“My personal opinion on why consumers tend to be so picky is like this. Life is very tough in Tokyo and in Japan. I think people’s lives are really, really hard. People have no space, no greenery, they never have a garden of their own….they live in very small environments three inches away from their neighbours. They are constantly aware that everyone around them can hear their conversations and that they can hear everyone around them. You are very conscious of yourself all the time. You work that far away from the person in your office and the only space consumers get is in their own heads, which is why they are constantly sleeping or daydreaming or in the train zoned out. School’s tough, there are high expectations for university, they’re at work until eleven o’clock at night…everything is hard. Think about people in New Zealand who knock-off work at four or five o’clock and go down to the beach. I don’t think that there is a really high quality of life here. So (in Japan)you have a difficult life and what makes you happy is the novelty of walking into a shop and seeing a new product that for three seconds might pick you up, or lift your spirits, or give you something to think about, and get you out of that “oh god not another bloody day” zone. And I’m the same now. I walk into a convenience store and it’s not just because of the kind of work we do but I go “oh, that’s new, peach flavoured chocolate, must buy” I don’t want to eat peach flavoured chocolate but I buy it because it’s new and when I try it it’s disgusting and I will never buy it again but it doesn’t matter because it won’t be around next week. Next week it will be melon and i’ll be like “oh melon!” It’s just this sense of novelty and excitement – it adds something to your boring day. So that’s my theory on why companies have to innovate. If people’s lives were simple and easy and interesting they wouldn’t need to go into the convenience store and find something that gives them a boost.
It’s very paradoxical isn’t it? Here there is not a lot of choice in some ways but what choice there is constantly changes. Whereas if you go to an American supermarket there might be 5000 types of cereal but go back in a year’s time and it will be the same 5000 types of cereal on the shelves. Here, you will never find that cereal again.”
This post is part of a series of excerpts from interviews with foreign executives in Japan, focusing on creativity. Excerpts have been edited for confidentiality.
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