Japan’s Hit Products of 2009

Speaking of forward-looking, Nikkei Trendy just released their backwards-looking top 30 products of 2009. The selection is based on 4 major categories, sales, ingenuity, market-creation and influence, and is a good barometer for some of the major trends seen in Japan throughout the year. Here is a lineup of the top 10, accompanied by graphics and original Spoon & Tamago commentary.


1. Prius & Insight

Honda announced the release of Insight during February of 2009. In a matter of days they booked orders that were 3.6 times their initial monthly sales estimates. A bit late to the game, Toyota announced the release of their 3rd model Prius in May of 2009. Following the announcement they booked 80,000 orders and went on to  book 180,000 orders after the car went on sale. However, the rush to buy was most likely,  in part, due to government incentives to purchase eco-products.


2. Kirin Free

In April of 2009 Kirin released the “first ever” 0.00% alcohol beer, Kirin Free. Calorie-conscious consumers, as well as party-goers fearful of recent crackdowns on drunk-driving, ran to the supermarket to get their hands on this new beverage. Just after 1-month on shelves the company reported that they had already breached their 6-month sales target.

3. Dragon Quest IX: Defenders of the Starry Sky
Released on July 11, 2009 (originally 3/28 but was pushed back), the 9th installment of Square Enix’s popular Dragon Quest series has already sold over 4 million copies (as reported by the company). And yes, it was only released in Japan. According to this list of all-time best selling games, it has already secured a spot around 13th and will likely continue to inch its way upwards.

image courtesy of e-mask.jp
4. Anti-influenza products
The H1N1 scare has obviously resulted in tremendous sales of hand-sanitizer and masks. Japan’s first confirmed case was in May. I remember this well because I had to fly to Japan and we were grounded at Narita for over an hour while people in biohazard suits came on the plane to scan people for higher-than-normal body temperature. It wasn’t rare to see drugstores advertising new shipments of masks as supplies were being depleted all over the country.

5. Ashura: A National Treasure
The Tokyo National Museum in Ueno must have been surprised when swarms of teenagers showed up at the “Ashura: A National Treasure” exhibition. I mean, who ever heard of a 90-minute wait to see a statue of some old Buddhist deity? Helped in part by an aggressive marketing campaign (I remember seeing posters all over the train), Ashura struck a cord with 20-something females and was catapulted into ikemen status, short for Iketeru Men and defined by urban dictionary as a “damn good looking guy.”

6. Kokuyo dotted notebook
Leave it to the Japanese to improve on – revolutionize – and age-old staple such as the notebook. In their recent iteration, Kokuyo has  added evenly-spaced dots along the lines to create their dotted notebook. This subtle yet ingenious change enables drool-worthy beautiful note-taking that is sure to get you into Tokyo University, or so they say. The funny thing is, Kokuyo actually initiated a study to analyze the notebooks of Tokyo University Students and the result was this dotted notebook.

7. uno fog bar
Shiseido came up with Uno, a line of mens beauty products, in 1992, and released Fog Bar, their latest hair gel, during mid-August. Except it’s not a gel. It’s a foggy mist that made quite a storm of commotion. The equation though is quite simple. Develop a new concept, throw in words like Polyacrylate Cross Polymer to make it sound like a ton of scientific research went into the development, hire 4 en vogue male actors to promote it and you sell over 2 million in the first 2 weeks (as reported by the company).  The one surprise turned out to be that the majority of consumers were female, rather than male.

8. Pomera
The Pomera is a portable memo pad manufactured by King Jim, the number one maker of filing cabinets. The Pomera was released in late 2008 and was an immediate hit with cash-strapped consumers still looking to satisfy their taste for new electronics (Amazon Japan had it listed for just over $150). Their newest model, the DM20, is slated for release on December 11th and will be equipped with a cool feature that allows you to convert your composed document into a cellphone-readable QR Code.

9. The Steam-less Rice Cooker
Kids being burnt by steam emitted from rice cookers, or at least the perception of it, was so common that Mitsubishi Electric went and developed a steam-less rice cooker. I’m not sure how you cook rice without the byproduct of steam but Japanese engineering has made it possible. The product took home a Kids Design Award and a Good Design Award this year for its functionality and sleek design.

image courtesy of sankei news
10. 990 yen jeans
I think it’s pretty well known that Japan’s economic woes have resulted in a migration pattern from high-end to low-end. And UNIQLO, king of affordable basics, was in a prime position to benefit.  In March of 2009 their subsidiary g.u. shattered all preconceived notions about denim by announcing that they would be selling 990 yen jeans. Just 1 month after being release the company doubled their sales estimates to 1 million pair.

1 Comment

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