By Siqiao Zhang
Starting from 2014, Mainland China has become Japan’s third largest source of overseas tourism, and the number of Chinese travelers to the country is still increasing. A flood of Chinese tourists has shown a special craze for Japanese home appliances and is buying up all the devices in duty-free shops across Japan. Despite the fact that the Japanese yen resumes its slide to hit seven-year low, the superior quality of Japanese products and the consumer-oriented design concepts are the largest contributing factors to the boom in sales.
While the number of Mainland Chinese tourists that spent their Chinese New Year Holidays in Hong Kong has declined for the first time since the 1998 handover (Teon 2015), the number of Mainland Chinese tourist arrivals in Japan nearly doubled to 2.4 million in 2014, an 83 percent increase from the previous year (Minter 2015). Many Chinese people are visiting Japan not only to get a personal experience of the country but also to buy small yet high-end electronic and electrical goods, such as rice cookers, hair dryers, ceramic knives, and even toilet seats. According to reports from the Japan National Tourism Organization, Chinese visitors spent an estimated 6 billion yuan ($956 million) in Japan over the Chinese New Year holiday in February 2015 (Liu 2015). Comparing to the corresponding time period last year, Chinese visitors’ average spending increased 10.4 percent to $2,000 (Liu 2015).
There are a number of reasons for the flood of tourist spending in Japan, including the Japanese yen’s depreciation against the U.S. dollar and Japan’s new multiple-entry visa policy (Minter 2015). Still, this does not fully explain Chinese tourists’ craze for shopping for Japanese gadgets and home appliances since there is hardly any consumer product that is available in Japan today that cannot be found in China. Given China’s frequent product safety scandals, Chinese consumers are losing faith in Chinese cheap manufacturing and start to acknowledge a disparity between the quality of Japanese and Chinese goods. Maybe we can find out why Japanese merchandise became so popular among Chinese consumers if we take a look at this season’s must-buy home appliances for Chinese tourists – expensive Japanese toilet seats.
Behind Japanese modern designs:
Forester argues, “The global reach of Japanese consumer technologies was attributed to Japan’s creative and original refinement, if not pure originality, rather than to its cunning ability to copy or imitate the West” (Iwabuchi 2002), and his theory applies to the invention and development of Japanese high-tech toilet design. The modern toilet in Japan is commonly known as Washlet in Japanese and has become the most advanced toilet design worldwide. However, the idea for the Washlet first came from abroad; the first toilet seat with integrated bidet was produced in the United Sates in 1964. Then Toto, the leading brand in Japan, refined the design and introduced its first Washlet model in 1982 (Tokyo 2003), and it’s been estimated that more than 70 percent of Japanese homes now feature a toilet seat with enhanced capabilities (Stevenson 2014). Japanese high-tech toilet seats have a dazzling array of features, including heated seats, blow dryer, massage options, bidet functions, and even wireless control panel.
The popularity of these toilets seats can be explained by the fact that Japanese merchandise explicitly shows its advanced technologies, exquisite workmanship and user-friendly functions. Chinese architecture researcher, Lili Sheng once stated that “Japan’s modern design meet the use function in the premise of users true feelings, pay attention to life habit and the local natural characteristics, cultural background and design all coming together (Sheng 2012).” Sheng’s argument is also consistent with Nagamichi’s theory on Kansei Engineering, a consumer-oriented technology for new product development. Nagamachi defined the Kansei Engineering as translating technology of a consumer’s feeling and image for a product into design elements (Nagamachi 1995). The successful companies, such as Toto, using Kansei Engineering benefitted from good sales regarding the new consumer-oriented products (Nagamachi 1995). The seat-heating function built for the Washlet is the sort of thing you don’t realize you need in your life until you’ve tried it. What’s more is that you will immediately decide you can no longer live without it. According to consumers’ words, “ It is truly a pleasure to press your hind flesh to an oval of cozy warmth, instead of receiving a mild, chilly shock, especially during winter times (Stevenson 2014).” A consumer-oriented product, which is designed based on consumer’s feeling and demand and further, reforms consumer’s lifestyle and acceptance of the whole market. Therefore, the craze to buy Japanese home appliances can be said to be an inevitable trend.
Do you think Nagamachi’s theory on consumer-oriented engineering is culturally odorless?
Will Japanese toilet seats succeed in the U.S. market? why and why not?
Review on Japanese toilet seats https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Xnm1syPnwE
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Nagamachi, Mitsuo. “Kansei Engineering: A New Ergonomic Consumer-oriented Technology for Product Development.” International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 15.1 (1995): 3-11. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Sheng, Lili. “The Analysis of Human Nature of Japan??s Modern Design.” – Master’s Thesis Provide The Best Dissertation. Dissertation001, 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
Stevenson, Seth. “You Probably Need This Incredible Japanese Wonder Toilet.” Slate. The Slate Group LLC., 6 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
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