Shin-Ōkubo (新大久保駅) City Profile

by Linx Selby

     Shin-Ōkubo, otherwise known as Tokyo’s “Korean Town” is an area of contention. Originally a lower-income area and a destination for Korean immigrants, the area rose in local popularity with the rise of interest in Hallyu culture (Korean pop culture i.e. K Pop music, girl/boy bands, other cultural exports). Lately, however, Shin-Ōkubo has been the site of terse racial conflicts and the airing of pent-up hatred towards Korean immigrants. With hate speech allowed and legal in Japan, blatant racial slurs and insults is one of the most common and main forms of ammunition. According to the Japan Times, some local Korean vendors have stopped selling products with Hangul (Korean alphabet) labels. Tensions towards Korean (and Chinese) immigrants in Japan stem from Japan’s imperial history and their failure to acknowledge atrocities such as use of Korean comfort women. This post-war tension has grown into an unsolicited anger.

       Clara and I spoke to many locals about their feelings towards Koreans and Chinese immigrants and while none were hostile, none would be willing to make close friends with or marry them. Even a family friend’s 14 year old son who attends boarding school in the United States was clear on the fact that he would never want to be too close to Koreans or Chinese classmates because, as he put it, they are continually rude. The relationship between locals and Chinese immigrants and visitors is equally convoluted and tense. Many local businesses prosper off of the nouveau riche who come from economically-flourishing China to shop and buy luxury goods in Japan yet there is a distinct cultural distaste towards their “aggressive” and loud behavior.

      Going to Shin-Ōkubo I was excited to see a distinct Korean culture (nostalgia for the three days in Bupyeong I spent before coming to Tokyo) but when I arrived I found it to be more integrated and hidden than I had expected. There were only a few signs in the Korean alphabet and although many stores seemed to copy a Korean style, nothing was distinguished as anything other than Japanese. The Izakaya restaurant that we ate at was run by a Korean owner but the menu and everything about the restaurant was marketed as Japanese. Whether this was all incidental or not, the lack of cultural cohesion is understandable in light of the context of discrimination.

Personally, I really enjoyed Shin-Ōkubo, especially the Korean prices (see below images of $1 clothing store).

Sources and more info at SCMP and The Diplomat.

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© Linx Selby all rights reserved.

Thoughts on Two Kinds of Branding Strategies

by Linx Selby

A continuation/response to Clara’s case study:


Bioré cosmetics and Franck Mueller luxury watches operate as two different kinds of brands, both highly successful in Tokyo.

Bioré operates based on dependability whereas Franck Mueller is necessity. The Kao Corporation cosmetics company that is local to Japan has become a corner store staple, dependable, affordable and almost disposable. Local success is based on an image of strong quality and marketing tied to celebrities who are seen as morally pure and polished. Thus beauty products are highly tied to ideas of localised purity, standards and values. Interestingly Bioré has a strong international market as well, however the marketing is completely different. For example a Bioré product in Japan will feature a nice drawing of a blushing young girl whereas the products sold in Canada will instead feature white models, devoid of any Japanese labeling. In fact, the first time I heard about Bioré products I thought it was a french company. Whereas in Japan the company’s credibility comes from it’s authenticity or Japaneseness, abroad the product is marketed as something completely transformed, devoid of any mark of made in Japan. Around Tokyo there is hardly any external marketing for Bioré because it is such a local, well-known and accessible brand.

Franck Mueller, an extremely expensive brand in comparison, is successful because, as an International luxury brand, its value is incredibly high. Luxury and designer brands act as signifiers in showcasing a certain lifestyle and thus become necessities. Franck Mueller’s imported, luxury status gives it appeal but as it becomes a necessity, it is almost Japanized. As Clara pointed out, Franck Mueller garners more success in Tokyo than in its birthplace of Switzerland because in Tokyo the brand is so intrinsically tied into the lifestyle. In the same way that Bioré cosmetics come to represent a pure and authentic, Japanese lifestyle, Franck Mueller watches signify the new sense of economic liberty that has become a standard. Designer product mark someone’s status as economically participatory, independent and successful. Franck Mueller’s success, Clara noted, is due in large part to their massive advertising campaigns. The vast size of massive urban advertisements in Tokyo allow any brands capable of utilizing such high profile marketing to become a sort of media source to the public. Advertising in Tokyo is so prominent that it becomes mixed with other media imagery that would otherwise remain separate.

