Steve Peters

Experience Design

Why Does Japan Shrug Off the Xbox 360?

A lot has been made lately about the not-so-great launch of the Xbox 360 over in Japan. The popular sentiment seems to be that the Japanese are just xenophobic and won't buy an American console over a Japanese one. This seems logical and perhaps convenient, at least at first. Unfortunately, anyone who has spent any time in Japan knows that this may not in fact be the case. Vinnk does a nice job of presenting an opposing view on his blog 4 color rebellion. He points to the fact that the Japanese have embraced American products such as iPods, Levis, McDonalds, Coke and Starbucks as proof that they're not just mindless nationalistic xenophobes. Very good post, and compelling argument.

My family and I lived in Japan for two years. My take on this is just a little different. Now, while Japanese society can be considered racist in many ways (some landlords wouldn't rent an apartment to me and my family because I was caucasian, for instance) in my opinion, the success or failure of ANYTHING in Japan can be summed up in one word: Trendiness.

Marketing types here in the US refer to the 'tipping point' where a product achieves critical mass by gaining popular acceptance. Well, it's even more important in Japan, from my experience. The word "trendy" is even transliterated into a Japanese word.

Now, bear with me here, without meaning to sound racist or anything, I'm going to make some observations about Japanese society that are just general, not absolute. Generally, the group ethic in Japan is paramount, as opposed to our Free-To-Be-You-And-Me credo. It's so important to "fit in" and be "part of the team" etc. The Japanese version of our Golden Rule is "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down," encouraging children to conform to the wishes of the "group."

As a result, it's really important to know what everyone else thinks about something before you do it, try it, or buy it. Trendiness in Japan makes trendiness in America pale in comparison. People latch on to trends with a gusto rarely seen anywhere else. Levis and Starbucks continue to be Trendy. KFC convinced the entire nation of Japan that we Americans all order out for buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve, so it became the trendy thing to do. They sell out, you need to reserve your bucket in advance!

Many trends in Japan become successful in the US as well, and many don't, and vice-versa. Just chalk it up to cultural differences. For whatever reason, Xbox 360 didn't become the trendy thing to get, so it's languishing on the shelves. It had nothing to do with it being an American product, and less to do with it being a "good" product or not. OK, so maybe it had a little to do with the titles (not) available for it at launch, but hey. :)

Now excuse me, my Tamagotchi's hungry.