By Melissa Francis
Tokyoesque are experts in Europe-Japan relations and provide clients with unique cultural insights that can be used to accelerate business growth across the globe. In this week’s article, we explore how connotations of Autumn are communicated to Japanese consumers, through activities that have come to be associated with the season, as well as through limited edition products.
What’s special about the Autumn season?
In Japan, Autumn is largely viewed as being the season in which to wind down after a busy, often humid summer period. It’s also a prime opportunity to do new activities. The more temperature and less muggy climate is more ideal for a range of things, such as exploring new concepts, immersing oneself in culture, and getting involved with sports and exercise. Brands and event organisers often promote products and services released during Autumn as being part of the ‘Autumn of…’ concept.
This ideology is typically divided into the following categories:
- 芸術の秋 — Geijutsu no Aki (Autumn of Art)
- スポーツの秋 — Sports no Aki (Autumn of Sports)
- 読書の秋 — Dokusho no Aki (Autumn of Reading)
- 食欲の秋 — Shokuyoku no Aki (Autumn of Appetite)
1. Geijutsu no Aki (Autumn of Art)
This term was initially coined by a magazine called Shincho back in 1918, so this remains to be a longstanding tradition. Autumn is the time of year when many respectable Japanese arts festivals take place, celebrating a range of music, traditional arts, film, etc. They present a good opportunity to soak up the creative atmosphere and get exposed to works that will stimulate the mind.
2. Sports no Aki (Autumn of Sports)
Since 1966, two years following the Tokyo Olympics, “Sports Day” was established as a national holiday in Japan. It’s a day “when people become familiar with sports and cultivate a healthy mind and body”. Many gyms and sports centres offer special discounts for new members looking to kickstart their exercise regime or involvement in team sports. This is different from the situation in the UK, for example, where the New Year is commonly considered to be the most popular time to enrol at a gym.
Of course with the Rugby World Cup being hosted for the first time in Japan , and given that the Japanese team, Brave Blossoms, has performed better than expected, there is naturally a more sports-centric atmosphere this year. And with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games just around the corner, it’s likely this will continue to generate unprecedented levels of excitement around sports.
3. Dokusho no Aki (Autumn of Reading)
The Autumn nights are long and considered best for reading before bed, so this presents an opportunity for book stores, or brands selling books relating to their products to promote themselves. Kinokuniya, a chain of bookstores in Japan and internationally were offering points card holders the chance to double the number of points they could accumulate during Autumn, as an extra incentive to read more books. Autumn of Reading is not solely restricted to physical paper books. Last year, messaging service LINE also offered digital manga readers the chance to gain extra ‘LINE Coins’ during the Autumn period as part of their ‘reading stamp campaign’.
3. Shokuyoku no Aki (Autumn of Appetite)
Autumn has key associations with being the Harvest season, and particularly a time to experience delicious fruits and seasonal foods. The same concept translates into a Japanese context. Certain flavours and ingredients are more prominent during Autumn compared with other months. This year, for instance, popular Autumn flavours are; maple, sweet potato, chestnut, pumpkin, caramel, apple and pear. Brands like KitKat, Haagen-Dazs, Suntory, and Starbucks are all releasing limited edition products featuring one or more of these ingredients.
Autumn-related brand campaigns
This year, Starbucks released its local seasonal specials in the form of ‘Green Apple Jelly Frappuccino’ and ‘Baked Apple Pink Frappuccino’. These were on sale for a limited time only, from the end of August until 19th September. The collection also featured iced teas that had been infused with either green or red apple flavours. The company also ran a Twitter campaign via their Japanese account which asked fans to choose which colour they were based on their preferences, posting with the hashtag #BeColorful!
Other Autumn-like seasonal flavours catering to Japanese palettes include the ‘Sweet Potato Golden Frappuccino & Macchiato’ (below), and a ‘Sweet Caramel Pudding Latte’ for Halloween. The brand has effectively linked its offerings to the Autumn of Art, by naming the campaign ‘Artful Autumn at Starbucks’.
Meanwhile, in the US, the equivalent ‘Fall Specials’ consist of the ever-popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, as well as a Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino. This demonstrates that even with big global brands like Starbucks, there has to be an effective localisation strategy in place to boost appeal among Japanese consumers. And seasonal food and drink really helps to drive that interest.
Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki
Again forging a link between the concepts of art and food, Netherlands-inspired theme park Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki is running a special art exhibition celebrating the works of Eastern and Western artists alongside food tasting sessions from October 2019 until January 2020. Visitors can choose from a range of ‘courses’, including ‘Regular’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Premium’, each with an escalating price of up to 5,000 JPY per person. There are also options for those who would prefer to attend an alcohol-free taste-testing, and there is a fruit juice version for children. So in keeping with the nature of the theme park, this is really a family-oriented occasion, and would especially appeal to fans of European style and cuisine.
