Manga publisher stops shrink-wrapping collected volumes, sees huge sales jump from new policy

Turns out even physical media benefits from a free trial, one of Japan’s largest manga publishers learns.

If you’re a fan of Japanese comics, a stroll into the extensive manga section of bookstores in Japan can feel like heaven. Row after row of collected volumes, covering decades’ worth of content, all waiting for you to pick them up, leaf through their pages, and discover a new series to follow…oh, wait, scratch that last part.

See, Japanese bookstores almost universally shrink-wrap their collected manga volumes. Sometimes, there might be a single booklet printed on cheap paper with a half-dozen preview pages of one high-profile release, but aside from that, if you want to see what’s inside manga volumes in Japan, you’re going to have to buy the book before you even crack open the cover (and even some used manga shops have a similar policy).

The reason for the shrink-wrapping is pretty obvious. Publishers and retailers want to prevent what’s called tachiyomi, literally “standing reading,” where potential customers read through the content they’re interested in, then put it back on the shelf and walk out of the store without buying anything. But recently Shogakukan, one of Japan’s biggest manga publishers, has reversed its stance and begun asking retailers to not shrink-wrap certain manga.

▼ Though stores still draw the line at laying down on their floors and eating snacks.

Between March and May, Shagakkan requested that shrink-wrapping not be placed on either the first or most recent collected volumes of 35 titles it publishes. 36 stores participated in the test program, and when they tallied their sales for the period, they found that sales for shojo and josei manga (manga targeted towards girls and women) had jumped 20 percent for the period. Meanwhile, sales of shonen and seinen manga (oriented towards boys and men) stayed about the same, with no significant losses stemming from the relaxed tachiyomi policy. With a huge sales boost in half of its demographics and steady performance in the others, it’s safe to say the initiative was a success.

In hindsight, the sales increase makes a lot of sense. Before being published in collected volumes, manga run in serialized weekly or monthly anthologies, which were often read by train commuters on their way to or from work or school. But with more people whipping out their smartphones to kill time, even the online versions of those anthologies are competing with the rest of the Internet for attention, which raises the hurdle a manga series has to clear to capture a reader’s interest. Shogakukan says that by removing shrink-wrap from collected volumes, it thinks it can increase the potential for contact and familiarity among potential customers. with and the results of its pilot program, dubbed the Comics Shrink-wrapping Removal Project, seem to back up its hypothesis. These days, it can be hard enough just getting people to go to the trouble of going to a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the first place, and making those who do come feel welcome is paying off.

Another factor could be the dramatic shift in anime distribution that’s taken place over the last two decades. Shogakukan says its manga started being shrink-wrapped about 30 years ago, at a time when a large amount of anime was still being released in direct-to-video format. Today’s young fans, though, have grown up with the vast majority of anime being shown on for-free late-night television, which likely makes them much more averse to paying for content they haven’t sampled, and asking them to purchase collected volumes of a manga without giving them at least a free-of-charge look at the oldest and newest volumes is arguably asking too much.

Shogakkan says it’s also had success in boosting digital manga sales by providing expanded previews of the non-physical editions, and says it plans to continue easing access to its titles by expanding the Comics Shrink-wrapping Removal Project in the future.

Source: Asahi Digital Shimbun via Otakomu
Images ©SoraNews24

Tokyo companies’ late-night overtime habits exposed in time-lapse YouTube video channel【Videos】

In the busiest city in a country famous for working employees to death, Tokyo Workers hopes to help people find the work/life balance they desire.

Once upon a time, I was offered a job by a large, prestigious Japanese company. As we were discussing the terms of the contract, I asked the interviewer (my potential boss) how much overtime I could expect. “Oh, we don’t really do overtime here,” she said, which sounded great to me. However, also sitting in on the interview was a rank-and-file worker from the department, who chimed in with “Yeah, we usually only have, like, two hours of overtime each day.”

As you can see, Japanese companies aren’t always completely upfront about how much overtime work a job requires. So in order to present a more accurate picture of their working environments, the organization Tokyo Workers films the Tokyo offices of major Japanese companies, in time-lapse, to see how late their interior lights are on.

▼ It’s past 10:30 p.m. when Toyota’s Tokyo office goes dark

▼ At 10:20, the majority of the office lights are still on at Sony (the central building in the video)

Tokyo Worker uploaded its first video in the spring of last year. About seven months prior, Dentsu, one of Japan’s biggest advertising/PR companies, had instituted a mandatory 10 p.m. lights-out policy, following the suicide of one of its overstressed employees. Tokyo Worker wanted to see if the company had made good on that promise, and sure enough, they had, as shown in this video of all the light’s blinking out at Dentsu just as the clock strikes 10.

