With a population of 130 million on a land mass that is 1/25 of the US, of which only 28% is arable, it was merely a matter of time, wasn't it?
But there is an area where we are still No.1.
And it is not consumer electronics or automobile manufacturing.
It is services.
If a company can boast that they are the No.1 service provider in Japan, I strongly believe that that business can boast to the world that their quality of service is No.1 in the world.
Nikkei Trendy recently ran a very interesting series of articles (unfortunately in Japanese only) on how Japanese manufacturers are re-visiting the original Japanese R&D spirit of "living with the target customers" to live, experience, and crave for the same needs that will make the end products sell.
The examples they cite are Pokka in Singapore, with 50% market share and Shiseido's mens' cosmetics brand MANDOM in Indonesia.
In the article, the writer touches upon how brand recognition of some of the most powerful brands in Japan is non-existent outside Japan.
Of course branding and brand advertisement is important, but what I want to stress here is the impact of being able to claim that something one offers is "No.1 in Japan."
That still means a lot.
And perhaps, now, a lot more than "made in Japan" when it comes to positive attributes.
Of course, "made in Japan" electronic goods are still popular, but it also means that the goods are expected to be expensive - a double edged sword.
Same with denim. Every denim enthusiast owns or dreams to own a made in Japan pair of jeans. Japanese selvedge denim is used by such global brands as Nudie, but few jeans are engineered in Japan like SAMURAI and MOMOTARO. And once again, we are looking at price tags starting at EUR 250 and upwards.
But what I fail to yet see is Japanese service providers - be it a restaurant, a hotel, courier, retailer, or even maybe a car dealer or Internet portal - claim that their service is No.1 in Japan.
Why do they fail to do this?
My simple answer is that the majority of senior managers in major Japanese corporations today, if they have any international business experience at all, made their careers by IMPORTING goods, styles, patterns, innovations, designs, etc. from the west.
It has never occurred to them that Japan has more to EXPORT than cars, music players, cameras, PCs, and mobile phones.
Painstakingly slowly, some fashion houses are going abroad to broaden their sales base, and Tokyo menswear brands are picking up steam again after a sharp drop in business after the radiation scare post-3.11 earthquake and nuclear plant accident. (Many people thought that the clothes may be contaminated, too, and cut back on ordering from Japanese brands)
UNIQLO is perhaps the only one making bold strides by opening successful flagship stores in Paris, London, and New York.
Of course, this is what is making my life interesting right now, because I am advocating such marketing campaigns outside Japan and I am using all my powers of persuasion, influence, threats, begging and pleading, as well as suggesting and recommending to do this.
We have the world's most pampered and discerning consumers whose choices are often driven by convenience and receiving good quality of service.
And any business who can claim that they serve this client base well with high quality of service should have the confidence to boast that their service is No.1 in Japan outside Japan... because being No.1 in service quality in Japan may well mean that they are No.1 in the world.