HOW TO BE ICONIC: Onitsuka Tiger’s World Domination Strategy

 

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It was the summer of 2004, a blistering humid day in August when we touched down in Kansai Airport in Osaka, Japan. I was 12 and it was my first time in a foreign country, accompanied by my twin sister and father. Exhausted from the thirteen hour flight but elated that we had finally arrived, we waited excitedly in the sterile white paneled baggage claim area to collect our luggage and see this land of the rising sun for ourselves.

Bags came out of the shoot. A lopsided one, a pink one, those hard cases which Americans haven’t caught onto and only seem to be owned by East Asian travelers. One after another they came toppling out and then finally, a diminutive black suitcase dropped out with a small thud. The belt continued to move for a few more moments whirring until coming to a sudden complete and final stop. A lot of suitcases and bags. None of them appeared to be ours.

“Where are our bags?”

I turned to my father, perplexed and not quite understanding what this meant.

“I”m not sure let’s go check with the United customer service,” he replied with a hint of worry, gathering our carry-on baggage and belongings.

But the bags never came that day.

They hadn’t made the connecting flight and were still in Los Angeles.  “They will be on the next flight from LA, “ the United staff said.  “You should receive them sometime tomorrow.”

They handed us the yen equivalent of aboutt $300 US dollars to buy clothes in the meantime.

With only our carry-ons we clamored onto the shuttle bus which would take us from Kansai airport to Downtown Osaka.

What’s the first thing you do with apology money?

Go shopping of course! It was amazing wandering around the mall. It seemed familiar in many ways but still reverberated with that mystique which everything in Japan seems to be coated with in the eyes of a western foreigner.

We passed by one unfamiliar Japanese brand after another and there it was. A humble but sturdy bold sign that read Onitsuka Tiger. Surrounded by an array of familiar brands like Nike, Puma, and Adidas there stood out this very Japanese sounding brand with a fierce tiger as its logo. The shoes were flashy and bold but elegant at the same time.

“Pick whichever one you want!” my Dad said.

That day a pair of Onitsuka Tigers became my first and most useful souvenir from Japan.

What was it about these shoes that fascinated not only the 12-year-old bespectacled me but my 48-year-old father?

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IMAGE El Japatillaz Tio

For the past 50 years Onitsuka Tiger has been a worldwide powerhouse promoting athleticism from its inception. Arguably the most popular and recognizable Japanese shoe brand, Onitsuka Tiger, and the  parent company ASICS, traces its roots back to 1949. WWII had recently ended and Japan was in a state of rebirth. Former military officer Kihachiro Onitsuka took that mindset and ran with it creating a shoe he hoped would raise spirits and promote youth health through athletics.

The brand quickly grew in popularity through strategic athlete partnerships. In 1955, it partnered with 500 sports shops in Japan, with its first US sales occurring in 1963. The great ASICS stripe made its debut in 1966 at the pre-Olympic trials for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico – this was to be the start of their most famous line, Mexico 66. Today the once small Japanese athletics shoe company reports 428 billion yen (approximately 4 billion dollars) in  net sales for 2015 (reports for 2016 will be released in the coming months), growing year after year into a mecca for “Intelligent Sports Technology” and “highly functional products developed with human-centric science” (ASICS).

ONITSUKA  POPULARITY DECONSTRUCTED

The brand has the incredible ability of evoking reminiscence and at the same time a refreshing modernity.

What is the Onitsuka secret? How has this brand remained popular and hip in Japan while so many have fallen? Asahi Shimbun Digital back in 2015 published an article identifying four major secrets behind the Onitsuka success.

 

#1 Modern Retro Design Born from Performance

Onitsuka started with athleticism in mind and has kept that a core of its business. With its narrow long nose silhouette, thin sole, and striking color combinations, the Onitsuka retro design  is instantly recognizable. It’s a unique and understated recognizability that remains classic.

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#2 Limit Sales Channels to Maintain an Expensive Brand Image

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Think about it. You’ve just put on your fresh straight out of the box Onitsukas and slipped into your freshly purchased and pressed outfit (that you paid a bit too much for).  You step out of your apartment, it’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and you look amazing. You’re strolling head held up high with a knowing smirk, people are looking and suddenly out the corner of your eye you spot it. The end of your moment. The shock of an older gentleman completely lacking in any fashion sense, wearing the exact same pair of  your  beautiful shoes. Now that is a fashion tragedy. A tragedy that Onitsuka has strategically strived to avoid. It’s incredibly difficult to get your hands on a pair of Ontisuka Tiger shoes within Japan in today’s discount stores. They aren’t sold in outlets or warehouses. As soon as a shoe enters the discount world its brand image is immediately at risk of degradation. Onitsuka’s bold and daring strategy heralded by President Oyama in 1999 to avoid the tempting wholesale market ensured that Onitsuka Tiger would become a high-end brand. In addition to limiting sales channels, the heightened brand image would start from the construction of their products, putting high quality materials at the forefront. That’s an image to be proud of.