Both brands deliver when it comes to accessibility. Bioré is easily found on any street corner, in any drugstore or cosmetics aisle and similarly Franck Mueller has expanded to have stores in wide circulation across Japan. Luxury is no longer a commodity reserved for those living in the city.

© Linx Selby all rights reserved.

A Return to Post-War Vacation Imagery?


by Linx Selby

Does this advertisement look familiar?


These ads were all over Tokyo — and bear a striking resemblance to 1960’s ads encouraging (especially young, single females) to travel inside of Japan propagating a notion of self-discovery.  The ad, picturing women carefree of city concerns going on a healthy, refreshing vacation, away from metropolitan centers mimics the post-war imagery but with a difference. Whereas post-war imagery tended to tie together the notion of localised travel with cultural security, as in a re-investment in cultural and traditional Japanese identity, these 2014 ads seem to celebrate the single female’s economic comfort and liberty. The resurrection of a cultural identity is not so much a priority, rather, the single, working female in Japan now has the capability and means to go on vacation with friends, to explore the countryside at leisure.

We asked my godfather, who works in Tokyo and lives in Kamakura, what he thought of the connection and he responded that Tokyo nowadays and Tokyo from the 1960s is incredibly different. He spoke of the 1980’s economic boom and how people were drawn into the large cities like Tokyo for the satellite stores. People came into the cities to buy the goods (such as Bioreé or specialty products) that are now brand staples throughout Japan. Now there is a movement for people to move out of metropolitan areas, to travel into the countryside and redistribute.

This return to travel is indicative of a certain degree of economic security and perhaps it signifies a move away from the tangent of branding and product-dependant lifestyle but it also highlights the way that consumerism has dispersed throughout Japan and how consumerism power-hubs have been diluted. For example, both Bioré cosmetics and Franck Mueller luxury watches are accessible outside of major cities because of A. Bioré becoming a dependable but disposable corner store staple and B. Franck Mueller, a luxury necessity, providing a wide circulation of offshoot stores outside of major cities. Will this dispersion of consumer concentration change the role or of metropolitan cities, such as Tokyo?

© Linx Selby all rights reserved.

Case Studies: Tourism Claustrophobia

by Linx Selby

         One weekend Clara and I decided to take the Shinkansen over to Kyoto to see how life in the smaller and older city compared to that in Tokyo. Flashing lights, sounds and excess of flashy, luxury-clad youth were replaced with wood-based architecture, quaint, lantern-lit streets and couples lounging on the banks of the canal. Early the next morning, after a generous breakfast at our sharehouse, Sim’s Cozy Guest House, Clara was ready to go, guidebook-in-hand, clear umbrella on arm, with a list of the top four temples to check out in the city.  After so much One Cup  urban exploration in Tokyo we were ready for a relaxing, enriching, potentially spiritual experience. My dad had highly recommended the Golden Temple, remembering it as pristinely peaceful and astounding.

     We certainly had a spiritual experience —

We were able  to practice our skills in patience, endurance and walking meditation in 35° afternoon heat. The Golden Temple was indeed beautiful, at least what I could see of it over the heads of the swarms of tourists. There were so many tourists, in fact, that our total experience of the temple grounds involved being packed into a non-stop assembly line of tourists that flowed – like a river – through the entirety of the walking path.

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Whereas some, eager temple-goers were clearly enjoying the view, the majority were mainly concerned with snapping the perfect selfie. iPads, smartphones, DSLRs floated above the crowd,  couples wearing Japanese tourist regalia stopping every 10 seconds to solicit someone to take a 100th perfect pic.