▼ Plenty of lights still on at video game developer Square Enix (the top three floors) at 11 p.m.

However, Tokyo Workers’ goal isn’t necessarily to expose and shame companies that burn the midnight oil. The organization even admits that, all else equal, simply reducing working hours will have a negative impact on a company’s output. But what Tokyo Workers wants to do is close the gap between how much overtime work job hunters expect to do (based on information available to them before joining a company) and how much they’ll actually end up doing.

▼ The offices of manga publishing powerhouses Shogakkan (left) and Shonen Jump’s Shueisha (right), where a lot of employees probably aren’t getting home in time to watch the start of the late-night anime TV programming block.

▼ Two buildings owned by Kodansha, another publisher with strong ties to the anime/manga industry

The organization cites a late-2016 study by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which found that 31.9 percent of college graduates end up switching jobs within three years, which is a startlingly high number for a country where lifetime employment with the same company was the norm just one generation ago. Through its videos, Tokyo Workers aims to give job hunters a better picture of the featured companies’ corporate culture, so that they can avoid jumping into a job they don’t understand the reality of and eventually quitting, forcing them to look for new employment and the company to find a new employee.

▼ A wide shot of Tokyo’s Tennozu district, home of JAL (Japan Airlines) and JTB (a.k.a. Japan Travel Bureau).

▼ Past 1 a.m., there are enough lights still on at the East Japan Railway building (seen on the right) that some employees probably won’t finish work in time to catch their last train home fot the night.

Tokyo Workers acknowledges that the connection between what time the lights go off and what time work stops isn’t absolute. Some office lights might remain on for security reasons, and in this digitally connected era, just because people aren’t in the office doesn’t mean they’re not still working. Still, it hopes that these candid videos will be of use in letting prospective employees know what they’d be getting into before they decide to sign an employment contract.

Source: Tokyo Workers via IT Media
Top image: YouTube/Tokyo Worker

Sanrio’s President reveals why Hello Kitty teams up with so many different brands

And it’s not just to boost Hello Kitty’s sales.

Hello Kitty is one of Japan’s most famous Japanese characters, having been voted the fifth-most iconic Japanese character. Her popularity is such that she appears in collaborations with many different characters, franchises, and brands across all kinds of mediums.

In fact, she appears in so many places that sometimes it’s almost strange, like when she appeared on chocolates made by Japanese video company Niconico Video. Have you ever wondered why Hello Kitty is everywhere and on the most random things? Japanese Twitter user @kaeritaianokoro claims to have the answer, allegedly from the mouth of Sanrio’s president himself (translation below).

“From Sanrio’s President at their General Meeting for Stockholders:

‘If there are any products you love but feel are in danger of being discontinued because of low sales, tell me. If it does a collaboration with one of Sanrio’s characters, that product’s sales will increase. I made this company so that everyone in the world could get along.’

I was really touched. That must be why Hello Kitty does collaborations with all kinds of things.”

▼ DJ Hello Kitty??

In essence, Hello Kitty collaborates with so many products and businesses not so that Sanrio can make more money, but so that it can help other business grow and expand their market. That’s…surprisingly kind of an industry leader and world-renowned company.

In fact, it seems like Sanrio’s President and founder, Shintaro Tsuji, is a genuinely nice guy. As part of Sanrio’s monthly newsletter, he writes a column entitled, “Special Message from the Strawberry King”, and this month’s topic was “No matter what happens between people, it’s important to be friends and help each other out.”

▼ Hello Kitty promoting baseball

In the letter, Tsuji writes about his experience during World War II, during which he was a college student. With the destruction and death that followed the dropping of the atomic bombs, Tsuji learned the true horrors of war. He writes that he wants people to understand why war is bad and that having good relations with each other is important.

“Because of the war, many people lost their lives, and many people were injured. The scars from the war won’t go away in a few years, a few decades, or even a few centuries.

At that time, I, a mere college freshman, lost many of my classmates.

From that experience, one thing has been carved deeply into my heart: Nothing good comes from war. It’s really important that whatever happens, countries, races, and people should have good relationships and help each other out.

Wanting to share this message with as many people as I could, I founded Sanrio 55 years ago on August 10.”