#3 Establish Reasonable Pricing

Onitsuka Tiger manages to deliver high quality with the NIPPON MADE label at pretty economical prices. You can attain a heightened NIPPON MADE sensibility without the crazy price tag. Mostly all of the shoe models sell for less than 13,000 yen. The Serano which uses natural leathers is priced at 8,640 yen, the all natural leather upper Mexico 66 you can get your hands on for 12,960 yen.

#4 Surprise of A Mysterious Brand Name To Remember

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From the name “Onitsuka” to the roaring tiger image the brand screams Japan to even those with the faintest familiarity with the country. It’s a striking brand image and this has definitely played in Onitsuka’s favor.  You look at it and think this is a Japanese brand. And that is enticing for the overseas consumer because along with it come all of the positive adjectives characteristics you would attach to a Japan-made product – quality, cutting edge, reliable, built to last, different. This is the “Cool Japan” that the Japanese government doesn’t get.

 

THE FUTURE OF ONITSUKA

This past year Onitsuka Tiger celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Mexico 66, arguably the flagship and best-selling shoe from the storied Japanese brand — The company touts it as a fine footwear “discovered on the track, and later on, worn on the streets” . It has sought some of the most exclusive collaborations reaching and securing even the most obscure underground influencers and artists. Pop culture phenom homages, independent Japanese labels and exclusives marketing deals with high end shops like Barney’s New York.

The legend continues to thrive as they expand more and more, recently pushing for raising their presence in rugby. With a Vegan line, it’s riding the wave of eco-friendly animal-friendly fashion consumerism as well. (Editor’s note: The vegan line of shoes are not designed to be edible. Consume at your own risk)

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They’ve reorganized the company to support globalization as well as acquiring technology company FitnessKeeper, Inc, and entering into the world of smart apparel and wearables.

Onitsuka has recently announced its introduction of shoes which are a step away from its iconic stripes but with the same motto paying homage to the past with a vintage feel and performance in mind.

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The new line are Inspired by the Japanese “furoshiki” or the art of cloth packaging – The CHIYO. Available online and instore, it’s a refreshing take enabling the wearer to customize and create their own idea of beauty. The upper consists of soft cloth, like packaging cradling the top of the foot. The lucky owners  can knot and style the shoe however they wish according to the look they’re rocking that day. The line comes in 3 colors-  blue, black, and pink priced at 7,000 yen.

Onitsuka continues to take innovation and trends and instill them with a retro twist. It stays true to the spirit of a Japanese brand with refreshing relevance and distinction.

As you know, last year marked the 50th Anniversary of its iconic stripes logo and it’s looking like Onitsuka is here to stay.

The company that owns the line,  still known as ASICS “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” or “A Healthy Soul in a Healthy Body.”, continually pushes the envelope looking for opportunities for constant growth. Can we call it world domination with retro class? I think so. However, the best way to appreciate Onitsuka shoes isn’t looking at them—it’s wearing them. Put on a pair and go for a run, you’ll catch on to what I’m saying.

 

 

要約:12歳のとき初めて降り立った日本。荷物を失くされた航空会社にもらった金券でお土産としてオニツカタイガーを購入した。以来すっかり私を魅了してきたオニツカタイガーは、外国人観光者に絶大な人気を誇っている。

オニツカタイガーの代表作Mexico 66 の50周年記念となった2016年。オニツカタイガーはなぜ支持されるのか?ほかと一線を画すブランディング、そして強力なセールス力の秘密とは?

これらの問いに関して朝日新聞デジタルで”アシックス快走、世界3位も射程内 海外で人気の理由は”という記事が掲載されている。そして人気の理由の次のように分析している。

1「性能追求の結果生まれた現代的なレトロデザイン」

2「販売チャネル限定、高いブランドイメージの維持」

3「リーズナブルな価格設定」

4「ミステリアスなブランド名の響き・イメージ」

限界に挑む会社として継続的な経済成長を達成し、グローバルリーチを支えるための構造を整備するオニツカタイガー。世界征服する日は近い。

 

 

Snake Venom, Bee Toxin, Horse Oil, Snail Slime: Saving Face in Japan is Icky Fun

The Face and Lip Mask Haul
The Face and Lip Mask Haul

Japan is a country where saving face is paramount—even if that means covering it with snake venom, bee toxin, horse oil, or snail slime. One company in Japan has been tremendously successful by catering to the Japanese love for looking good, thus saving face, and exotic ingredients. Their array of face masks, which are applied to the skin as shown in the photos, are almost all reasonably priced at 100 yen and are always exciting to find in the local pharmacy. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the tingly sensation and fresh skin feeling you get from spreading cobra venom on your face?

