Japan’s Good Design Award just got better. Or, at least, broader.

First awarded in 1957, those snappy little red “G” marks that are worn proudly on the packaging of recipients have become ubiquitous in this country. Now, with the opening in central Hong Kong of the first full-time spin-off store, the Japan Institute of Design Promotion (JDP), which organizes the award, are getting serious about going global.

“Japanese manufacturers are looking more to overseas Asia as a market, so it makes sense for us to direct our attention to Hong Kong — both as a market itself and as a gateway to the rest of the region,” explained JDP’s Masami Kawaguchi at a recent interview in Tokyo.

After hearing about the opportunity of renting space within PMQ, a new multi-tenant design complex in Hong Kong, Kawaguchi and the JIPD team decided the time was right to set up a store where they would sell past winning products bearing the G-mark.

PMQ was, in the words of its director Wiliam To, “very happy” to welcome a high-profile Japanese design brand into the fold, and thus the deal was done. The new store opened May 1, offering some 90 products, including everything from Staedtler Nippon’s Avant-Garde Pens and Adachishiki Kogyo’s Paper Made paper knives to Issey Miyake’s In-ei paper lights and Sori Yanagi’s classic Butterfly Stools.

As its name suggests, JDP’s primary goal is the promotion of Japanese design, and the store will contribute in terms of taking well-designed products directly to the Hong Kong market — even if its modest size (60 sq. meters) means it can only present a fraction of the 38,000-plus products that have received the award since 1957.

But Kawaguchi revealed a second, more important objective behind JDP’s decision to set up a permanent presence overseas.

“We essentially operate a royalty business,” she explained. “If a product wins a Good Design Award, the manufacturer pays us for the right to put the G-mark on their packaging and promotional materials.”

Of course, manufacturers are only going to pay for G-marks if they think they will have a positive impact on sales. In Japan, that’s a given. It is reported that some 88 percent of the domestic population recognizes the G-mark and 65 percent knows what it signifies. The problem is getting the same recognition from overseas consumers.

“As Japanese manufacturers start targeting other Asian markets, we need to continue to make sure that the G-mark remains useful to them,” Kawaguchi said.

It seems the plan may be paying off. Kawaguchi reported that well-heeled Hong Kong consumers are being drawn to the store and are snapping up not only the cheaper items of stationery, but more expensive pieces, too.

Wooden tea canisters by Gatomikio, which retail in Japan for more than ¥12,000 each, are apparently selling well. So too is a selection of hardware tools that were written about in a local magazine. Old Casio watches, as well as more recent award-winning Nikon and Canon digital cameras are also attracting attention.

“Of course, things like cameras are available in local electronics stores, too, but when you sell such things in a design store, you expose it to a different kind of market and enhance its reputation,” Kawaguchi explained.

The response to the Gatomikio tea canisters is particularly pleasing, Kawaguchi said, because it’s an example of the kind of product that wouldn’t otherwise be available abroad.

“A lot of small Japanese manufacturers haven’t felt the need in the past to take on the overseas market. We want to help them make that jump, and with the shop in Hong Kong, it really just means getting them to send us their products,” Kawaguchi said. “We can take it from there.”

Asked if JPD has plans to open similar stores in other countries, Kawaguchi said she was open to offers.

She noted that retailers from other Asian countries have seen the new Hong Kong store and are now enquiring about setting up G-mark-branded shelves or sections within existing specialist design stores.

“It is still early days, but something along those lines will probably be our next step,” Kawaguchi said.

Watch our video report of last year’s Good Design exhibition here.

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