Hyper-Speed Product Proliferation? Blame Distribution

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Products come and go in Japanese convenience stores at a bewildering velocity. One day you pick up a delightful pint of old-fashioned French Style Milk Seeki, and a week later, this new product is gone forever — a total existence so brief that it almost completely fails to enter our collective memories or get tangled in the branches of the Internet. Some new goods are seasonal: cherry blossom-themed snacks, etc. Most are not very good and deserve to disappear quickly. Nonetheless, high-speed, short-term products are now a standard institution of the Japanese retail experience.

Critics have always railed against the commercial system for manufacturing “trends” with the expressed purpose of forcing consumers to buy new baubles and gadgets to keep up with artificially-evolving social norms. But the Japanese snack market is not solely about planned obsolescence: In fact, this kind of production schedule is terribly unprofitable for the manufacturers involved. A successful mass market firm making only one type of candy bar would win huge profit margins in the resulting economies of scale. If producers had perfect control of the market, I doubt they would choose constant product development and short product life-cycles over stability and monotony.

So where did this system come from?

One of the classic Nihonjinron responses has been something like “Japan experiences four distinct seasons, and Japanese people thus desire constantly changing product lines in response to these climatic changes.” This does not make sense, as (1) not all of Japan has four distinct seasons the way that Tokyo does and (2) culture based on the idea of seasonal change would be cyclical and not hyper-progressive. Instead of always wanting a completely new soda every month, the Japanese, according to this logic, should want the same Pear Soda to appear on shelves every October. Some short-lived products do indeed match seasonal patterns, but this does not explain all of them.

By chance, I discovered that the book Can Japan Compete? — by power-nerd HBS prof Michael E. Porter with Hirotaka Takeuchi and Mariko Sakakibara — offers a few clues to the problem at hand. The authors examine the non-international competitiveness of many Japanese business fields. In the chocolate sector, for example, almost none of the brands have any success outside of the Japanese market despite massive domestic production. While the regulations leading to a low cocoa butter content take some of the blame, the authors also point a finger at the convoluted distribution system:

Although the industry began to address product proliferation in 1992, companies still maintain huge product lines. Compare Morinaga, which has 60 brands (after cutting more than 100), with its successful foreign rival Mars. Mars competes in 120 countries with only 40 brands. Japanese manufactures still introduce between 100 and 120 new items every year. One of the drivers of this meaningless product proliferation is Japan’s peculiar distribution channels, which expect each company to introduce a fresh lineup of products almost every month to maintain its shelf space allocation (80).

So according to their explanation, the short supply of shelf space in retail outlets causes pressures for wholesalers to force producers to provide them with new products that will win attention from retailers. Most of the big display areas in convenience stores do tend to be used for new products, and I can understand why wholesalers would not be excited just to throw a Snickers bar in a slot within the candy corner. They make money from slim margins on large sales, and so they demand manufacturers to make new things to catch eyes, win floor space, and move goods — an easy position, seeing that they are not the ones who have to bear the grunt of product development costs.

Consumers are now used to this cavalcade of minorly-altered products. As a friend says, “if you are going to get a snack to eat, it should be fun. And nothing is more fun than a new product.” I can understand that logic. If consumers are happy to have chaotic product options, this system may skillfully appease consumer curiosity, but the ultimate buyers may not be the largest driver of the proliferation speed. That is to say, they are passively accepting the system as is, but not directly pushing companies towards faster and faster unveiling of new products.

Porter et. al also look at apparel, which has a similar manufacture/distribution pattern with chocolate: The major firms make large product lines that change constantly in order to win department store space. The “Onward Way” system of distribution, started by Onward Kashiyama in the 1970s, reduces risk for department stores by selling clothing on consignment (86). This means full returns, no discounting or “50%-off sales,” and department store expectations for constantly changing product. These too would lead to fast pace changes in order to correspond to retailer needs, and consumers would grow accustom to the speed without specifically demanding it.

In terms of dry goods, short-term product success does not seem to have an immediate impact on the next lineup. Whether something sells or not, it disappears. And we hardly know whether something went away a home-run king or a strike-out — especially without seeing the losing team on the Reduced rack. If anything, huge product success would actually slow down the process, as producers would rush in to make more shipments of a hit good and hold back new products for a later date.