How To Face Mask

Headquartered in central Tokyo’s glitzy Roppongi district, Sun Smile was founded in 1997. The company, which sells everything from cosmetics to bags, has seen their sales rise in the last 6 years. In 2009 they made 3 billion 997 million yen and in 2014 they posted sales of 8 billion 673 million yen. They produced over 100,000,000 masks since they went into business. Their biggest seller is the essence of pearl mask but it’s the other “natural” items that raise eyebrows (and lift lines).

They’re known best for their cosmetics line, Pure Smile. Pure Smile makes facial masks in every flavor imaginable—and some that are unimaginable. Their Essence Mask series features types as tame as lemon, rose, and pomegranate, but if you want something a bit more “wild” you can try their biodiversity series, which includes snake venom, snail slime, and sea cucumber. If you have no qualms, you can even lather your face with a horse oil mask, which, although smells slightly leathery, leaves your skin feeling as silky as a horse’s mane. (The horse is not as popular as the snail, according to the firm’s representatives). The popularity of these exotic ingredients started in South Korea and soon moved across the sea to Japan, where women have the image that Korean cosmetics are of good quality, in addition to being cheap, which has allowed Japanese women, who would tend to be grossed out by the idea of putting snake venom on their faces, to more easily accept these weird ingredients.

 

There are, however, some who even question the effectiveness of slathering exotic ingredients on your faces and whether it would have a noticeable, if any effect on your skin.

 

Wacky discount chain store, Don Quixote, even sold a special line of their facial masks that come in types such as blueberry cheesecake, cacao, and crème brûlée that smell good enough to eat.

 

There’s even an Amazonian series of facial masks made with the extracts of fruits only found in the rainforest such as guarana and camucamu.

The best are the Oedo Art Masks printed with the rosebud mouths, slanted eyes and pinched faces of ukioe paintings. The mask will most definitely make people think Halloween came early but the age-defying collagen, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin-E in the mask will leave your face feeling smooth and supple.

The company also makes masks to hydrate your dry elbows, knees, and lips. The lip masks, make you look like a clown when you put them on, but leave your lips feeling moist.  According to the packaging, a suggested application (and definitely one of the strangest) is to put the lip masks on your nipples to remove any blackheads that may appear. It seems Pure Smile has literally thought of everything.

Most of the masks are made in South Korea, with the exception of the high-end whitening masks that bleach your skin. In Japan, where Snow White-like skin is favored over a glowing tan, there’s a huge market for creams and serums that bleach your skin white. Kanebo, one of Japan’s most well-known cosmetics companies, was forced to recall its skin whitening products in 2013 after several women were left with permanently unsightly white blotches on their skin. (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/09/16/editorials/kanebos-costly-scandal/#.VNcguN7ufww)

 

 

I tried a few of the face packs myself and this is what I noticed.

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Before The Mask Adventures

I decided to go down the line in descending order of scariness.  I wanted to get the snake venom one out of the way, deciding that nothing is as intimidating as cobra venom.

 

SNAKE VENOM

 

Snake Venom Essence Mask
Snake Venom Essence Mask

First Impression:  As soon as I put the mask on I felt a strong cooling sensation.  The essence of the mask is fairly thick, but not sticky.  It definitely made me feel confident that the mask was doing something positive. This combined with the extreme moisture of the essence was pretty soothing.

 

What does snake venom essence smell like?  I can’t quite pinpoint the smell but it’s light, like cucumbers and water.

 

In 3 minutes, I started to feel a bit of stinging above my lips and more intense cooling sensation on my forehead and chin. I felt one with the snake who sacrificed their venom essence. Ssss. (Technically it’s just the amino acids found in the venom but you get the idea!). Towards the last five minutes I felt more of a slight stinging around the bottom half of my face.  The stinging was somewhat pleasant actually. I have high hopes for this venom.

During and After My Snake Venom Encounter
During and After My Snake Venom Encounter

The majority of the cooling sensation was on my chin, T zone, maybe it’s doing its venomous magic?  After 15 min I peeled off the mask.  My skin felt very refreshed, moisturized, and dare I say plump!  I can see why this would be good to apply before makeup as my face felt pore-less and clean.

 

Verdict:  If the stinging wasn’t there I would buy again for daily use.  Overall it was relaxing so maybe those with less sensitive skin might have more luck. Still, this would be a great mask to wear before makeup on a shoot!

