foil tray, and a small bottle of soy sauce (with a green lid).

The the right box: rice mixed with red beans, sprinkled with seeds, and topped with one sweet chestnut.

Served with: chopsticks, one toothpick and a moist towelette.
Cup of tea: Model's own.

I left the pickles because they're very salty and the Japanese have a high rate of strokes. Even so, this was larger than the typical lunchbox and I couldn't finish it all.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Happy Blossoms

The cherry blossoms are out in Tokyo. Here's the view from Iidabashi Bridge. The blossoms are an annual reminder to the Japanese that life is fragile and fleeting. Japanese people ask me why Brits don't celebrate the cherry blossoms. I think the answer is that Brits view Spring as a time of renewal, demonstrating that life goes on regardless. Japanese enjoy their melancholy, Brits prefer to be cheerful and upbeat.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Start with a Splash

Start with a splash. This is my toilet. It's a typical Japanese toilet (of the sitting variety as opposed to the squatting variety). When you flush, the water refills the tank from the top via a little basin where you can rinse your hands. The upside is that it saves water. The downside is that you can't use soap. Wouldn't this be a good idea for the UK?