Compare this to the culture industry, where low sales are a sign of artistic failure, where ranking charts and box office numbers publicly announce winners and losers, where critics and writers comment upon flops and hits, where artists’ creative freedom and career prospects are determined by current success. When the Japanese music industry lost one-third of its value in five years, trends halted to a stop: new artists aren’t being launched to market and even the new artists with moderate sales look like failures compared to their big brothers and sisters. Here bad business slows down trends.

Product proliferation in foods, however, will probably move on despite market size or consumer tastes, because retail and distribution pressures require a constant flood of new products to secure limited shelf space. Porter recommends that Morinaga and Meiji narrow their product lines according to an actual marketing strategy targeting specific users, but I am not sure anyone is taking that advice. Whether product-line-limiting Western-management becomes widespread or things continue to move at a lightning pace, horde your Glico Caramel Cream — for you never know what tomorrow holds.

(Does it not sound so much cooler to state “the super-techno cyberpunk Shinto Japanese like speed” as a reason for high-paced product proliferation rather than explaining the upstream pressures of distribution and retail organization? I find “distribution” to be one of the most boring words in the English language. 流通 is equally dry in Japanese.)

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

48 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    The accepted plural of “life” is “lives.”

    How you know a product will disappear is I buy at the supermarket one week. It will be gone the next.

  2. Carl Says:

    Incidentally, this seems to be a return to the Classic Neomarxisme format. Yay.

    Now, where’s Momus to explain that it is all Shinto?

  3. marxy Says:

    Incidentally, this seems to be a return to the Classic Neomarxisme format. Yay.

    But 50% more boring!

  4. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    New & Exciting, I likes.

    So many fucking Kit-Kats
    Gimme a break already! [high*five]

  5. nate Says:

    any idea how long the gentei scheme has been the case here? “Seasonal” and short release products especially on the drink shelves are getting to be pretty regular occurences at the american conbinis too.
    Despite almost twice the shelf space for 500ml and 1L bottles in the average american store, competition and the drive for newness has bloated to fill the space.

  6. marxy Says:

    So yeah, what makes Japanese “unique” in this story? If American convenience stores are equally short on space, manufacturers and wholesalers may resort to the same techniques? Supermarkets must be different though, as they can essentially hold 100 different kinds of mustard. My guess is that American conv. store sales are proportionally less for a certain product.

    Good questions though.

    Porter generally shows that Japanese firms tend to target too many sectors with too many products instead of focusing on specific market areas or developing differentiated brands. It must somewhat be supply chain pressures, but the companies themselves have been pretty pro-proliferation – thinking that making a bunch of stuff and throwing it at the mass market is a strategy.

  7. carolalotta Says:

    On this topic i recommend a documentary from the “projekt x” series (nhk):「日米逆転!コンビニを作った素人たち」Fun to watch.
    Back in the days they didnt have as wide a range of products, still, it showed that it was important to have a wider range than in the US to make convenient stores work in Japan. The first thing ever to be sold in a convenient store in Japan turned out to be a pair of sunglasses on a rainy day. So, i guess, market research followed from this that the way to success is to bombard customers with random product. The need for sunglasses in the rain is as little to be anticipated as a craving for sugarcoated wasabi-sticks at 7 am. So – just throw in whatever you have and find out what sells. It seemed to have worked in the beginning. 7/11-US, who had forced the first Japanese franchise into a pretty tough contract, later bought back their ideas on which products to sell and on how to present them in the store. Still, that’s some years ago…

    I wish German 7/11s were as innovative, oh no, wait – first i wish we had convenient stores at all and didnt need a world cup to be able to buy a pack of noodles on Sunday.

  8. nate Says:

    actually, I was asking out of reines curiosity. My experience with Japan before 2003 is limited to those things they care to talk about on TV.

    Was the golden age ’96 or the golden age ’88 fueled by the same strategies? I take it for granted as a part of life in Japan that “nothing gold can stay”, but when did this become the case, and has it accelerated lately?

    Tangentially related to the last comment, the turnover of potato chips at the Japanese grocery store is also much slower. At least here, their shelves are stocked much more with long term products with only maybe 1 in 8 or so being fly by night flavors.

