Reaching the Japanese Customer Might Go Smoother with Jazz

Reaching the Japanese Customer Might Go Smoother with Jazz

Reaching the Japanese Customer Might Go Smoother with Jazz

Reaching the Japanese Customer Might Go Smoother with Jazz

In a previous article we talked about how you can leverage manga comics for your marketing in Japan thanks to the country’s love of toons. Today we’ll look at music as a way to give you the advantage. And, no, it’s not the catchy pop tunes you might expect, but rather the not-so-new genre of Jazz.

Although Jazz was born in the US about 100 years ago and had enormous impact on the music that followed, today it has unfortunately become the least-popular genre in America. But pan eastward and you’ll hear a different tune. Jazz is very much alive and well in Europe, with fans flocking to jam-packed Jazz Festivals from the UK to the Ukraine. 

Continue that eastward trek, and you’ll find Japan, the second-largest music market in the world, surpassed only by the US. With a retail value of USD 2.74 billion, the Japan market is over twice the size of third-ranked UK (USD 1.25 billion), and roughly tenfold that of 8th ranked South Korea (USD 330.1 million) or 12th ranked China (USD 202.2 million). Music has real impact on the economy and on people’s everyday lives there.

It’s happened before

So why Jazz? Japan surely has a wide selection of western and Japanese music to supply catchy tracks for their TV commercials. But depending on your product, service, and target demographic, Jazz can be an ideal vehicle for brand development and sales promotion.

If you traveled back in time a few decades to Japan in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, chances are you’d be seeing a lot of the Mario-like mustachioed saxophone player Sadao Watanabe. His was a familiar face on TV as he appeared in commercials for Coca Cola, Nissan, Yamaha, Citizen, Shiseido, and Kirin, just to name a few. 

Beverage maker Suntory enlisted the likes of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Branford Marsalis, Bob James, Steve Gadd, Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree, and Eddie Gomez for their whisky commercials, while Mercian landed a rare deal with Miles Davis for their VAN brand of shochu liquor.

This was the golden age of Japanese “Fusion” Jazz, so a slew of home-grown artists such as trumpeter Terumasa Hino, solo guitarists Kazumi Watanabe and Masayoshi Takanaka, as well as Fusion bands like Casiopea and T-Square, also contributed to the “marketing sound” of this era. 

Jazz continues to be relevant

In addition to three locations in the US (New York, Waikiki, Napa), Blue Note maintains five jazz clubs overseas—three of which are in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya), plus one in China (Beijing) and one in Slovakia (Nové Mesto nad Váhom). More than half of all overseas locations are in Japan, and Japanese fans make up a very large proportion of the clientele at US locations as well.

 Although not quite in the same style as thirty years ago, Jazz still plays a part in branding and advertising in Japan today. Take the latest offering from Suntory, in which heartthrob actor Takeru Sato smoothly introduces you to their new “Chita” whisky.

This is doubly nostalgic, not only because it sounds jazzy, but also because the tune is a remake of the Japanese pop group Godiego’s 1985 hit “The Galaxy Express 999” (銀河鉄道999).

Another example is how Nissan colorfully equated their DAYZ ROOX subcompact lineup to a femme jazz trio to come up with this cool commercial.

With occasional reminders, too

Once every few years, Japan puts out a feature film featuring the genre of jazz. They’re not about jazz greats, the way “Bird” depicted the life of Charlie Parker. No, the Japanese bring jazz closer to home. The story lines often involve young people who think jazz is “old,” but eventually learn to love and appreciate it as a means of “communication.” Like the comedy “Swing Girls” (2004)…

 And then there’s the bittersweet “Kids On The Slope” or 坂道のアポロン (2018) based on the anime (2012) and manga series (2007-2012) of the same name.

 If you’re thinking of entering the Japanese market, you obviously need to localize your content into Japanese. But while you’re thinking about localization strategy, also consider the sound that best suits your brand image. In Japan, perhaps more than in most other countries, Jazz can be the sound that resonates most effectively with your target audience.


This article was updated on March 17, 2018.

If you have plans to do business in Japan or with Japan, or would like to see some examples of content localization into Japanese, please check out the Moravia Japan Blog here.