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Albeit, the Golden Temple was smaller and so, as we trudged our way along to the next three, the tourist swarms thinned out a little and we were able to have some peaceful moments and even some quiet. But the buzzing selfie obsession was reminiscent of similar scenes we witnessed at the large Buddha in Kamakura or at the iconic red gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha be it locals on holiday or foreigners trying to snap the most unique a cultured Tinder profile.

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This priority of documentation is an example of branding of lifestyle where the value of the product is combined with the value of traveling, being elsewhere, leaving the metropolitan area. The act of being somewhere else or seeing beautiful, iconographic sites is no longer valid without proper documentation. Thus, the very act of tourism becomes, for both global and local participants, a staged creation of identity through the use of products. Thanks to the many iPads and cameras, the luxury of vacation lifestyle becomes packaged and sellable, branded. The experience is insignificant, what is important is the image of lifestyle that is created and added into the network of personal branding.

All images © Linx Selby all rights reserved.

Video Surfaces Alleging Previous Fascinations with Tokyo

Someone 20 years ago apparently had similar inclinations towards capturing Tokyo’s aesthetics as us. Is 2014 really a resurrection of 90’s nostalgia? Has the Tokyo urbanspace significantly changed in 20 years? Are Western, media-related perceptions of Tokyo still plagued with the same orientalizing, fetishizing misconceptions? Our portrayal of a society is made conscious in our choices of what we show or do not show in our lens.  

Consumer Hubs: Shinjuku (新宿区) and Shibuya (渋谷区) City Profile

By Linx Selby

Shinjuku and Shibuya, two major consumer hotspots in Tokyo: Covered in high-budget advertising including ten-foot, LED billboards, littered with merchandise stores spilling onto the streets, smaller boutiques overshadowed by big name, International brands or luxury department stores.

Although many of the large, recognizable brands like H&M, Uggs, or Forever 21 present oversized billboards with standard, seasonal Western advertisements (for example H&M’s summer-savvy, bronzed and tousled, muscular, bikini-clad, Jungle campaign) they immediately juxtapose with a healthy presence of local ads often featuring Japanese celebrities (for example Softymo’s powdered, soft, polished, radiant covergirl). Despite the insistent size of the large, international ads, they remain ironically insignificant in that they serve more as platforms or examples for local ads. The western domination of urban space with advertising is taken as an example and is Japanized and utilized for local ads that promote a different set of values. Such a predominance of international brands is not so much a product of Western fetishization but more a show of Japan’s ability to adopt a global model and make it local.

Young fashion trends are eclectic yet remain confined to certain boundaries. A standard formality, perhaps a reflection of a prioritized work life, persists in both the way that men and women dress, from those wearing suits or business casual to teens wearing crop tops and other street style cuts. The fashion mirrors the advertisements with an air of luxury and a polished sense of ceremony, even on those who push the stylistic boundaries.

Below advertisements for cosmetics, repeatedly projecting an attainable ideal of perfection and flawlessness, are rows of products to correct any possible blemish. Creating the perfect face becomes frighteningly attainable with the right amount of consumerism. Cosmetic advertisements forge a link between creating an image of physical beauty and success/happiness. As opposed to Chinese advertisements, for example, that tend to promote overall wellbeing and strong, internal health as the most important determinants in a successful life, Japan’s beauty ethics are centered around creating a beautiful surface image.

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© Linx Selby all rights reserved.

Case Study: Marketing strategy in Japan of Bioré cosmetics v.s. Franck Muller

References: Hardt, Michael. “Affective Labor.” Boundary 2 26.2 (1999): 89-100.

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective,” Journal of Consumer Culture 5.2 (2005): 235-258.

Moor, Elizabeth. “Branded Spaces: The Scope of ‘New Marketing,’” Journal of Consumer Culture 3.1 (2003): 39-60.