  9. nate Says:

    carolalotta, hey you can get noodles at the tankstelle, can’t you?
    I had no food in the house on sunday, and decided to go to the gas station to gets some chips and juice, but there was no proper pedestrian access… only direct motor access from the highway. (Damned if I let that stop me though)

  10. carolalotta Says:

    i know – also, i m from Köln, so i can buy a few things at the Kiosk or the Döner Bude, and thereby avoid to get run over at the gas station. Still – not the same, right? At the Tankstelle you can choose the one pack of old noodles that they have left from 3 months ago, not choose between 15 to 37 types, right? I need distraction, confusion, die Qual der Wahl, consumer-paradise, not the simple life.
    and yes – we Germans love the Chips (except for me, maybe).

  11. jasong Says:

    This may be tangential, but the constant influx of new conbini products means they have to clean the store constantly as they stock up. This is a good thing. I like when I go in at 2 or 3am and they’re buffing the floor and making sure the shelves are clean, tidy and stocked.

    In North America you see layers of dust and expired products up the ass. Mealworms in cereal boxes are not an impossibility. Other conbinis in Asia seem to be all over the map.

    Nobody beats Japanese conbinis for cleanliness. If hyperactive levels of product turnaround keep it that way, good.

    Interestingly, it’s in stark contrast to the moldy old mom & pop shoutengai shops. Some people call it patina — I call it dirt and decay (okay, sometimes I like a bit of patina).

  12. bingobangoboy Says:

    Maybe keeping the staff perpetually “busy” with a constant stream of products to be rotated & restocked is the real purpose of the system.

  13. alin Says:

    i just bought an opinel camping knife today at ICI in okubo today and gave a nod to the european stubborness to change, also appreciated the shop’s diligence to stock such rather obscure classics.

    sorry but you realy can’t completely dissacociate this from shinto -_- . (the ise shrine thing etc and earthquakes and buddhism ephemeral-ism etc) in Edo-jidai udon shops might not have changed their flavours weekly but people would travel long distance to a place where the udon was famously 2mm thicker or thiner.

  14. P P Says:

    Interesting. Perhaps Hyper-Speed Product Proliferation is a form of mass customization, or at least demonstrates competencies in being able to quickly churn out variants of products. Wouldn’t this be a long-term strategy towards achieving pure mass-customization, 1:1, across the entire value chain?

    Also, do you think that this blog is more like a Porter focused-strategy blog versus Momus’ Hyper-Speed Product Proliferation type?

  15. alin Says:

    classic Nihonjinron responses has been something like “Japan experiences four distinct seasons,

    it’s actually a bit more subtle than that. more evolved nihonjinron could also say that the landscape pattern (in honshu especially) is laid uncannily perpendicular to the weather pattern so every valley has a slightly different climate to the other therefore the idea of subtle difference and variation is actually really deep in the psyche. which explains the endless, subtle variations in a rather limited culinary pallete across the country and the fascination with that. (now isn’t a combini supposed to be a kind of microcosm?)

    (1) not all of Japan has four distinct seasons the way that Tokyo does and

    okinawa, right? have you had the chance to observe how finely tuned the combinis in say Hokkaido are to the local seasons and climate ??

    (2) culture based on the idea of seasonal change would be cyclical and not hyper-progressive.

    havn’t you actualy noticed that natsukashii things do reapear all the time in identical or different yet recognizable form along with the ‘hyper-progressive’ (that’s matcha latte and matcha digestive biscuits, right?)

    what happened to your 微妙感 . just trying to be controversial and get rounds of applause for it.

  16. YoungJames Says:

    okinawa, right? have you had the chance to observe how finely tuned the combinis in say Hokkaido are to the local seasons and climate ??

    yeah, but then conbini chains are themselves differentiated by branding and product selection/display and handle the changes in weather and season differently. Seicomart (the hokkaido conbini chain) emphasizes seasonal changes with sales on produce (イチゴフェア for example in the late winter (hydroponic?) and midsummer, or equally when the weather is warm for a week in winter, ほうれん草 is halfprice for some sort of 暖かい!フェア, and also on its selection of bento/genghis khan supermarket-y type food (which is itself Seicomart’s niche) Wheras Seven Eleven might change its range of seven eleven branded Bentos and its limited selection of non 7-11 branded products (for example, the only place i saw 冬Pocky this year was a 7-11)

    i personally am sad i cant find the devil hot pringles anywhere around her anymore, replaced by the far inferior sour cream and onion, and mild salt flavors… sigh. and the 冬Pocky was damn good.

