Until recently, doing something Japanese abroad meant a trip to a restaurant. Often one can hear on London streets, "let's do sushi." Fast food chains such as Yo! Sushi, Wasabi and Samurai Bento are scattered throughout London.
Japanese food is thought of as unfussy, healthy, low in fat and stylish. But now, however, Japan can be experienced in the West through its clothing brands as well. Interestingly, these brands have the same allure as Japanese food -- fun, stylish and good quality.
Muji (Mujirushi Ryohin) was probably the first Japanese cool clothing brand to make a name for itself abroad. London was its first overseas store, which opened in 1991. Muji now boasts 117 branches outside of Japan. Europeans are attracted to its clean design sense and to the functionality without fuss.
The Uniqlo brand moved to London in 2001. There are 14 Uniqlo stores in the U.K. In America, Uniqlo SoHo is the company's largest store with an average of over 24,000 customers on any single Saturday. Uniqlo has just this last month signed a 15-year lease for 300 million dollars to develop 666 Fifth Avenue.
This is the largest retail lease contract in New York City history. Interestingly, the number 666 in Christianity is considered "the mark of the Beast" (basically the devil), and is certainly not a coveted location as a result. However, it most likely will not prove to be a stumbling block to this new global Japanese brand.
Uniqlo, with its emphasis on cheap bright colors, high tech textiles, quickly changing fashion styles and manga characters on its T-shirts, is becoming a singular hit abroad. Uniqlo capitalizes on the image of Japan as cool, technological and cutting-edge.
A shop operated by Tabio, a retailer specializing in socks. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Rousmaniere)Tabio, however, is my favorite Japanese brand abroad. It is a store on the move -- and not just because it sells socks and leggings. Tabio provides an exciting niche product that targets a vacuum yet to be filled in Europe or America.
It is no secret among foreigners living in Japan that Japanese socks are exceptional. Japanese leggings are at the forefront of fashion and sometimes beyond. Tabio currently has seven stores in London and another in Paris. Importantly, it has a well-designed English language website, which indicates the investment the company is making on Internet retailing.
Tabio has the possibility of creating a truly global Japanese brand. They even received a plug in the "Fast Lane" column in the weekend Financial Times on June 26 -- the fashionable high-end shopper's bible.
Japan's image abroad as being youthful, cool and the home of 'uber' design has indeed made these Japanese brands abound. The view from overseas of Japan now includes sartorial flair in fashion as well as finesse in cuisine. (By Dr. Nicole Rousmaniere, founding director of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures)
(Mainichi Japan) July 29, 2010