He goes on to write that the concept of the company was “Small gifts, big smiles.” Hoping to encourage communication between people, Sanrio began to produce small, inexpensive, cute gifts that would bring people together and promote cooperative living. That’s how Hello Kitty and all of her friends were born, and that’s how Hello Kitty still operates today.

What a touching origin story. In an age where “black companies,” which prioritize profits over employee and consumer satisfaction, are more than common in Japan, it’s refreshing and endearing that a company like Sanrio would work hard to promote cooperation and friendship among people.

▼ Hello Kitty Hakata-style spicy cod roe flavored ramen from Fukuoka

Japanese netizens were equally impressed and touched with Tsuji’s words:

“Hello Kitty, I’m sorry! I always thought you were a collaboration slut! You actually had a reason for it…”
“So Hello Kitty has been working hard to protect all the things people love! Thank you, Hello Kitty!”
“I just thought she’d do anything for money…But there was a noble reason the whole time.”
“The reason why Hello Kitty couldn’t say no to a job is because of this! Sanrio’s President is so cool. ”
“How cool! I kind of want to buy Sanrio stock now.”

Clearly, Hello Kitty is lovable in more ways than one, and even those of us who aren’t die-hard collectors of pastel-colored Sanrio goods have a reason to respect the anthropomorphic cat-girl now. With this new knowledge, maybe people will even have a new appreciation for seemingly over-the-top Hello Kitty collaborations like the Hello Kitty-themed bullet train.

Sources: Twitter/@kaeritaianokoro via Hachima KikouSpecial Message from the Strawberry King
Top image ©Soranews24

Japanese Princess Kako-brand diapers to go on sale in China, without permission of course

When buying diapers, go with a name you can trust.

Japan has been experiencing a bit of royal-fever these days, what with the impending abdication of Emperor Akihito and peripheral family member Princess Ayako renouncing her own royal status to marry a commoner. Then we have Akihito’s granddaughter, the young Princess Kako, who has just returned to Japan after studying at University of Leeds in the U.K. for nine months.

Apparently some of this interest in the Imperial Family has rubbed off on the neighboring country of China as well. As a result, a diaper manufacturer in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province has decided to cash in on this interest by claiming the trademarks for “Princess” and “Princess Kako,” and didn’t let the fact that it was for use on their urine-absorbing pants stop them.

As a general rule, using a foreign country’s highest symbol of unity as a mascot for the containment and disposal of poo will likely draw the scorn of said country. Sure enough, Japanese netizens were none too pleased.

“That’s awful.”
“Aren’t wars usually started over things like this?”
“This is really about as insulting as it can get.”
“Let’s get rolling on some Xi Jinping diapers.”
“Alright, how about they pay Princess royalties? Of course they won’t.”
“How can they even do that? Oh right, it’s in China.”

“In civilized countries, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen in the first place.”

It’s hard to find the rational link making a 23-year-old childless women the perfect representative for children’s diapers, so Japan’s News Post Seven reached out to the diaper manufacturer to ask the question on everyone’s mind: What the hell?

Here’s their response:

“Princess Kako is certainly a trademark acquired by us. We are planning to sell disposable diapers for children with this trademark soon. Children are princes and princesses to their parents, so we first registered the name ‘Princess’ and then ‘Princess Kako.’

Japan has a positive image because of its high safety and quality. We think that the name of Princess Kako is perfect for our product. There is no intention to insult the Japanese Imperial Family.”

Their story does check out. A few years back, Japan was flooded with Chinese profit-seekers coming over and buying as many diapers as possible for the purpose of re-selling them back home. It got to the point that Japanese manufacturers couldn’t keep up and store shelves across the country were wiped clean.

▼ To this day I still wonder what the problem with Chinese diapers was to cause such a rush for foreign ones. Did they randomly fly away or something?

And then in China there was the appearance of Meiso (also known as Miniso), the “Japanese” store selling all “Japanese” goods. It was very popular despite none of it actually being Japanese. Clearly, Japan’s reputation alone is a powerful marketing tool, especially for a hot ticket item like diapers.

So it’s fair to say that this is just a case of an overzealous business which perhaps wasn’t taking the time to look at the big picture in the pursuit of profits. In all likelihood the Chinese and Japanese governments ought to be able to handle a situation like this easily and diplomatically, which is good, because I heard China just got laser guns.

