Unveiling Japan’s hit products of 2013

Business Technology Trends & Culture - December 16th, 2013
Sky Tree

Dentsu, the advertising and PR firm, has chosen the top products for the year. Towers, hybrids, and combini coffee are among the top picks. Who else made the cut?


By Maesie Bertumen


As 2013 draws to a close, Dentsu Inc has drummed up a list of the movers and shakers in Japan. The “2013 Hit Products in Japan” examines the trends that has taken over Japan in the past 12 months based on an Internet survey of Japanese consumers carried out in November 2013 by Dentsu Macromill Inc.

2013 was a good year for Japan—in June Mount Fuji was named a UNESCO World Heritage site and in September Tokyo was awarded the honor of hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The following top 20 products and current events/signs of the times were selected from around 100 popular items and services by 1,000 Internet survey respondents aged between 20 and 69.

The top products were determined based on three categories—recognition, degree of interest, and topicality/buzz. The figures in parentheses show last year’s rankings, while those marked with (-) are previously unranked items. This our selection of the Top 20. For the full announcement, please look here.

No. 1: Tokyo Skytree (2)

The 634-meter (2,080 ft) tower was a welcome addition to the Tokyo skyline. Since opening in May 2012, Tokyoites and foreign visitors alike have flocked to the tower, eventually earning its name as a popular destination for tourists. It welcomed its 10 millionth visitor last week. The hours-long wait in line is definitely worth it once you’ve climbed to the top observation deck via elevators, where an unparalleled view of the capital awaits you as a treat. During the day, the structure stands as a landmark, while at night the lit-up tower rises like a beacon. The Tokyo Skytree, the world’s second tallest building, is dwarfed by the 838-meter Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

No. 2: Hybrid cars (–)

Mitsubishi Motors’ Outlander PHEV mid-size SUV set the bar for hybrid cars in Japan.
The Outlander, powered by Mitsubishi Motors’ Plug-in Hybrid EV System, has earned the coveted Car of the Year 2013–2014’s Innovation Award, in recognition of the car’s innovative technologies which combines environment safety and high performance.

The Outlander PHEV

The Outlander PHEV

No. 3: Smartphones (1)

2013 is a big year for smartphones, particularly for Apple Inc which has seemingly taken over Japan. The Cupertino-based firm has surprisingly enjoyed a strong market share in Japan, far outpacing China as Apple’s fastest-growing market. Its record market share is driven in part by strong competition among three of Japan’s largest mobile carriers which offered the new iPhones with lower upfront fees to lure in users.
Of the 10 best-selling smartphones in Japan, nine are all iPhones, according to Forbes.

No. 4: Robot cleaners (4)

Bowling ball, meet vacuum cleaner

Bowling ball, meet vacuum cleaner

Apparently, this is the year when robots start to take over the world.
While Panasonic introduced its line of hair-washing robots that also double as nurses, robot cleaners hit closer to home. Panasonic’s “hybrid” vacuum cleaner reportedly sucks with a force that can lift a six-pound bowling ball. It also has sensors that can detect particles of dust that are invisible to the naked eye, ensuring that your house is clean down to the microscopic level.

No. 5: Vehicle collision prevention systems (–)

Advanced anti-collision systems have been making noise in Japan. Toyota Motor Corp is planning to make the system available to consumers by 2015. Using sensors, cars will be able to detect other vehicles, pedestrians and other obstacles and automatically brakes or steers the car away to avoid collision.

No. 6: Theme park anniversary events (–)

Japan’s 24 amusement parks has held anniversary events to help draw in tourists after the number of visitors declined in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

40 years old? She doesn't look a year over 20 . . .

40 years old? She doesn’t look a year over 20 . . .

No. 7: Convenience store freshly brewed coffee (–)

Move over Starbucks, a cup of joe from the convenience store right around the corner is the next big thing.
Seven & i, operator of convenience store chain 7-11, has rolled out “Seven Cafe,” a freshly brewed coffee similar to the daily brew offered by Starbucks. While Seven & I launched these “premium brands,” they come cheap with sales expected to account for more than 10% of total sales this year and rise by 50% over the next two years.

No. 9: Electric automobiles (–)

Nissan’s futuristic electric concept car “BladeGlider” stole the scene at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, highlighting Japanese automakers’ foray into electric vehicle market. Mitsubishi, Japan’s sixth-biggest carmaker, started selling its i-MiEV electric minicar in 2009. The Tokyo Motor Show, held every two years, became the stage for different Japanese automakers to showcase their eco-friendly cars and latest advanced technologies. Plans to set up a vast electric car charging network in Japan has also been in talks between the four Japanese carmaker giants.

All this, and an electric engine to boot

All this, and an electric engine to boot

No. 10: Local mascot characters (7)

Sanomaru

Sanomaru, 2013’s cuddliest of them all

Japan goes crazy for cuddly mascots. Sanomaru, the official mascot of Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture, was crowned the cuddliest of them all in the Yuru Kyara Grandprix 2013. The charming mascot embodies the city’s culinary specialties, with an upturned ramen noodle bowl on his head and potato fries as a sword. Sanomaru is expected to follow the footsteps of Kumamon, the rosy-cheeked black bear mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture.

No. 11 Packaged instant fresh noodles (17)

These “fresh” noodles provide authentic quality of ramen in a cup, appealing to noodle lovers in and out of Japan. There are dozens of flavors to choose from with more than 800 brands of instant noodles on sale in Japan.

Artistic shot, pretty simple food. kadluba

Artistic shot, simple food. kadluba/Flickr

No. 12: 3D printers (–)

The booming 3D printing technology has been encouraging more and more young entrepreneurs in Japan.
Currently the 3D printer market is dominated by the United States and Germany but industry experts believe that there is substantial growing room for Japanese businessmen wanting to tap the “do-it-yourself” market.

No. 13: Free voice call apps (including LINE) (23)

Asian mobile messaging apps are making waves across the region and abroad. These free voice call apps such as Japan’s LINE, China’s WeChat, and South Korea’s KakaoTalk, with their playful, tongue-in-cheek themes, are seen as the game changers of mobile messaging. LINE hit its third 100 million user mark in November, just four months after reaching 200 million registered users worldwide. It’s aiming for 500 million users by 2014 as it expands to Spain, Mexico and Latin America.

300 users means a lot of stickers

300 million users means a lot of stickers

No. 14: Low-cost carriers (10)

Peach Aviation Ltd, Jetstar Japan Co and Air Asia Japan Co all have a thing in common: they offer cheaper alternatives in a country where travel is dominated by expensive bullet trains. But as soon as Japanese low-cost carriers took off, shinkansen operators began rolling back fares, an apparent upside for businessmen and tourists who frequently move within the country.

No. 17: Convenience store and supermarket premium private label brands (–)

Similar to premium brewed coffee offered in cheap prices, Japan’s biggest retailers have launched “luxury budget” items that flew off shelves. Fast Retailing Co’s Uniqlo store chain introduced its line of pricey cashmere sweaters which costs up to 8,000 yen (about $80), compared to luxury designer wear. Seven & i, seen as the forerunner in premium private label brands, also introduced luxury home-brand food and drinks.

No. 19: Tokyo station (14)

The Tokyo station is the gateway of most lines of the Shinkansen high-speed rail lines and of the busiest terminal stations in the country. The building’s facade was renovated to the classic look of the original structure from 100 years ago. It is also popular for its rich history.

padraic collins/Flickr

padraic collins/Flickr

Main image: Les Taylor/Flickr