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.