In this final edition of the Japan Department Stores journey, some conclusions.

My observations are based specifically on the retailers’ initiatives in leveraging online content experiences to get inbound tourists engaged in their brand and ultimately get them in stores leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. A position all three major players announced last year (read more here).


Alas, I must reveal that while I have unearthed some great content it has been rife with disconnected and siloed sources throughout. A nice Japanese phrase I’d use to describe this is ‘mechakucha’ meaning ‘messy’.

Sourcing and collating content became tedious, and considering the importance laid on luring inbound tourism, there was surprisingly little available in English (or any other language apart from Japanese).

However, there are a few English language online newsletters scattered around with a plethora of information on history, culture, events and trivia — some great content. Unfortunately though, these are often buried somewhere no discerning human being nor search engine robot will easily find them.

Generally, the retailers have a specific Facebook page and Instagram profile for each and every regional, city, flagship and local store. Not an uncommon strategy, Selfridges and others do the same. But again, no cohesive efforts towards inbound tourism that we could find. Social media is ideal for brand storytelling and now with 2.8 billion users worldwide, the potential is enormous.

However, I was surprised to find retailers using influencer marketing such as this by a popular Australian Youtuber promoting a Japanese crafts feature.

Top 5 Roundup

Far beyond our expectations though were the stories behind the stores — and there are many. Here’s my top 5:

1. During the second world war the twin lion statues outside the flagship Mitsukoshi store were acquired by the Japanese military to be melted down for weapons manufacturing, but somehow they were spared.

2. In 1924, the Matsuzakaya store in Ginza became a first to allow street shoes to be worn indoors which was unheard of at that time.

3. Many of the oldest department stores worldwide share humble beginnings as cloth merchants, street sellers and tailors. Japan’s stores began with Kimono, the garment once also symbolized class rebellion.

4. It was a stall inside Isetan department store in 1958 that’s often credited with Japan’s
first attempt to market Valentine’s Day - but with a twist. It’s women who give chocolate
to men...

5. In 1927, Mitsukoshi Theater staged Japan’s very first fashion show. No fashion shows
at that time meant no models. Instead they enlisted famous actresses, and kimono designs were showcased through traditional Japanese dance performances.

The Best of Japan Under One Roof
Finally, as part of this project, we produced a video to illustrate our vision of Japan’s department stores once again becoming retail destinations (see the social media version here).




The Stories Behind the Stores Part 3: Merging Online & Offline Experiences

The Stories Behind the Stores Part 3: Merging Online & Offline Experiences

This third edition of my journey into Japan department stores looks at the retailers’ efforts in connecting with audiences through blended online and offline experiences.

Last year, all three of Japan’s struggling major department retailers announced strategies with strong focus towards the inbound tourism market.  The approach, in part, would leverage content, rather than merely sales and promotions to build awareness and engagement, and ultimately get people back in stores. Here are some recent intriguing examples… 

A Creepy Twist on Spring - Mitsukoshi ‘Japan Senses’

In spring in Japan, all themes point to cherry blossom. As bright and blissful the theme, it’s replicated year after year with little variation, and so the blossoms are getting somewhat tired.

However, the winner this time around is Mitsukoshi's Japan Senses, which avoids being too predictable by adding a slightly creepy twist. 

Inspired by the Japanese performance art Noh, they use the traditional masks and music to create a spectacular, high quality video featuring kimono-wearing ladies eerily making their way through storms of blossom petals. 

The experience is integrated offline with beautiful display windows in store continuing the video narrative seamlessly.

Beats, Sweat and Yoga - Isetan & Lululemon

Its title may sound a little unsettling, however ‘Sweat Sense Japan’ is a collaborative series of events from Lululemon, the yoga apparel brand, and Isetan that want customers to experience what both brands represent.

Events include live performances with traditional Japanese drum troops where attendees can ‘feel the beats through their body as they stretch’.

Brands like Lululemon appeal not just their clothing, looking good or even yoga, it’s a lifestyle statement. Brand values that gain alignment and loyalty amongst their followers, and which Isetan appears keen to emulate.

Parco Courts Youth and Viral Trends

Parco isn’t a usual suspect in the line-up.  I chose Parco to demonstrate a department store that leverages social media content to court younger, trendier audiences (though not inbound tourism). 

Parco advantages popular social platforms like LINE and Instagram, and live events also play a big part on YouTube (such as a series of rap battles on the store’s roof). 

This month, Parco co-sponsors a premier event for the release of Dancer’, a documentary portraying the life of troubled ballet prodigy Sergei Polunin, who shot to fame online. The event also boasts a live performance by Polunin himself. 

Visitors at events use “#parcoart” to live-feed tweets to the Parco Art website.

All the above examples use online content to create buzz, followed by a main offline event or experience which is then uploaded online.  

And while some were slow to embrace the trend, increasingly Japan’s department stores are using the approach in a similar way to seasoned icons overseas such as Selfridges, Barneys and John Lewis. 

In the 4th and final post in this series, I’ll draw on some conclusions and learnings from the Japan Department Stores Project so far.  Also some behind the scenes action of our development of content stories and themes.

We’ve started a Facebook page dedicated to these stories and more. Please visit us!



Japan Senses:

Japan Senses Special Move embed code: Dancer:
Rap Battle: FaceBook:

Image Credits: Isetan Mitsukoshi, Lululemon, Parco, Uplink Image Curation and Versioning: AN-YAL

Meta description
Japan’s department stores are using online and offline experiences as an engagement strategy. These recent examples show just how blended retail content can be. 

Why I Do, What I Do - The Beauty in all Things

There is a common understanding that marketers are there to persuade people to buy something by creating messages with clever undertones to evoke some kind of need.

I am a marketer so I can’t be completely unbiassed. But how about looking at it in a different way?

The reason that I love my work is because it gives me the opportunity to explore what people crave.  To find the beauty in all things, though simple and normal, and bring that beauty back to them by carving it into an experience that they can ‘get into’. 

This could be through words, visuals, human exchanges, almost anything and any combination or variation. You can call this ‘content’ because the experience is hoped to lead to a conversion; that is, the audience will react in a particular way that is profitable to a brand.

The Craft

One important attribution of content is ‘choice’. Particularly social media content. It’s your choice. You choose the platforms and channels, you decide what to like and what to share, and nobody is forcing you to buy anything (if they are, it’s not content). The reason that you engage is because it’s meaningful to you.

So what does this all mean? To me, it means adventure. Constant listening and constant learning about people, their loves and their lives.  And then with these insights, I ‘craft’. 

I’d never thought of what I do as a craft, until a very brief but inspired conversation over lunch with AMC’s Mark Singer. Until that point, I’d used the term ‘create’ — content creation.  Mark said, “What you do is craft”; painstakingly augmenting an experience to resonate with the audience, but only until you yourself are happy with it. 

And that’s very true, otherwise I don’t see the point in doing it.

The ‘Why?’ 

Recently, I was asked to produce a content strategy for a hotel concierge app developer (not particularly exciting). I asked rudimentary questions about product features, business goals, objectives, budget, etc. But I also asked this: “Who do you admire for thought leadership?” Why? Because my craft also involves speaking in another person’s voice and telling their story, not simply their functionality.


And, his answer served me greatly in another way. I made a discovery that resonates with me: a classic TED Talk by Simon Sinek (with over 30 million views), ‘How great leaders inspire action’. Sinek shows how great influencers appeal to the emotion and values of their audience by expressing “why” they are doing what they are doing.

Ask yourself, ‘why?'


Simon Sinek