SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

  • Xie Zhihai “Luxury brand articles are in trouble with capricious consumers”

    It is not as easy as the present for enterprises which have luxury brands to forecast consumers’ behaviors. Everybody has a smartphone and access to internet every day. In such circumstances, it seems to be easy for such enterprises to analyze customers’ tastes  from purchase records or search history. But, actually this analysis is not so easy to do.. I have a feeling that world-wide long-established brand companies, whose brands are easily recognized merely by their logos, are being tossed around by capricious consumers’ behavior.  When we look at both sides, luxury brands companies and consumers, we note that there has been a relation that the companies which produce high-grade brand articles which have strong or outspoken impact and consumers’ demand for them. The rich customers could get them easily. People who cannot afford to buy hankered for the articles and yearned for the rich. Images of high-grade brands were getting higher valuation. Recently, however, when I see SNS (Social Networking Service) or “YouTube”, it seems to me that people do not admire the brand as before.Where have their interests gone ? I found an interesting research in Harvard Business Review (the November 2015 issue of Japanese version). The title was “High-grade brand article which copes with “inconspicuous consumption”. Consumers, as shown by a recent trend, do not like such articles to be conspicuous as before. Such trend started from Europe and America and became stronger. In China too, sales of clothes and bags which have famous logos dropped recently. The research about consumers’ behavior points out that there is a trend which avoids luxury brand article in the world. And, according to this analysis, there are three factors which support such trend. The first factor is high-grade brand articles became popular to middle class people and their logos are no longer mark or proof of being rich. This is because high-grade imitation goods by “fast-fashion” and diffusion-line (popular products of high-grade brand articles) of brands. (For example, diffusion line of “Armani” is “Armani-Exchange”.) The second is blatant status-symbols do not fascinate the upper class consumers any more. The third is the niche brand articles went in for the boom owing to promotion in the social media. For example, in the case of handbags, Bottega Veneta which has less brand logo is becoming more popular than the Gucci brand. In the case of coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee is preferred rather than Starbucks This research analyze mainly how upper class people trend away from brand logos.  And those three factors mentioned above are related also to middle class consumers who are the most important customers. First of all, the rise of “fast-fashion” is unavoidable. And, everybody can enjoy their dressing up now.  Besides, owing to popularization of internet and smartphone, everybody can access any information which they like to get and they can use their information by themselves. It is now in fashion in the world that people introduce their clothes by themselves using “Selfie” (picture taken of yourself mainly for SNS) or “Instagram”. If they do such introduction every day, they prefer to have many variations of dress and accessories which they purchase at “fast fashion” as much as possible, rather than having only one high-class brand handbag.  Actually, popular “fashionista” in “Instagram” is the one who wears a dress stylishly not the one who has a lot of high-class brand articles. According to the research, niche-brand boom made by social media, the third factor mentioned above, is explained as exchange of “subtle signal” among people regardless of socio-economics classes. In other words, there is no wall on the internet among social classes. Everybody can communicate freely from site to site. By doing so, like-minded people of tastes or purposes get together naturally. A fashion is created by attracting people’s attention. As an example, when Chinese tourists came to Japan in the past, they usually bought SKII (high-class cosmetics) . But, nowadays, they buy facial packs at drug stores in town. Why? It is because those facial packs have been used and guaranteed as good by the people who have visited Japan and have written “good” in their blogs. Consumers enjoy shopping using information from like-minded (visiting Japan and enjoy shopping) people rather than enterprises that invest big money for advertisement.   Not all the Chinese tourists stopped buying luxury brand articles. If you go to Ginza, you can see many Chinese tourists in luxury brand shops. We can say that consumers have many options now. They go to luxury brand shops, drug stores and Don Quixote. Now, it is not a status symbol for the people who have luxury brand articles. I think an experience becomes a status by popularization of SNS rather than possessing luxury brand articles. It is easy for people who can share “experience” on SNS saying “good!”rather than showing off luxury brand articles which they have bought. The existence of social media has changed consumers’ behavior and tastes. Did marketing people of luxury brand enterprises presume such changes?  As the conclusion of the Harvard Business Review, a trend of high-quality image which does not show their brand logomark becomes very personal not social. In other words, a bag whose design is refined and has brand-logo mark inside symbolizes higher status than a bag which has conspicuous logo mark outside. Yes, the key-word is “personal”! On the internet now, there is a page like “Facebook” or “Instagram” which consumers can open by themselves. This “personal whereabouts” page spreads out to friends or to hobby pages. There is another site “Pinterest”, not SNS, which can preserve favorite pictures and specializes for enjoying “possessing” those pictures personally,. We can book-mark on our personal board our favorite pictures from the internet. We can classify such pictures by categories like clothes, interior etc. and it is possible for somebody else to access those “Pinterest”.  