 

CHOOSY FRUIT

Next, I decided to pair my facial with a lip pack.  I was feeling adventurous and decided to go with the fruit type since it was daytime and NYC needs some happy color, to encourage spring weather to come.

CHOOSY Fruit
CHOOSY Fruit

I’ve never heard of a lip spa and as someone who diligently moisturizes her lips, I never even thought that this existed or was necessary.  Well here we go.

 

How To CHOOSY - Fruit
How To CHOOSY – Fruit

 

First Impression: The mask has a very strange texture, like that of silly putty.  2 min in I started getting a burning sensation.

Also, the smell was a lot more subtle than I expected, like a fruity lipgloss.

It works as advertised since I definitely felt the needles on my lips.  Although very fun to touch, the pricking was too uncomfortable and I took off the mask the 8 min mark.

I guess they felt softer than before so it’s a nice addition if you have nothing on however, I will still probably reach for a chapstick over a Choosy pack. which I won’t need to leave on my face for so long.

Post CHOOSY Fruit
Post CHOOSY Fruit

Verdict:  Skip. I wouldn’t purchase this.  I am still not sure of its effectiveness.  Looking forward to trying the honey and seeing if it has a more dramatic effect.

 

BEE VENOM

 

Bee Venom Essence Mask
Bee Venom Essence Mask

What I love about these face masks in general is that the scents are always fairly subtle which in our world of extremes is very pleasant and relaxing.

I waited 2 hours to apply another mask just to give my skin a break.

My skin still felt refreshed after almost 2 hours. The snake venom is definitely great for  photoshoot prep!

I washed my face and was confronted with a lovely mix of honey flowers upon opening the Bee Toxin mask.  This had to be the most pleasant bee poison in the world.

Bee Venom smells so good!!!
Bee Venom smells so good!!!

 

First Impression: I immediately noticed that the essence consistency was more thin, watery, and sticky than the snake mask.

It wasn’t as prickly as the snake venom but had a much more greater cooling sensation, especially on my forehead.  It felt a lot like a gentle, lovely smelling version of Icy Hot.

Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence
Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence

It’s very moisturizing but my skin didn’t feel as tight as it did with the previous mask.

Verdict:  It was very refreshing. Would definitely try again!

 

CHOOSY HONEY

The smell is similar to the bee toxin mask but stronger, a bit too strong.  My lips became very tingly 2 min in, like pins and needles.  Again, I’m not a huge fan of these.

CHOOSY Honey
CHOOSY Honey

After removing the mask, my lips felt sticky. The huge size of the mask is a little unsettling as the stickiness covered below my nose to my chin.

Post CHOOSY Honey
Post CHOOSY Honey

Verdict: Skip.  Yes, your lips are soft but there’s nothing drastic.

 

SNAIL

I took  a break from my all-day pampering to attend a friend’s birthday party.  I chose to end my late night with a nice snail essence mask since I figured it would be the most soothing of the exotic choices.

Snail Essence Mask
Snail Essence Mask

First Impression: When I opened the pack the comforting smell of dew entered the air.  In my exhausted state the cooling effects of the mask were incredibly relaxing.  The serum in this pack has a fairly thick consistency and I felt the majority of the cold on my chin.  I felt no stinging whatsoever which was a nice surprise.

 

Late Night Snailing
Late Night Snail-ing

The mask left my face feeling moisturized but slightly tight.  I expected to feel a larger difference in my skin and the effect was less noticeable than the others.

 

Verdict: It’s a gentle soothing mask that is nice to wear after a long day. In terms of effectiveness for skin I’d say my favorite is still the Bee Venom.

 

ROYAL JELLY

 

Pre Royal Jelly
Pre Royal Jelly

 

I decided to treat myself with Royal Jelly the following morning.   Royal jelly is a bee secretion used to nourish larvae and the Queen Bee in a hive.  This was a great name choice on Sun Smile’s part.  Here’s to hoping it will start the day off right!

 

It gave off a soft flowery smell. Upon application it felt warmer than the other masks,  and gave a nice calm sensation This was definitely a good choice for a chilly morning as it gently wakes you up.

Post Royal Jelly
Post Royal Jelly

Verdict: Would use again!  My face feels so nice!!

 

So there you have it.  The masks are definitely worth trying, they aren’t magical but they will give you a mini-spa experience in your home.  They are super affordable so really why wouldn’t you want to lather your face in the essences of snake and bee toxins? And even if you would rather not, they are great cheap gifts to bring back from Japan. Because if you know anything about Japan, going on a trip and not bringing back a souvenir might bring some shame. But spend a few hundred yen on these and everyone saves face—including you. (If you pack some for yourself, double face savings!)