Source: News Post Seven, Itai News
Top image: Wikipedia/Kounosu1
Insert image: Pakutaso

Yakuza currently threatening Japan’s sea cucumbers

Who needs drugs, gambling, and prostitution when there’s an ocean full of slimy black gold for the taking?

It’s an increasingly common scene out on the Sea of Japan: in the middle of the night, Coast Guard patrols come across a suspicious ship that appears to be fishing, but whenever they approach the boat for questioning, the high-performance vessels take off at speeds they simply cannot match.

These ships are believed to belong to the yakuza, out on the sea in search of sea cucumbers again. This growing problem has caused the national government to begin to take measures to restrict the trade of these animals.

Currently, the penalty for poaching sea cucumbers is a maximum six months in prison and a 10,000 yen (US$91) fine. While that might be enough to keep away lone fishermen looking for some of that big-time sea cucumber money, it’s hardly enough to make a yakuza member flinch.

Last year, a Yamaguchi-gumi boss was sued for possession of 60 tons of sea cucumbers and ordered to pay 100 million yen ($912,000). More recently, five Yamaguchi-gumi members were arrested with 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of the creatures. Even still, such arrests are rare as the gangsters use ships faster than the authorities and even if caught, can simply dump the evidence back in the ocean.

According to a source close to organized crime who spoke with Shukan Bunshun, sea cucumbers are a major source of revenue for the yakuza right up there with amphetamine trafficking. This may come as a surprise to Japanese people who use sea cucumbers for little more than a pickled side dish.

▼ That, and there was a bit of a sea cucumber key-chain fad a few years ago

Actually, the bulk of sea cucumber profits comes from abroad. It is said to be a 20 billion yen ($182M) marine export behind only pearls and scallops in terms of revenue. This is thanks to a recent spike in demand in China causing prices to skyrocket to tens of thousands of yen per kilogram (roughly hundreds of dollars per pound) for dried sea cucumber.

The deal is made sweeter by the fact that sea cucumbers aren’t regulated like other forms of seafood. For example, bluefin tuna cannot be exported unless its source is verified by a regional fishing industry association. Now, in response to the current poaching sprees, the government is considering similar rules for sea cucumbers as well.

Until then, these noble echinoderms must continue to endure this reckless overfishing of the mob. They aren’t the only victims either. Perhaps some sympathy should be given to those yakuza members doing all the grunt-work too.

They probably joined up with dreams of hanging out in seedy bars and getting into street fights, only to end up scooting around the ocean in the dark, looking for living sausages at the bottom of the ocean, and thinking, “I learned Photoshop for this?!”

Source: Shukan Bunshun
Top image: Wikipedia/harum.koh

App that buys your receipts crashes within hours of release due to too many users

ONE person’s trash is another’s treasure.

There has been a lot of commotion over a new app released in Japan called ONE. It is a unique app that promises to give you 10 yen (US$0.09) in exchange for submitting a photo of any receipt you take. Sounding too good to be true, our own Mr. Sato took it for a test drive to see if it really worked.

Although only the first day of its release, Mr. Sato was surprised to find that ONE had already reached its namesake position on the iTunes ranking in the free-app finance section.

He quickly got his ONE downloaded and registered by entering a code received by SMS and granting the app access to his camera. Within seconds he was ready to starting raking in money by taking pictures of his receipts.

One thing Mr. Sato noticed right away is that it has trouble when the receipt is crumpled, so you should take care of those little papers for the sake of ease.

After the picture was taken, he just had to press the paper-airplane-stylized send button.

Once accepted he got a message that it was worth 10 yen and a button asking him to confirm the transaction.

And just like that, 10 yen was placed into his virtual wallet.

Goosebumps broke out on Mr. Sato at this discovery, he had finally found his fast lane to easy street! He quickly scavenged the office for as many discarded receipts as he could find.

However, once he snapped ten slips, the app locked him out.

It turned out that there was a ten-receipt limit per day, allowing him to earn only 100 yen a day. Still, that worked out to about 3,000 yen a month, for pretty much doing nothing out of the ordinary. While it wasn’t the answer to his fiscal prayers, it was nothing to sneeze at either.

There’s also the issue of the virtual wallet. Getting the money sent to you in real funds does take a leap of faith between you and ONE. In order to authorize a bank account transfer, you must first submit a photo of photo ID to the app, such as your driver’s license or passport.

It took about half a day for ONE to verify Mr. Sato’s identity. After that he could instruct the app to transfer his virtual wallet’s contents to a real account at any of Japan’s major banks. However, there is a 200 yen ($1.80) transfer fee, so he’d probably want to save up some more before actually moving the money.