It is a good chance to show our sense. By collecting our favorite pictures, we can build up world view by our own and can get our feelings that we possess. For example, when we bookmark a picture of watch which we could not possess before we can enjoy a feeling that the watch comes near now. It is a show of “personal” hobby of middle-class enjoying our “whereabouts” on internet without possessing. Rich consumers are enjoying casual (or nonchalant) luxury now. Other consumers are also enjoying their own luxury not sticking to possessing. It is not easy to forecast such bipolarization hereafter. It is said that there are enterprises which correspond properly to such customers’ changes restraining from exposing their logo marks. Marketing of enterprises which have luxury brand articles will be forced to face hardships hereafter. (Full-time Lecturer of Maebashi Kyoai Gakuen University)  Translated by Kazuo KawamuraEnglish checked by Mac Maquito SGRA Kawaraban 482 in Japanese (original)
  • Yeh Wenchang “How to Express History ? ”

    It is said that history is written by the victorious in a war or conflict. But this assertion is limited to within a country or to an occurrence in nationalism. If history will be written in a country for their own convenience, neighboring countries may understand it in a different way, and people after ages cannot take either version on trust. Under a democratic system, there are many understandings of history and regimes or governments will change also often. So, beliefs and understandings do not turn out as those in power wished.   I studied in Japan from the first to the third grade in elementary school. I read a biography of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598), one of the great Japanese unifiers, and I thought he was a great person as was written in his biography. However, when I returned to Taiwan, I found that Hideyoshi is written up in a history textbook as a bad fellow. I grew up in a family which believed in the time under Japanese reign. My parents told me that public security in Taiwan had been good under Japanese reign and everything became worse under the Nationalist Party. In school, we had to study our history from Chinese viewpoint and impression about Japan was not so good. I came to know that there were many people who had been oppressed and discriminated against even during the period of Japanese reign. People felt in different ways even if their experience occurred in the same place and in the same period. I thought it arrogant to understand history from the experiences of only a part of the people.   Science leads to the same answers for everybody. In this sense, we cannot say present history textbooks are not science. What should history textbooks be ? I had a chance to talk, over “sake,” about history textbook with learned men in Japan and scholars about the history of China and Korea. They are trying to write history textbooks which all of them can accept for establishing a society by scholars of histories in Japan, Korea and China. According to them, the most difficult point in the process of reconciling histories was the problem of communications among different countries. The meaning of a word or concept would be different depending on the quality of the translation. If they use English as a common language, they can communicate only superficially. Moreover, doyens of historians in each country cannot speak English well.   In the world of science, it would be best to explain by the use of easy languages which can be understood by everybody. So, I told them that they can communicate in simple English if they have difficulty to describe historical events. But history researchers replied to me that they have to explain the relation of cause and effect, and in a subtle nuance when they explain histories. So, it will be difficult to explain histories using easy languages.   It seems to me historians make simple occurrences or events complicated. For example, when Japanese historians explain a battle or a war, they use a word differently. For example, they use the word “Rebellion“(乱) for coups d’etat which failed and “Incident”(変)for coups d’etat which succeeded. Both are coups d’etat anyway, and they make it complicated. It is said that such complicated Japanese expressions are “refined or graceful”. It is the same with Chinese expressions “深奥”(meaningful) or “奥妙” (superb) which Chinese people in Taiwan use in the Chinese culture. So, I think historians who use such words do not understand well the cultures of other countries. Such complicated expression of histories in Japan originally came from China. In China, there are many expressions in Chinese history books about “War” or “Killing others”. In the case of “War”, they use several Chinese characters to describe it as simple occurrences, conquests or invasions, all of which are very subjective. For example, the Syrian War can be explained as “Conquest” from a viewpoint of one country and “Invasion” from others, depending on their standpoint. So, I think histories should be written using simple vocabularies as much as possible and excluding sentiment about right or wrong.   So, in the case of the Sino-Japanese War, I will write “Japan sent its troops” to China. The words “invasion” or “conquest”, are both very subjective, and are unnecessary. And if we write “sending troops”, we will be released from mental complication, that is, we have to use the word “conquest” when we send troops to another country and “invasion” when another country sends its troops to our country. If we are asked whether “sending troops” are right or wrong, I think it is unnecessary to judge in history because we have been taught by teachers since the first grade of primary school that it is wrong to strike the first blow or to bring in weapons first. There are a lot of interpretations for a historical occurrence. When there are objections among historians, they mention only the part which they agree after verifying evidence. About the part on which they cannot reach agreement, it will be enough to let the young conclude from the opinions of historians of both sides of the issue.   (Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Faculty of Science and Engineering of Shimane University / Researcher of SGRA “Environment and Energy” Research Team)   Translated by Kazuo Kawamura English checked by Mac Maquito   SGRA Kawaraban 481 in Japanese (original)
