Japan is a lucrative market for fine arts and handicrafts and Vietnamese businesses are trying to secure a firm foothold in this demanding market.
A wealth of experience in penetrating this market was presented at a recent workshop in HCM City by the Municipal Trade Promotion Department and the ASEAN-Japan Centre for Trade, Investment and Tourism Promotion (AJC).
Hiroshi Sakamoto, an interior decoration expert from the AJC, said Japanese consumers are interested in three elements of any product: what material the product is made of, how the product is made, and how the product carries traditional identity.
The third element is the most important, because it makes the product distinctive from others, according to Sakamoto.
To enter the Japanese market, he suggested that Vietnamese businesses should not only make high quality products, but also seek to increase product value for daily use.
He pointed out that products, which are made in large volume without paying attention to traditional characteristics will find it hard to compete against imports from China.
As Japanese people are time-conscious consumers, he said businesses must be very active in catering to their tastes and delivering products on schedule.
Sigeri Mochizuki, a business planner of Keio Department Store C. Ltd., and Setsuko Okura, executive manager of Osmic Co. Ltd., shared the view that most Japanese consumers prefer western style designs, based on European or American tastes, to ASEAN-style handicrafts.
Western style products are favourites with Japanese people, but their size, design and colour should be tailored to follow Japanese customs, said the two strategic planners.
They said Japanese people, especially the elderly, prefer thin and light china and ceramic products such as teapots, cups and plates, while several Vietnamese brands such as Bat Trang ceramics remain rough and heavy.
They advised Vietnamese businesses to log onto Japanese retailers’ websites to keep abreast of consumer trends in the country to grasp customer tastes.
Tokayoshi Nagashima, director of AIK Company and editor-in-chief of Home Living – an interior decorating magazine in Japan, said that every year Japan imports US$1.5 billion worth of furniture from foreign countries. It imports wood products from Vietnam for bedrooms, kitchens and offices.
However, he said, Vietnamese businesses mostly export their products on order and they do not have the typical designs to woo customers.
Despite this, Japanese wood retailers have recently shifted their imports from China to Vietnam as its products are more intricately made and labour costs are comparatively cheaper than in other countries in the region.
According to Nagashima, product design, not product price, is the decisive factor in penetrating this demanding market. Japanese customers need distinctive items, which are made of environmentally friendly materials and have new added value.