  17. marxy Says:

    that’s matcha latte and matcha digestive biscuits, right?

    Isn’t mattcha a “classic” Japanese flavor like vanila in the West? Is it really natsukashii?

    Also, do you think that this blog is more like a Porter focused-strategy blog versus Momus’ Hyper-Speed Product Proliferation type?

    Interesting. Certainly Momus’ blog is more flashy and sexy and tends to offer a lot more in the way of topics (that sometimes never return.) I tend to stick to things I have some sort of background in and I feel warrant deeper discussion. If our blogs are “companies,” he is surely winning more market share, although he has more “brand value” than I do (apart from an often superior “product”). We do both enjoy readerships who love to visit everyday and tell us that we are wrong – a rather odd mode of consumer interaction.

    so every valley has a slightly different climate to the other therefore the idea of subtle difference and variation is actually really deep in the psyche.

    And this psyche transcends time and space and history so that every Japanese person everywhere, whether in big city or small town, has the same psychological dispositions towards buying goods? I remember how fast products flew off the shelves in the 30s when a bulk of the population could not even eat rice everyday!

    I’ll admit that I may put too much faith in explaining society through its institutions and market systems, but this postmodern belief in pre-social, naturally-instilled behavior also verges on religious dogma. Whether the government is Fascist or Democractic, the economy mercantilistic or capitalistic, the education system free or rigid, all Japanese people are the same, from time eternal, thanks to this amorphous thing called “Shinto” – a “religion” lacking any type of metaphysical or ethical guidance. I totally concede the importance of Confucianism in Japanese social behavior, but no one wants to talk about that for some reason… as if it’s not “Japanese” or mystical enough.

  18. Adamu Says:

    For the most part, I wouldn’t give “belief in pre-social, naturally-instilled behavior” as much credit as to call it “postmodern.” It’s just easy and lazy, and easy to subscribe to if you stay in Japan for a while since any random oyaji will relay it to you in belabored Engrish if given the chance.

    I’d like to note, though, that subtle product changes similar to (but not quite matching the intensity of) those seen in Japan are taking root in the US, the most notable being the constantly-evolving flavors of Doritos (the latest one I saw was “Fiery Habanero” and it really was fucking spicy). Also, 7-11 USA has started implementing some of the strategies of its Japanese counterpart, so you’ll see decent-looking sandwiches and a constantly changing menu of hot food. It’s quite an evolution from the usual “questionable hot dogs” they used to concentrate on.

  19. marxy Says:

    Didn’t 7-11 in America get bought out by 7-11 in Japan?

    With Doritos etc., seems like they are introducing new products within a brand framework, opposed to starting new brands. Meiji’s corporate brand is pretty weak, I would guess, and they just throw out somewhat unrelated things. You get a new flavor of Mitsuya Cider once and a while, but in general, things feel more chaotic than the chromatic order of “another flavor of Powerade.”

  20. jasong Says:

    Again tangentially, I thought it was interesting how 7-11 Japan, Denny’s and Ito Yokado scooted under a new umbrella called Seven & I Holdings in a defensive measure against a Horie-styled attack. The “holdings” tag is on all signage, like a badge of financial armour.

    For those into deep-dish Nihonjinron, please write an essay explaining what in the Japanese character is moving the trend in conbinis toward complete lifestyle services (snack food, fresh food, several vices, banking, loans, delivery services, entertainment etc…)

  21. nate Says:

    in aomori, where the sakura didn’t pop until may 3rd or so this year, all of the sakura related products were already long out of the conbini by the time the yattai were putting down stakes in the parks. I think the “seasonal products” as they exist these days are just a convenient label to attatch to product rotation that’s going to happen whether or not the weather agrees.

    Fruits and vegetables are also infinitely more “seasonal” in Japan than they are in, say, California. Prices, availability and quality of product do not vary nearly so strongly at safeway as they do at Jusco/Max Valu from month to month. Likewise a heavily fish-focused diet means relying on what the ocean offers up, unlike beef pork and chicken which is only nominally harder to slaughter when the air gets cold.
    (ha! middle ground between de facto conditions of Japan’s unique situation and marketplace conditions. But minus points for the US comparison when a comparison to Germany would not bear the same fruit.)