  • Yang, Yu Gloria Report on “Construction Site (Redevelopment of Kachidoki 5chome Area) Visiting”

    We visited the construction site of Kajima’s project “Redevelopment of Tokyo Kachidoki 5-chome Area” on November 4, 2015. Our visit was made together with ten scholarship students and officers and staff of Atsumi International Foundation composed of Ms. Imanishi, Managing Director, Mr. Tsunoda, Secretary-general, Ms. Ishii, Ms. Ota and Ms. Honda.   We assembled at a ticket gate of the Kachidoki Station of the Oh-Edo Line and walked to the site enjoying the special atmosphere of downtown Tukishima area under a clear sky. As the site was not yet opened to the public, our curiosity was stimulated. A Kajima staff explained to us about the outline of a high-rise apartment project which is under construction and its special and technical features.   The construction of a 53 stories apartment started in 2013 and will be completed by December 2016. They complete five stories a day integrating their most advanced technologies. He explained also, as the most prominent feature of the project, that Kajima adopted the “VD Core-Flame method of construction” as Japan has frequent earthquakes which is inadequate for high-rise buildings. It is the first method of construction in the world. They install “oil-dumpers” among three buildings which are combined together and this method absorbs the shock of earthquake. Structures of combined three buildings, called “Tristar (three stars) Type” are strong but superior in design. Traditional box-type huge buildings give us an oppressive feeling.  But we think the Tristar type is more well-matched with the surroundings because of its being well-lighted and expansive approaches on the ground.   After this explanation, we went up to the upper floor via the temporary elevator, after putting on a helmet and having a transceiver.  In our elevator which is operated at high speed, all of us were excited imagining how the site will look like.   When we got out of temporary elevator, we were captivated by panoramic view of the Bay of Tokyo which was very  wide under a clear sky.  We were impressed by such grand sites as the Loop 2 which is just before the opening to vehicular traffic, the Hamarikyu Gardens, the Tokyo Tower, the roofs of the Tsukiji Outer Market and the bridges over Sumida-River.  All of us shouted “Wow! Mt. Fuji!” It was a valuable experience for us that we could see, in our presence, actual “light (in weight) tubes” and “oil dampers” which were explained to us just now as being the most advanced technologies. We were impressed also by the splendid clean and systematic administration of the site where Kajima execute such works like pillars, structural members, floors and wirings of each room perfectly, as scheduled. When we were told the recycling ratio of industrial wastes reaches to 98%, we recognized clearly that Kajima is very particular about creative construction.   After visiting the site, we moved to a nearby “gallery for high-rise apartment” and visited a theatre for publicity and show rooms. The entrance hall of the gallery is decorated with modern taste as actual entrance hall.  At the theatre, were shown the premises, urban space and living style on 3D cinema and three motion videos. Panoramic simulation of sunset, at a show room, which seems to symbolize elegant and refined living style of adults were very impressive. We had an animated discussion about sociability of high-rise apartments and a change of social structure which comes from the change of urban space from horizontal to vertical.   Visiting the jobsite of “Kachodoki 5-chome Area” was a very valuable experiences for the scholarship students. This high rise apartment, which is under construction, would be certainly a new land-mark. The under construction living apace influences the life of the residents. Apartment numbersing more than 1400 units can be said to compose a town. We expect valuable social and cultural role of “Kachidoki-tower” in Tsukisima area in Tokyo which would show case the most advanced technologies and design concept.   (Scholarship student of Atsumi International Foundation)     Translated by Kazuo Kawamura English checked by Mac Maquito   AISF Report in Japanese (original)
  • Yutaka Tonooka “J.I. Forum – the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II: Thought on Historical Memories and Their Recognition –“

    I attended the Japan Initiative (J.I.) Forum under the coordination of Mr. Hideki Kato, Representative of JI:”Ko-so Nippon”, which was conducted in Japanese.  Professor Tadashi Kinomiya (Graduate School of Arts and Science, University of Tokyo) who specializes in Korean Political History and Professor Liu Jie (School of Social Science, Waseda University), a specialist in Modern History of the Relations between Japan and China). Both speakers are closely related with SGRA.   I gave my opinion, at the last session of questions and answers which was moderated  by Prof. Liu Jie, who pointed out that anybody who likes to promote “national reconciliation” by “public (common) wisdom”, should establish a platform on the internet. At the get-together meeting, however, I became aware that my opinion was misunderstood and given an opposite meaning. So I like to clarify my opinion in this essay.   When we conducted a survey of the histories of East Asia, there was a lot of confusion or unusual conditions.  