Keywords: Marketing strategy, luxury products, cosmetics, wedding

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Franck Muller Brand Profile:

Franck Muller is watch company from Switzerland that is particularly big and successful in Japan – probably even its biggest market. Today, Franck Muller is said to be the third most popular luxury watch brand in Japan, after Rolex and Cartier. Luxury brands are usually very successful in Japan as opposed than elsewhere in the world, there is a relatively easy answer to this. Japan is a country with a very high quality of life. Salaries are high, criminality is low, etc. Usually, when people have ‘extra money’ they spend it on three different things: house, holiday, objects and other personal products. Housing is very expensive, especially in main cities like Tokyo or Osaka. For a very high price, the apartment one get is usually fairly small. Therefore many Japanese don’t spend their money on housing as a priority. Holidays are usually very short in Japan. Even though most Japanese get 20 days holiday per year, which is the usual average in the West as well, however most Japanese hardly use all of their days of holiday, because they are hard-worker and taking too much holiday is apparently rather badly seen by the firm and other employees. This leaves only the objects and personal products category to spend this extra money on, and this typically includes luxury products, such as Franck Muller watches.

When the Franck Muller marketing is close to non-existent in home-based Switzerland itself – it is indeed rare to see an add in a magazine or in the street from the company, Franck Muller is actually very present and active in Japan. The brand owes its success in Japan precisely to its effective marketing. Many events are held each year that are known to stand out with their interesting design and features following the concept of the brand. Special limited edition gifts are always created for such event that can’t be bought in any Franck Muller boutique, such as coffee set, golf bags, etc. With the brand’s popularity, these gifts are so valued that they are often sold at very high price on auction websites.

Because of the popularity of such events, Franck Muller japan decided to create a very unique kind of event: Franck Muller Wedding ( It is a unique Franck Muller feature that only exist in Japan. The brand is thus now very far from only being regular watchmaker, they are also sorts of dreams makers as they aspire to make your big day the most beautiful and perfect day there is. Talking about emotional attachment to a brand and experiential branding, having an entire wedding in a theme of a brand seems pretty extreme. Nonetheless the wedding business appears to be working quite well, with already 5 weddings realized this year. From the couple’s rings, to plates and cutlery, decoration of the reception hall: everything is made by Franck Muller. This new products, or service is very in line with Hardt’s argument of emotional labour (see reference and bibliography and theory section for more details). Franck Muller no longer simply sells a watch, but rather an entire experience. If the experience is successful – and it is no random experience since it is a wedding a.k.a THE unforgettable experience by essence – the brand makes sure to keep loyal customers for ever: the newly weds along with their guests. Quite a successful strategy then. Again however, the Franck Muller wedding only exists in Japan, and it is debatable whether it would be as successful in other countries.

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Again, because of the popularity of the wedding, and special Franck Muller gifts and non-watch products, the brand created Franck Muller Future Form ( that designs table wear (plates, cutlery, glasses, etc.) and in the future will also design house furniture It is interesting to notice that although the table wear are mostly ‘European style’ with Italian wine glasses, regular forks, knives, and so one, the expertise behind the conception of the table wear is purely Japanese. It is highly skilled Japanese master from a particular region in Japan that realize the prized porcelain for the plates, or the glasses. The products don’t even indicate “made in Japan” but rather made in a particular Japanese province renowned for such expertise. It is therefore interesting, even potentially surprising, to see that the brand does not realize Japanese table wear such as chopsticks, green tea set, soup bowl, etc. when it acquired the local Japanese expertise that could do it and above all even though when it is only sold in Japan and nowhere else in the world – yet.

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Franck Muller, although very well known in Japan remains a luxury products that only a few people can afford. The brand however seems to be targeting to this ‘elite group’ in particular with no special attention to lower their price to have more customers. Again, their marketing strategy seems to be quite in line with Arvidsson’s and Moor’s argument on new marketing techniques (see reference and bibliography and theory section for more details) that aims at selling “emotions” in addition to the products to create a more intimate relationship with the customer. New Marketing strategies also typically aims at creating a community for the customers. In the case of Franck Muller, such community is composed of wealthy customers who could afford to but the watch. Franck Muller Japan is therefore very in line with the new marketing strategies and appears more than successful as it is the third most popular brand (after Rolex notably). Regardless of the high prices of the Franck Muller products, most people are still eager to buy Franck Muller, partly in a desire to belong to the elitist Franck Muller community.