Meals served at IKEA restaurants, such as the staple Swedish Meatballs, and pastries are already a firm favourites among customers. To celebrate Autumn, and to align with consumer demand to eat delicious seasonal offerings, IKEA Japan is holding a “Salmon and Autumn Taste Fair”. This will run for just over a month from 10th October until 17th November 2019. Dishes offered as part of this event include; grilled salmon fillet replete with an ‘umami’ taste from sauteed mushrooms, IKEA’s classic curry served with seasonal salmon fries and Autumn vegetables, fillet of roast beef with a truffle-fragranced red wine sauce. IKEA makes a point of emphasising that the salmon used in these dishes is certified as most beneficial for personal health and the environment.
‘Koi no Shape-Up’ Song & Dance
Demonstrating the overlap in perception between the Arts and Sport is a trending song-and-dance routine being posted by a number of pop ensembles and individuals. The song is called Koi no Shape-up (love shape-up), originally performed by girl group Tokimeki Sendenbu, and it’s being widely associated with the #スポーツの秋 (Autumn of Sport) hashtag.
The outfits worn by the members of Tokimeki Sendenbu are both sporty and fashionable, highlighting stylish sportswear as a fashion trend. In the official photography for the single’s release, the members can be seen posing with weights, further emphasising the song’s intended connotations of sport. The dance routine has been popular among both young men and women across Japan and this is especially the case for sports teams that already have a local or national following.
[screenshot of people performing it]
Autumn-related Events and Competitions
Moomin Valley Park Harvest Event
Moomin Valley Park is a theme park in Saitama prefecture near Tokyo. It features various family attractions based on Tove Jansson’s famous characters, which are much loved in Japan. From the beginning of October until the end of November, the park is running a series of Autumn events under the umbrella title ‘Moomin Valley Park Harvest’. Guests can take part in special seasonal events, including fruit picking and getting creative. There are also limited edition goods on offer during this time, and those who show up in costume have the opportunity to take commemorative photos with Moomin characters after the stage show on selected dates.
Kasumigaura Ride Quest
In response to the joint demand for sporting activities and seasonal food in Autumn, as and a way of promoting the local area, the city of Kasumigaura in Ibaraki Prefecture holds a one-day cycle, sightseeing and gourmet event in September called ‘Kasumigaura Ride Quest’. The aim is to encourage people to stay active by riding their bicycle on mapped out routes through the city, stopping at key sightseeing spots and sampling dishes with fresh Autumn ingredients. Participants can pick fresh items from local orchards, including pears, grapes and chestnuts. What’s more, at the end of the day there’s an Autumn Fruits Festival where many people gather together. As a reward for participating in the event, visitors receive a prize.
Robapan: Miffy Plates and Toasters
Bread maker Robapan is offering customers a chance to win one of two toaster and Miffy-themed plate sets. In total, 700 customers who submit ‘six points’ worth of coupons (collected by purchasing certain items, worth either 0.5 points or 1 point) will have a chance of winning the prizes. The campaign runs from the beginning of September until the end of November. There’s also something comforting and warm about these toaster sets, as winners can use them into the winter months as the cold sets in.
Saga Prefectural Tourist Board
As we discussed in our previous article on the topic, mascots are rife across Japan as key promotional tools to attract visitors and make their area more welcoming, fun and approachable. Saga prefecture’s official mascot is known as ‘Tsubozamurai’, a samurai with a mustache that is hiding inside a pot. As part of their Autumn marketing campaign, the local tourist board in Saga ran a competition on Twitter and Instagram with the intention of raising the profile of the area and boosting visits during the season. Social media users had to post using the hashtag #秋はさがいこ2019 (Let’s Go To Saga In Autumn 2019) during September to have a chance of winning some plushie ‘Tsubo-neko’ (Tsubozamurai’s cat) toys. In this case, 100 entrants were selected at random.
Make the most of popular Autumn associations
We hope the above examples have given you a sense of what Autumn means to Japanese consumers, and how brands choose to strategise their offerings for this season. It’s important to remember that research will provide a much more detailed picture of what resonates with consumers in relation to your brand.
Even if you think you understand the themes, it’s often more useful to know how these ideas can be incorporated into existing products and services to be most relevant to Japanese consumers. Having a solid communication strategy in place also makes a world of difference and can ultimately determine whether consumers feel engaged or disengaged from a campaign’s key message.
Tokyoesque specialises in localising marketing strategies to help western brands adapt for the Japanese market. Feel free to contact us or fill out our free diagnostic to see where you stand in terms of making a strong impact in the Japanese market.