The Opium War in China, separation of North and South Korea after the Korean War, and, in Japan, consecutive wars, including the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific-War after the Meiji Restoration. Although Japan lost the Pacific-War, we can say that all the confusions in East Asia have been caused by advances of the great powers in Europe and America who aimed to impose colonial rules.   We cannot always justify colonial rules by different races over Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria.  After the Perry (USA) Expedition in 1853, Japan had thought it necessary to oppose, as a nation of Asia, the advances by great powers into East Asia. There are deep-rooted opinions that Japan should have definitely insisted that they had fought consecutive wars, which were said to be wars of aggression, in order to protect (at least, at the beginning) Asia against the great powers.   After World War II, in the history education in Japan, the Japanese people have been taught, as convenient for America, that all the wars undertaken by Japan were “wars of aggression”. Some people say that this mindset caused Japanese to develop a masochistic view of history. After the War, the American occupation army forced on Japan a distorted history education characterized by fear of Japanese united power, fear of rising again as a warlike nation and fear of national pride. This distorted history exists even now. According to a public-opinion poll of the world, the young in Japan are notably weak among advanced countries, in terms of patriotic spirit, in respect of parents and in self-confidence. It is said those weaknesses have been an American strategy.  But it is also said that activities to recover national pride are being undertaken recently. Though I am not so positive, I am attending a study group of this kind in these days in order to learn if there are many people who have various opinions.   It is said a history is always written so that it will be convenient for administrators of the time. If so, the problem of historical recognitions is not solved as a national sentiment. As proposed by Prof. Liu Jie, if we like to establish histories as “public wisdom” of Asia, it is necessary to accumulate objective historical materials which are not affected by the politics of nations. Unfortunately, the Japanese people are lacking basic knowledge of histories and they do not know histories of surrounding countries. Knowledge and information, which would make researchers realize the pains of the people, who were under colonial rule, are also insufficient.   Governments are liable to impose on their people their understanding of histories which are convenient for these governments and would try to insist this understanding on other countries. However, as we are now living in the internet societies where we can share information among people of other countries. The citizens of the world should build networks for sharing objective materials of histories as “public wisdom” across national borders. There may be various opinions, but scholars of histories are asked to have a role to spreading such fundamental knowledge with opinions based on objective reasons and explainations which can be easily understood by everybody. People in each country will realize that there are opinions different from those of the government. There are many viewpoints. With this realization of general and objective understanding, people will come to know that it would be meaningless to confront each other on different views of histories by governments. As such, I expect some good result which will gradually remove individual ill feelings.   On the other hand, it will be a job for diplomats to solve confrontations among governments, including problems of different recognition of histories by countries. Recently, it is a reality that negotiations among Japan, China and Korea are not always going well, and I am afraid that this situation comes from poor negotiating abilities of  the diplomats of these countries.   Mao Zedong of China said “Existence decides Consciousness”. He preached that people who are concerned with politics have to think on the standpoints of the people (especially the poor and lower class farmers). This indicates that if politicians are not conscious of such standpoints, they are apt to think from their limited viewpoints. For the Japanese people, it is difficult to imagine standpoints or sentiments of other people who have been ruled.   As I was taking the above thoughts into consideration, I expressed at the meeting: “as Japan has never been colonialized, we have difficulty understanding the standpoints of Korea, China and Taiwan”. And I was aware afterward that I affirmed my indifferent attitude without self-examination.   At a social gathering after a lecture meeting, I was told by somebody that “Japan has an experience to have been occupied by American armed forces”. While talking with him, I became aware, for the first time, that my statement in my presentation was misunderstood. In Okinawa, many people have been certainly sacrificed; in the main land, also, a huge number of people (more than 300 thousand) died from the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and in the Great Tokyo Air Raid many people also died.  I have stated that we have no experience to have been occupied because ours was not a colonial occupation for long period.   We, Japanese, have not yet gotten out of our understanding of a defeated country due to a skillful occupation which came from Japan-US relations for 70 years since the end of the War. The US military bases are still here and there is no future prospect for their going away. Some people say that the US wanted to occupy Iraq softly as they did with Japan so that Iraq would obey everything that the US says. I should have said that Japan is as good as being under (hidden) colonial occupation.   