The use of personal information is said to help the app ban those who attempt to scam it by using the same receipt twice or receipts that other people had already scanned.

There’s still the question of how this app makes money following what appears to be an underpants-gnome business model. Presumably it tracks peoples shopping habits in near real time, but is that data valuable enough to compensate everyone who uses it 10 yen per transaction?

Oftentimes, receipts also have point offers or other coupons that people overlook. Maybe ONE harvests those and leverages them somehow to turn a profit?

A very troubling thought is that the most valuable thing a single individual hands over to ONE is their ID and bank account info.

Whatever they did with his personal information and receipts, Mr. Sato wasn’t overly concerned. The next day, as he bought his morning pack of cigarettes, he felt relieved that at least his receipt could be used to offset the rising costs of tobacco in Japan.

As he settled in at the office he pulled out his trusty ONE app to take a photo of his convenience store receipt.

But suddenly…

▼ “Receipt purchases have currently stopped.”

“Damnit!” thought Mr. Sato as he searched the internet for answers. A tweet from the CEO of ONE, 17-year-old Soto Yamauchi, explained:

“Currently, about 16 hours since service started, the situation is as follows:
We purchased 245,400 receipts from about 70,000 users in 85,000 downloads.
For the time being, we are temporarily stopping service.”

It looked as if Mr. Sato wasn’t the only one enjoying ONE on its release day. The popularity of the app surpassed the expectations of even its creator, who is probably now scrambling to find more backers to cover this surge in users.

And scramble he must, as angry locked-out users have taken to the iTunes store with negative reviews and ratings, causing ONE’s rep to plummit and its CEO to issue an emergency tweet:

▼ “Two weeks… Please just wait two weeks… Service will definitely return… Please just wait to begin using the app!”

▼ ONE’s rating as of 12 July (left) and ONE’s rating as of 14 July (right)

Mr. Sato imagined there’d be some rough patches as this unusual business unfolded. He says he’ll patiently wait for service to resume and look forward to whatever ONE might do next.

Source: ONE Financial Press Release, ONE on iTunes, Twitter/@5otoyam
Images: SoraNews24

Japanese woman fed up with being expected to serve male coworkers tea shatters corporate culture

Frustrated professional busts up her office’s outdated “tea squad” tradition with a perfectly salted comeback.

In Japanese business, there’s a term called “ochakumi.” It literally means “tea squad,” and it refers to lower-ranking female office workers being expected to make and serve tea to their male coworkers and company superiors.

Ochakumi isn’t a dedicated catering/food service position, though. Instead, it’s an additional duty passed off to female workers on top of their other professional responsibilities. The practice isn’t nearly as common as it was during Japan’s bubble economy of the 1980s and early 1990s, and many companies have done away with it entirely. Nevertheless, it still persists in some old-fashioned offices, where it’s a major sore point for white-collar women who feel it’s demeaning to be treated like a waitress.

That was the situation Japanese Twitter user @caron_M01 found herself in, until she shattered her office’s “women do the ochakumi work” tradition with a single stinging retort.

When the topic of ochakumi came up, one of @caron_M01’s male officemates proclaimed “Tea just tastes better when a girl pours it for you, you know.” @caron_M01 then switched the tone of the conversation from smug to snide, saying:

“Ahhh, I see. It’s just like how yakiniku [Korean barbecue] tastes better when a guy pays for it.”

Her turning of the tables was roundly applauded on Twitter, with comments including:

“So cool!!!”
“That guy should know what kind of tea he likes better than anyone else, so it stands to reason that he’d get the ‘best-tasting’ tea by making it himself.”
“You ought to put poison in that jerk’s tea.”

However, there’s now no need for @caron_M01 to slip any harmful substances into her coworker’s drink. After she shined the harsh light on the inequality in her office’s corporate culture, a new policy was instituted, and it’s now the shared responsibility of all junior employees, both men and women, to make tea for their senior officemates.

Granted, as one commenter pointed out, it’d be nicer still if everyone in the office pitched in, but still, progress is progress. However, it’s often true that you can’t gain something without giving up something else, and yet another Twitter user lamented that because of the new ochakumi policy in @caron_M01’s office, she may have lost the opportunity to use her tea duties as pressure to have someone treat her to yakiniku, but we think she’s happier paying for her own dinners if she doesn’t have to worry about every man’s tea.

Source: Twitter/@caron_M01 via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso