Toward the end of every year, Japan’s print media and many business organizations look back on “hit products” whose successes helped define consumer spending over the previous 12 months.
The term hitto shōhin (hit products) is credited to the 日経流通新聞 (Nikkei Ryutsu Shimbun, Nikkei Marketing Journal), a thrice-weekly newspaper covering retailing and marketing that was launched in 1971. Seeking to generate publicity for their nascent publication, the Nikkei decided to emulate a 相撲番付 (sumo banzuke), a stylized list of wrestler rankings issued just before the start of each grand sumo tournament. As in sumo, the winning products were arrayed in a hierarchy with 横綱 (yokozuna, grand champion) in large characters at the top, with the East side, which predominates, contending against the West side. The two yokozuna are followed in descending order by pairs of 大関 (ōzeki, champions), 関脇 (sekiwake, junior champions), 小結 (komusubi, 4th-ranked wrestlers) and about a dozen 前頭 (maegashira, rank-and-file contenders).
During the 経済成長期 (keizai seichō-ki, period of economic growth) from the late 1950s, Japan’s consumers would snatch up almost anything. But by the early 1970s, markets for many goods became saturated and consumers began getting picky. So inclusion on the Nikkei’s hit list, in addition to earning publicity, acknowledges a company’s ability to identify and exploit shifts in market demand.
In the NMJ’s 2012 banzuke, which appeared last Dec. 4, Tokyo SkyTree and 7-inch tablet computers were picked as East and West yokozuna. The SkyTree’s success is indisputable; it was expected to easily surpass the 32 million visitors — one-quarter of Japan’s population — initially projected for its first year of operation.
As ozeki, the NMJ named LCC (low-cost carriers) and Line, a multilingual communication app from Naver Japan Co. that allows smartphone users to make voice calls and send messages free of charge. The two sekiwake were Honda’s economical N BOX minicar and Toyo Suisan’s bestselling Maru-chan Shomen noodles. And as the two komusubi, the renovated Hankyu department store at Osaka’s Umeda Station and Kirin Beverage’s new Mets Cola were picked.
The NMJ also singled out certain people and items for special mentions. The 殊勲賞 (shukun-shō, outstanding performance prize) went to ハチロク・ビーアールゼット (hachiroku/BRZ, the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ), the high-performance sports coupe developed and sold jointly by the two automakers.
The 技能賞 (ginō-shō, technique prize) went to ダルビッシュ有 (Texas Rangers’ rookie pitcher Yu Darvish). Two 話題賞 (wadai–shō), controversy prizes) went to the annular solar eclipse of May 21 and the ニコニコ超会議 (Nico Nico Cho Kaigi), a two-day event last April organized by online video host Niwango, which attracted 92,384 visitors to the convention site and over 3.47 million more online.
NMJ also conferred its 残念賞 (zannen-shō, booby prize) on 平清盛 (Taira no Kiyomori), NHK’s Sunday-night taiga drama (yearlong historical romance), noting 最低視聴率を再び更新した (saitei shichōritsu wo futatabi kōshin shita, it set a new, all-time low for audience ratings).
The Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. issues its own annual list, named 2012年ヒット商品番付 (2012 nen hitto shōhin banzuke, the list of 2012 hit products). Its two yokozuna, on east and west respectively, were iPS細胞 (iPS saibō, induced pluripotent stem cells) and Tokyo SkyTree, followed by Tokyo central rail station (East ozeki only, no West was selected); tablet PCs and LCCs (sekiwake); and Maru-chan Shomen noodles and the AQUA hybrid compact car from Toyota (komusubi).
The Rakuten Ichiba shopping portal also issued a list named 楽天市場ヒット商品番付 (Rakuten Ichiba hitto shōhin banzuke). Its two yokozuna for 2012 were 酵素 (kōso, enzyme-related products, including beverages and women’s cosmetics) and 国民総スマホ (kokuminsō sumaho, general population with smartphones) i.e, everyone in Japan has a smartphone.
One notch down, at champion, were リファービッシュ家電 (rifābisshu kaden, refurbished appliances) and ハロウィン文化定着 (harowin bunka teichaku, Halloween culture becoming established). I noted with interest the website’s observation: 一部の若者のイベントだった「ハロウィン」が今年は一気に一般に浸透 (ichibu no wakamono no ibento datta “harowin” ga kotoshi wa ikki ni ippan ni shintō, “Halloween,” which had been an event for a segment of young people, this year all at once permeated to the general population).
Finally, we surely cannot not overlook 電通 (Dentsu). Each year Japan’s largest advertising agency generates an annual list it calls 生活者が選ぶ2012年の話題・注目商品ベスト２０ (seikatsusha ga erabu 2012-nen no wadai/chūmoku shōhin besuto 20, the 20 best controversial and distinctive products for 2012 as picked by ordinary consumers), which is obtained by polling 1,000 regular citizens. For its top five items, Dentsu, which has chosen to dispense with the sumo format, picked smartphones, Tokyo SkyTree, Facebook and other social network services, ロボット掃除機 (robotto sōjiki, robot vacuum cleaners) and 塩麹 (shio kōji, a seasoning made from salted rice malt).