The Pope of Rome said definitely that present business enterprises are plundering and damaging the environment. As Mr. Thomas Piketty (French economist) pointed out, modern enterprises in advanced countries are getting profit skillfully but legally and are establishing the composition of societies where one percent are wealthy people and 99% are poor. There is another economist who pointed out that the US taxation system causes inequalities in societies. In the US, various financial instruments (e.g. derivatives) are developing and when company directors sell their shares, they are treated preferentially in taxation. There is another penetrating opinion that a part of the people in the world are active behind the scene influencing governments in the pursuit of their personal profit, and their activity is stirring up disputes in the world.   There is no point if we, as Asian comrades, are hostile to each other under the circumstances where a small part of the world’s population (consisting of the wealthy), pursuing their personal gain, dominate the governments of the world. In the societies of Japan, China and Korea, where there is a common Confucian culture of working together, I think we have a base which is easy to be reconciled with each other.   I am proud of the Atsumi International Foundation which, as you know, holds international research conferences in several cities in the world. These conferences have contributed to establishing common wisdom as Prof. Liu Jie said. Many men of talent who are scholarship students of the Foundation are very active all over the world. I hope we can enlarge the circle of friends for better understanding and establish reciprocal societies as Asian economic communities equal to the EU. This present research meeting is significant and, hopefully be the first step toward this end.     (Yutaka Tonooka / Professor of Humanities and Social Science, Saitama University, Visiting Researcher of Waseda University)     <Reference>   Co-hosting “JI Forum – the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II:Thoughts on Historical Memories and Their Recognition-“   On September 28,2015, we (SGRA) co-hosted the Japan Initiative (JI) Forum. JI is presided by Mr. Hideki Katoh, who is also Councilor of the Atsumi International Foundation and they have been examining problems in Japan such as “program (by the Government) review”. They offered us this time to discuss international issues also and we, as SGRA, have been thinking that international problems should be studied by Japanese people more. And we have decided to cohost the forum. JI held the first Forum in July 2015, titled “At the ‘70th anniversary of the end of World War II”, and they study this time the same period from the side of China and Korean peninsula. We decided on the title “Forum II, Thoughts on Historical Memories and Their Recognition at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II”, asking Prof. Liu Jie (Waseda University) and Prof. Tadashi Kinomiya (the University of Tokyo), both have been supporting SGRA for a long time.   Prof. Liu showed retrogression of relations between Japan and China comparing two pictures:one is friendly photo of Mao Zedong・Zhou Enlai and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka・Masayosi Ohirain 1972 and the other is a stiff shaking hands between Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping in November, last year.  He referred also, according to an attitude survey, not only politicians, more than 80 % of the people of both countries expressed their dislike of each other. He also said that there is recently a movement of history-recognition in learned societies in China.  In order to improve such situation, he asserted to promote  exchange at the intellectual level in Japan studies and necessity of common knowledge which can be shared among the whole Asia,about experiences of success and failure in Japan including the period before World War II.   According to Prof. Kinomiya, when the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty was concluded in 1965, serious disputes had started between Japan and Korea because the Treaty did not solve problems properly. There were such changes in the relation between the countries like changes from vertical (Japan, as ruler and advanced country in economic development) to horizontal (equal partners in power). In Korea, there appeared domestic confrontation due to their diversification and stratification of society, and people found it difficult to compromise with Japan being afraid of being criticized domestically. He pointed out, as a solution, that Japan should tackle positively historical problems even though this may be in a narrow sense. And, it is necessary for Koreans to control themselves to avoid making a Japan-Korea problem into a “historical issue”.  He also insisted that, for recognition and policies against China, both countries should pursue common possibilities of access.   Moderator Mr. Kato premised “we like to look at historical issues on a broader scale without sticking at trifles”.  Opinion by both gentlemen, Prof. Kinomiya and Mr. Kato, were exactly an overlooking for big steps of modern histories. Based on responses to questionnaires after the forum, some participants commented: “it was difficult to give our own opinions on the theme this time because we could not identify what the truth is. We like to be as close to the truth as much as possible. We believe we can improve our chance to express our opinion by attending this kind of forum.” I thought, as the sponsor of this forum that it was effective because we were able to have such comment. We may lose free spatial feelings if we discuss on the basis of “justice” or “righteousness”.  Mr. Kato pointed out that we, Japan, came to feel cramped recently for certain though I do not know in foreign countries.  It was very impressive for me.   Lastly, I like to thank the participants in this forum and our co-host.   (Junko Imanishi /Representative for SGRA)     Translated by Kazuo Kawamura English checked by Mac Maquito   SGRA Kawaraban 471 in Japanese (original)