Last year’s top hits; forecast for 2018

Japan news January 2018

For the 47th successive year, the influential Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) pronounced judgment on the year’s most successful products and services, in a traditional calligraphic style that emulates the banzuke (rankings) issued before each of the six annual grand sumo tournaments.

It was in 1971 that the thrice-weekly paper covering retailing and distribution came up with the idea to announce the year’s most successful products and services. The list is presented in a manner that mimics the rankings of sumo wrestlers, with east and west yokozuna (grand champion) at the top, and working down the ranks with ozeki (champion), sekiwake (junior champion) and so on.

During the period of post-war economic recovery, consumer products appealed mostly to basic needs and had scant differentiation aside from brand name. Nonetheless, they were eagerly snatched up by consumers. But from the early 1970s, as income levels rose and more Japanese people travelled abroad, the phenomenon of hit products developed in synch with more diversified consumer preferences.

Then during the past two decades, as Japan has had to contend with the nightmare of having a prolonged recession and deflationary spiral, niche marketing took on increasing importance and successful innovation was appreciated all the more.

The NMJ’s two top winners for the past 12 months were the so-called Amazon Effect, as the US firm’s Japan subsidiary expanded its range of offerings to include food and the streaming of TV programmes and films, and Nintendo’s Switch. The latter winner is a hybrid game unit that can be used as either a handheld or home console. By the end of September, 7.63mn units had been sold, and there were no signs that demand would slacken.

Other relatively new winners on the list include artificial intelligence (AI) speakers (4th place) and Start Today Co., Ltd. (6th place), the owner of Zozo Town, the self-described largest online retailer of apparel and accessories in Japan. Imports were represented by Apple Inc.’s iPhone X (13th place), fidget spinners (14th) and Japanese translations of works by the English winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro (18th).

The year’s zannen-sho (consolation prize) was awarded to Premium Friday, the government’s failed attempt to extend the weekend by encouraging businesses to give their staff the afternoon off on the last Friday of each month—a perennially busy time.

As for the year ahead, the Year of the Dog resounded with mechanical barking from 11 January, when Sony Corporation released the next generation of its AI robot dog, aibo. A week later, Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. (MUJI) opened its first hotel in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China. It will be followed by a hotel in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 2019.

South Korea is scheduled to host the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on 9–25 February, an event likely to raise demand for 4K high-definition TV receivers. The prices on budget models, sold in discount retailers such as Don Quijote Co., Ltd., have dropped to the ¥50,000 level.

On 29 March, Mitsui Real Estate’s Tokyo Midtown Hibiya development, located close to the Imperial Hotel, will hold its grand opening, and on 15 April, Tokyo Disney Resort will observe its 35th anniversary with a variety of promotional activities. Also this spring, Amazon Japan will open a walk-in photo studio in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district.

On 15 June, a law will take effect allowing the use, nationwide, of private homes for short stays (minpaku). In addition to encouraging the practice, it is likely to help relieve the current squeeze on hotel accommodation.

The highlight of summer sporting events will be football’s FIFA World Cup, to be held from 14 June to 15 July. Then in September, the new Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Nihombashi will open, followed in autumn by the 35-storey (plus four basement levels) Shibuya Stream commercial complex that is backed by the railway and real estate firm Tokyu Corporation.