  22. alin Says:

    Isn’t mattcha a “classic” Japanese flavor like vanila in the West? Is it really natsukashii?

    no, not natsukashii. i said mattcha latte is hyperprogressive.

    I totally concede the importance of Confucianism in Japanese social behavior, but no one wants to talk about that for some reason… as if it’s not “Japanese” or mystical enough.
    of course you would. it’s an ideal target to apply all the structural stuff you’ve learned at school. also good area to unleash oedipal energies. (again , a Crouching tiger hidden dragon is far more enjoyable to a hollywood conditioned mind than say , what, takeshi’s hana-bi for example.)

    shinto and confucianism are plain incommesurable.

    there’s basically nothing that ‘”Japanese” or mystical’ about shinto. like marxy walking by some record shop in shimokita and getting that fuzzy feeling spotting a cover of ‘life’s rich pageant’ or something. marxy’s non-political and non-cynical blog entries are quite shinto.

  23. marxy Says:

    shinto and confucianism are plain incommesurable.

    They are able to be fused, however. State Shinto was essentially a form of Confucianism and the extremely-important “Imperial Rescript on Education” was very, very Confucian. That may be one of the most important documents for understanding modern Japanese social behavior, no?

    The definition of “Shinto” that gets thrown around is so vague and seems to encompass basically everything “Japanese” that other things can’t define. For example, why are my blog entries “Shinto”? Do they come from a fundamental belief in cleanliness or a belief that there are multiple gods in every living thing?

  24. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    clearly, yes.

  25. Brown Says:

    When it comes to environmental determinism (or materialist anthropology), it’s worth bringing up the parallels between Watsuji Testuro and Jared Diamond:

    http://crookedtimber.org/2005/07/28/cultivating-ignorance/

    The work of primatologist Imanishi Kinji is also an important example of cultural influence on the sciences (of course, all scientists are culturally-influenced, but Imanishi’s influences appear more striking because his habitus is non-Western):

    http://tomcat.sunsite.ualberta.ca/Imanishi/

    As for State Shinto and the Imperial rescript (and Watsuji again), here’s philosopher/historian Umehara Takeshi’s interesting take:

    http://japanfocus.org/article.asp?id=332

  26. nate Says:

    any time you attribute an aspect of japanese society to shinto influence, an implication sneaks in that there is no way it could have been otherwise. That market condition X is born of a shinto influence seems to mean that market condition Y could never stick in this country.

    Either that or that they’re both compatible with shinto, which would make the shinto reference pointless.

    to the shintoron crowd, are there aspects of the average japanese life that are out and out incompatible with shintoism? Could counter shintoist tendencies triumph here?

  27. alin Says:

    For example, why are my blog entries “Shinto”?

    no, they’re not really, i was exagerating. to start with there’s very little that’s not tainted by cynicism or politicism. the imagined bit with the rem record is though. (i really don’t mean to sound like some shinto authority/dickhead). the obsession with ‘state shinto’, just like that with swastikas is annoying though. / and i’m surprised no one has commented yet that japanese soccer supporters are wearing imperial symbols which is the equivalent of german supporters wearing swastikas on their arms blah blah

    They are able to be fused, however.
    still can’t get over that ? didn’t every nation have to take some drastic measures at the time to become a nation.

    Could counter shintoist tendencies triumph here?

    years ago , more or less during the Andres Serrano piss christ era i contemplated the idea of ‘blasphemous’ art in japan and arrived at the conclusion that it would be impossible. between shinto and buddhism all ground is covered. of course one can strike at the pseudo-confucian pseudo-spine.

    Death is a big counter-shintoist tendency and although buddhism tries to take care of it it does kind of triumph in the long run.

  28. nate Says:

    “japanese soccer supporters are wearing imperial symbols which is the equivalent of german supporters wearing swastikas on their arms”

    you’re always best remebered for your last work arent you… Even if our pals with a penchant for black vehichles long most for a very short period of the emperor’s reign, most people don’t totally conflate the emperor and the war do they?

    or are you saying that the german people had a traditional nazi party dating back over a millenium?