Bioré Cosmetics.

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Bioré, regardless of its French-sounding name, is a Japanese cosmetics brand that belongs to the Kao Corporation and that is sold around the world. The Bioré products focus especially on skin care. Bioré is known around Japan and the world for producing high quality product at reduced costs. Their core value is “Yoki-Monozukuri” ( which means in japanese yoki: “good/excellent” and Monozukuri: “development/manufacturing of products”.

The brand also cares about sustainability issues, ethics and fairness in general. Values that improve the brand’s profile and consumer’s perception of it.

The brand, particularly by being cheap, targets general customers, everyone from low-income to high-income uses bioré products. From students, to successful businessmen for instance, it would be quite common to see Bioré products in the bathroom.

The brand’s mission is to “strive for the wholehearted satisfaction and enrichment of the lives of people globally and to contribute to the sustainability of the world” ( The Brand therefore aims at being closed to its customers but in a rather simple way. Bioré indeed do not aspire at being a luxury products only accessible to a certain class of people, but rather want to be accessible by all.

Franck Muller V.S. Bioré

Of course it is no the same kind of products that are sold here, however people that buy Franck Muller products are likely to buy Bioré as well (since Bioré targets any kind of customers). Bioré as opposed to Franck Muller does not organize special VIP events, for this reason no one would particularly feel like they belong to a special community when buying Bioré – again as opposed to Franck Muller, when only some people belonging to the Franck Muller community receive the ‘privilege’ to be invited to such events.  The marketing strategy and missions of the brands of both Franck Muller and Bioré are very different then. While Bioré aims at selling simple and good quality products – ‘sans prétention’ (as in ‘non-flamboyant’), Franck Muller is more interesting in selling an entire lifestyle. Franck Muller will not only sell you high quality and haute-horlogerie watches, but also will re-decorate your house and custom your very special day: your wedding. Franck Muller is therefore in a way, all about being flamboyant, whereas Bioré is not.

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By Clara Payró

Case Study: Tokyo Disneyland, a business fairy tale.

Reference: Black, Daniel. “Wearing Out Racial Discourse: Tokyo Street Fashion and Race as Style.” The Journal of Popular Culture 42.2 (2009): 239-256. Print.

Moor, Elizabeth. “Branded Spaces: The Scope of ‘New Marketing,’” Journal of Consumer Culture 3.1 (2003): 39-60.

Keywords: Disney, marketing, branding, Tokyo disneyland

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Wandering around in the streets of Tokyo, I quickly realized that the same song was following me pretty much every minute of every day. This song, (the super-annoying-kinda song that remains stuck in your head 4ever), was bursting out loud in every corner shops, every ‘combini’ and every promotion TVs in ‘Bic Camera’ mega stores. Although I could not quite understand the lyrics, the melody was familiar. This song indeed happened to be the Japanese version of “Let it go” from the Disney movie frozen. I was a bit surprised to see how successful this song, and the movie in general was in Japan – as opposed to Montreal for instance where I did not recall seeing that many by-products of Frozen, nor hearing the song everywhere – maybe I am wrong however.

Wandering around some more, I noticed that not only Frozen was a success-story in Japan, but the entire Disney industry seemed to be quite a money-maker fairy tale here. From low-cost cosmetics stores, Bic Camera electronic stores, Don Quijote (the local ‘bazar’ where one can truly find anything) to luxury brands like Franck Muller, all had Disney by-products: Alice in Wonderland creams, Buzz Lighter Chopsticks to Tokyo Disneyland 30th anniversary limited-edition Franck Muller watch models (sold at $22,000!). Anyone with lower to higher income can afford to buy Disney. Not only is Disney not restricted to kids, it is also and actually quite trendy for adults it seems – I admit that I bought the buzz lighter chopsticks for myself, I just could not resist.

