Global Licensing organisation LIMA organised a local Expo in Tokio in April. For a curious mind Japan is a great adventure. At the Expo were over 50 both western and asian companies representing over 400 brands and licenses. Japan is the worlds third largest license market after USA and Great Britain. Compared to this statistics this expo only showed a marginal share of the market.

There is a good explanations to this. The breadth and scope of e-commerce in the Asian countries is very large. You only need to think of Alibaba.com to get the idea. At street level brand stores can be very modest both in size and location.

Finnish and Scandinavian brand were represented by japanese company whose owners were enthusiastic of languages, culture and design. They had fallen in lover with nordic values and wanted to share Finnish innovative and creative mind which tends to strike a note with japanese values. The company aims to create a peaceful ambient with happiness.

Brands they had chosen to exhibit were Finlayson, Aarikka and Scandinavian patterns. These were represented with graphic, detailed, minimalistic and with subtle colors. Strong and opinionated patterns familiar for Nordic audiences were obviously not shown. Aarikka, which is known for their wooden decorations, is a good example of well chosen material with a sense of forest and simplistic design.

The Japanese market is divided in 65% characters (movie, comic) and rest is clothes, sports and other commercial brands. There is room for a well established high quality brand. Audience in Japan is somewhat different from us. Comic characters can be well targeted for an older focus group as many everyday instructions and messages feature understandable characters. One striking group of audience is women, whose sense and sensibility is addressed by girlish characters and features.

Some of the licensed characters have run already a long time, like Betty Boop, which has well been adapted to modern life. A vital condition to be met is high quality, detailed design and hight quality production.

Understanding the weight of culture became well evident in a small concentrated expo like this. Some global brands have their specific Japan collection which differs from the rest of the world. Meticulous localising is worth the pain to make it big at this market. The further we come from the Western life the more it pays off to dwell in to local percetions of beauty and values.

Annukka Mickelsson
Co-founder