  29. marxy Says:

    the obsession with ‘state shinto’, just like that with swastikas is annoying though.

    Here’s the problem: how do you separate “shinto” from “state shinto” when “shinto” was a totally unorganized, random selection of myriad local folk beliefs? Although the nationalistic angle has been removed now, the principle of “shinto is a national Japanese religion” – the way we are talking about it here as something that “guides” Japanese behavior – dates back to that very intentional nation-building creation. And when Meiji leaders put it all together, they found that it had nothing to offer other than a shell of “native Japaneseness” – no moral code, no written documents, no central beliefs. All the “emperor is God” stuff does not even appear to be a classic “shinto” belief. So, they filled in all the blank spots with Confucian morals and ethics plus a little Bushido for good measure.

    So what is “shinto” post-“state shinto”? A bunch of loose folk beliefs, an orthopraxic style of worship that involves going to shrines for festivals, a general respect for cleanliness and the environment. Shinto offers absolutely nothing that is controversial or unlikeable – but it also offers very little in the way of life guidance, metaphyics, social organization, or grounds for legitimizing/justifying action.

    On the other hand, you have this amazingly large body of Confucian thought that very accurately describes the logic of Japanese society and that had successfully penetrated elite Japanese society for hundreds of years. But Confucianism – with the emphasis on hierarchy, ritual, and all sorts of other things that Westerners tend to look down upon – is not all roses, and so everyone just says, oh, this Japanese thing I like – it must be Shinto!

    The idea that the Japanese believe in “wa” and group harmony etc. is not shinto – it’s clearly Confucian in nature. Shinto is not totally meaningless for explaining Japanese behavior, but it is a grain of sand compared to the enormous influence of Confucian thought.

    Confucianism is very, very interesting in and of itself and does provide an alternative socio-ethical system to the Western religions. I don’t get why the Orientalist Japan faction won’t get behind it – as it is what explains exactly what they like about Japan. (Except, again, the cleanliness.) Almost as if the Momus and Alin are as anti-Chinese as the Kokugaku scholars.

  30. Carl Says:

    Several years ago, the NYT Magazine published a piece about Coke and how they planned to Japan-ize the American market by releasing more time limited soft drinks. And they definitely have since then. At the time, the product du jour was Sprite Remix (available only in the summer and different every year), but now, (though I’m not in the US, so I can’t say this for sure) they seem to be rolling out new flavors of Vanilla-Lemon-Twist-Cherry Coke every other week.

    The question is, why is Coking trying to make the US market more like Japan? What’s in it for them?

  31. Brown Says:

    Alin said: “i contemplated the idea of ‘blasphemous’ art in japan and arrived at the conclusion that it would be impossible”

    Here’s an idea about how one might test such a hypothesis: a Jamie Reid rip-off tshirt mocking the Emperor. How would that go over? It shouldn’t be blasphemous to folk Shinto or Buddhism, but it would be blasphemous to neo-Confucianism and the civil religion of Japaneseness (with the state as arbiter).

  32. nate Says:

    how about a light blue van rolling around the neighborhood playing the pro-kim jong il songs off of radio pyongyang…

    or, most directly “blasphemous”, giving out birth control pills freely to women of all ages. fertility is the last taboo.

  33. Adamu Says:

    The way I see the new Coke flavors is that they’re basically throwing darts at a wall and hoping something sticks. Vanilla coke didnt work so much, but the lemon stuff did.

    There’s another motivator (at least in the US) for retailers to keep their inventory fresh – there’s always a certain segment of the population who wants to try something new no matter what it is. That’s why you’ll see Pizza Hut constantly coming up with slightly different pizzas.

  34. alin Says:

    Almost as if the Momus and Alin are as anti-Chinese as the Kokugaku scholars. ]

    i shouldn’t speak for momus but ( calling a narrow interest in confucianism anti-chinese is funny – after all, speaking classics, both momus and i are big fans of li bai and other 道系 artists) i think it’s simply a case of gravitating towards things we like and inspire us rather than be masochistic anthropologists which is the impression marxy and a few others here give. i for one am more interested in the way confucianism missed the mark in japan (asssuming it was actually intended to hit a mark, which i doubt) than in thorough 孔子論.

    just got back from my local sunkus where to my delight they have again the espresso tiramisu which i’m going to consume right after this.