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Nonetheless, I decided to explore the Tokyo Disneyland park directly to see for myself. I reached the park late afternoon / early evening on a Thursday around 6:30pm with two Japanese girlfriends in their late twenties. I was first amazed to see such a big line in front of the gates that late in the day, knowing that the park closes at 10:30pm (are 4 hours of some Disney-fun truly enough????) and knowing that the tickets are far from being cheap. I was also surprised to see that there were more young and trendy adults than families with children. They all seemed so happy to be here, almost all wearing little Mickey & Minnie ears and other Disney costumes, taking pictures selfies in front of the famous pink castle.I simply could not help but being tremendously happy myself and taking pictures of them taking pictures of themselves in front of the famous pink castle – I refrained myself from buying some cute Mickey ears however.


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My two Japanese friends were especially excited to come along my little adventure not for the Disney rides, but for the “Once upon a time” show: a multimedia projection-mapping show on the castle. Squeezed between hundreds people, I eventually saw parts of the projection show. I admit that it was well-made and cute, but still slightly too boring and childish for my taste. My two Japanese friends however awed the entire show and confessed to me afterward that they almost cried during the “bouquet final” because it was too touching and beautiful.

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What to make of this apparent attraction to Disney in Japan? Disney is a success story worldwide of course, but mostly for kids it seemed to me. Tokyo, as an allegory of Japan, has showed me that Disney here targets not only children but also adults. Why is Disney so popular among Japanese then? There is obviously not a single right or wrong answer. From the readings I made prior to my trip in Japan (see bibliography and reference), it seems to me that Disney is particularly effective because of the emotional and experiential branding it represents (as seen in Moor’s argument). Indeed, Disney is no longer only passive but also participatory, and the movie one watched can be sort acquired through by-products or even experienced itself with only a short 30min JR ride from downtown Tokyo to Disneyland. However, this does not explain why Disney is so successful among adults. One other explanation that follows some theory from the reading I made is that Japanese people acquired Disney – a most American product – and made it their own; they transformed it to match their own taste. This follows a little bit D. Black’s argument of trends’ collage. The Disney park looks similar that the ones in the States or Europe. Since the park itself had to follow the exact same pattern than the original park, the only way to “make the park” their own, was through the customers. I am of course no saying that customers have been manipulated to make Tokyo Disneyland ‘less American’ and more Japanese, but perhaps many Japanese, following Black’s idea of collage, took the best of Disneyland (the architecture of the park, the famous pink castle) and re-shaped the experience with their own taste through for instance dressing up, taking pictures rather than riding the roller coaster, etc. This is of course only theory.

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Then finally, another simpler reason why Disney is probably so successful in Japan is precisely because it is such an American and western product. Being in Disneyland feels like traveling in the West (especially with the themes park, western mountains, southern boats and rivers, fake Swiss mountains, western architecture buildings, etc.). It is far less expensive and faster to go to Disneyland rather than traveling directly to America or Europe. I don’t think Japan specially fetishize the west, but from my point of view, most Japanese people I met were curious and eager to travel and discover other cultures and places, but again to do so cost time and money. Disneyland thus appears as an easy alternative. As for Disney by-products itself, again it is something different that what one would typically find in Japan. Just as it is the same for westerners to be attracted to foreign products – they are exotic, original, etc. More and more, and again from the reading, it seems that people nowadays seek to be different than others somehow, and acquiring a Disney by-product could be a way to achieve this goal. Again however, this is only theory and would need more investigation and thinking. Nonetheless and to conclude, Disney sure stands out in Japan as a flourishing business, and am sure will remain a thriving business in the years ahead. Disney owes its success to the perfect match between emotional attachment and experience it sells through the park, but also to its ‘western essence’ that makes Disney precisely exotic and original in Japan, just as are studio Ghibli, samurai or any other Japanese features attractive to westerners for instance.



By Clara Payró

images and video (unless specified) Clara Payró all rights reserved

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