TOKYO — The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is just three years away, and the international event provides an exceptional chance for local businesses to package their products under the Tokyo label. This has led them to ask what foreign visitors can take home to remember their time in the Japanese capital?
At the moment, Tokyo has few go-to souvenir items that leave a strong impression on tourists. Merchants are working to change that.
One such effort is Kiss Tokyo, a promotional effort spearheaded by the company of the same name. It hopes to make its puckered-lips logo omnipresent by the time of the Olympics, envisioning a stadium filled with spectators wearing Kiss Tokyo T-shirts.
The company plans to offer tourist information featuring the Kiss Tokyo logo. It hopes the campaign will become something of a Tokyo version of the “I Love New York” advertising campaign and its ubiquitous heart symbol.
The Kiss Tokyo website sells T-shirts and other novelties bearing the lips logo. Businesses that want to use the logo can sign a licensing agreement with Kiss Tokyo. The company also plans to work with manufacturers to create its own products.
“Just what you’d expect”
“Souvenirs are a device that helps you take home the feeling you had, to capture a moment during a trip. Our goal is to create a wide range of items, and set up a Kiss Tokyo shop,” said Shinya Akiyama, who heads the company.
Efforts to promote products as Tokyo souvenirs have, in most cases, remained in the hands of individual companies, making it difficult to draw the attention of international visitors. But using a single logo like Kiss Tokyo’s could help bring many companies together, helping them promote more products and raise the profile of the whole group. The number of participating companies is gradually growing.
Others are devising their own logos. Daimaru department store in Tokyo Station has introduced the .Tokyo logo in hopes of catching tourists’ eye.
One Japanese tourist from Oita Prefecture in western Japan, in Tokyo to see her grandchildren, recently purchased Toryufu Karinto for 540 yen ($4.77) from the Azabu Karinto shop. The sweet, crunchy snack bore the .Tokyo logo. “There are good karinto in our town, but none of them approaches the refined taste of this one,” the 63-year-old said. “It’s just what you expect of a Tokyo product.”
The department store is part of the station complex and pulls in many customers looking for Tokyo souvenirs, said Koji Munemori, a manager with Daimaru. But, he said, “There are still few distinctive Tokyo souvenirs.”
Munemori said the company aims to make .Tokyo products, which it develops together with its tenant companies, synonymous with souvenirs of the city in three to five years. Daimaru aims to create items that evoke images of the capital, which means they have to be refined and sophisticated, Munemori said.
The company has come up with many potential products, and six have made it to the store shelves. They are selling at a rate 50-100% higher than existing souvenir items, according to Daimaru. It plans to expand the product line to 15 items by the end of the year.
Hotman, a towel maker located about an hour by train from Tokyo Station in Ome, western Tokyo, is also betting on a brand that it hopes captures the essence of the capital. Its towels bear the &Tokyo logo being promoted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The logo-bearing towels also include a line with a design that takes its cue from omejima, a traditional Tokyo fabric popular during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The towels are sold at department stores in Tokyo. Bath towels with the logo go for around 4,000 yen.
Because the Olympics will take place during Tokyo’s hot summer season, towels should prove a popular item, said Hotman President Masayuki Sakamoto.
“We want people to be aware that there’s a towel maker like us in Tokyo, Sakamoto said.
Innovation is key
Creating good souvenirs is one thing, but coming up with products that actually sell takes creativity and drive. Grapestone, which manufactures and retails Tokyo Banana cakes, shows how it is done. Its cakes are already popular with foreign visitors and key to its success are effort that go a step beyond rivals, many of which are still trying to devise hits.
One particular area of focus for Grapestone is translating the language used to describe the product. The company has worked closely with a translation agency to determine how best to convey the characteristics of the cakes. It has been a process of trial and error. For example, the company first used the word “airy” to describe the light texture of the product, but that description did not catch buyers’ attention. When they added the word “moist,” they started to see more sales.
The company has created product descriptions in multiple languages to target tourists from different parts of the world. But as people from different countries focus on different aspects, such as taste and appearance, the text differs in content as well, emphasizing those points most likely to appeal to people reading a particular language.
The use of the word “Tokyo” in the product name became a point of contention in the company, according to a company spokesperson.
“Some in our company opposed it, but we thought the most gratifying thing for people who visit Tokyo would be to have something that can be immediately associated with Tokyo, rather than any fancy-sounding names,” the spokesperson said.