    For those into deep-dish Nihonjinron, please write an essay explaining what in the Japanese character is moving the trend in conbinis toward complete lifestyle services (snack food, fresh food, several vices, banking, loans, delivery services, entertainment etc…)

    this could easily be explained in kegon buddhism terms which “describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing each other” the combini is actually a mandala

  35. alin Says:

    marxy, would you happen to know exactly what those cocoa regulations you mentioned earlier are. asking this because i just had a piece of the meiji 99% cocoa chocolate i’d bought earlier at poplar. (it’s intense though lacking the depth and refinement of say a belgian 90% – no-one else goes beyond that to my knowlwdge) . the meiji number is super超 and if anything i reckon it needs some regulation.

  36. Carl Says:

    “the combini is actually a mandala”

    My mind is now officially blown.

    Namu Erebun-tsu, namu erebun-tsu.

  37. nate Says:

    the 99% is practically a batsu game… in fact, it’s much less enjoyable than any batsu food I’ve eaten other than a particularly heinous spicy yaki-soba.

  38. P P Says:

    “for one am more interested in the way confucianism missed the mark in japan (asssuming it was actually intended to hit a mark, which i doubt) than in thorough 孔子論.”

    Please elaborate.

  39. Mike Says:

    Now this is the stuff Neomarxisme used to be all about :>

    Japanese economics/cultural commentary in a pithy (really! *gasp*) form.

  40. alin Says:

    孔子論.”

    Please elaborate.

    simply that it seems to me confucianism (like so many other things) has always been used as a tool, lacking an equivalent moral fabric as such to stand on. a means not an end. now this state of things, deplorable as it may seem, is desirable to me because it ultimately denies the possibility of ideological ossification.

    check this. we’re talking 8th century not meiji..
    (now one can talk of 12 centuries of confucianism in japan, i see it as 12 centuries of confucianism’s failure to implement itself. a matter of nuance)

    Kammu shored up his political rule by changing the syllabus of the university. Confucian ideology still provided the raison d’être for the Imperial government. In 784 Kammu authorised the teaching of a new course on the Spring and Autumn Annals which were based on two newly imported commentaries: Kung-yang and Ku-liang. These commentaries used political rhetoric and promoted a state in which the Emperor, as “son of Heaven”, should extend his sphere of influence to barbarous lands, thereby gladdening the people. In 798 the two commentaries became required reading at the government university.

    etc http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kukai

  41. Chris_B Says:

    wikipedia as the authority of first reference has got to be the new why bother thinking generation’s orthopraxy.

    Personally I dont like the fast turnover of product at combinis. It pretty much guarantees that whatever I want wont be there. Why bother discovering something new that might be good knowing it will be gone next week?

  42. Brown Says:

    C’mon Chris, what do you want him to cite, the subscription-only Encyclopædia Britannica? How is this so different from Alin’s dismissal of structural explanations as something “learned at school?” Now, I don’t see how the quote Alin selected does much in terms of proving his point about the difference between “thorough” Confucianism and its Japanese counterpart, but don’t give him a hard time for citing sources and backing up his arguments! Let’s not make this a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    Speaking of conbini and cleanliness, has anyone else noticed that Daily Yamazaki is significantly rattier than other chains, or is it just me?

  43. alin Says:

    haha, thanks brown for support and thanks chris for associating me with those funky youngsters.

  44. Carl Says:

    Americans are getting into it, too: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/09/magazine/09wwln_consumed.html

  45. marxy Says:

    My guess though is that “limited-edition” is not the fundamental market mode in the U.S., where it more or less is in Japan.

  46. Carl Says:

    I agree, but my question is why are Americans emulating Japan? Is it a good idea business-wise, or just a short sighted profit seeking behavior with negative long term effects?

  47. marxy Says:

    Limited-edition goods are probably a good way to get notice for your brand when the market is not totally based on limited-edition sales. In Japan, things have gotten so competitive that limited-edition is the only way to secure distribution.

  48. Carl Says:

    So then, there comes a point of diminishing returns. Idle speculation: Will America push past that point and become Japan Jr., or will they turn back in a blaze of Yankee pride?