Early on the morning of Dec. 6, I shivered my way out of a warm futon to head down the street and purchase a copy of the 日経 MJ (Nikkei Marketing Journal). Every year, I make it a point not to miss this issue because there on the first page, in heavy, sumo-style calligraphy, is the 2017年ヒット商品番付 (Nisenjūnana nen hitto shōhin banzuke, ranking of hit products for 2017). Now in its 47th year, it’s one of the most successful marketing brainstorms in the history of Japanese journalism.
Formerly known as the 日経流通新聞 (Nikkei Ryūtsū Shimbun) when established in 1971, the thrice-weekly newspaper covering retailing and distribution came up with the promotional idea to announce the year’s most successful products and services in a manner that mimicked rankings of sumo wrestlers, with east and west 横綱 (yokozuna, grand champion) at the top, and working down the ranks with 大関 (ōzeki, champion), 関脇 (sekiwake, junior champion) and so on.
This year’s headline read: 決まり手は ウチ充 (kimarite wa uchi jū). Kimarite means “winning move” or “determining factor” and Uchi-jū is a play on the term リア充 (ria-jū), which means a person who is satisfied with his or her real life, in other words リアルが充実している人 (riaru ga jūjitu shiteiru hito, someone whose real world, as opposed to the virtual world, is fulfiling). Jū comes from 充たす (mitasu, to satisfy or fulfill).
Uchi is written in katakana so it can provide a double meaning as either “inside” or “home,” as in 人それぞれが心の内に抱える思いや悩みに作用する商品・サービスも効き目は 大きかった (Hito sorezore ga kokoro no uchi ni kakaeru omoi ya nayami ni sayō suru shōhin/sābisu mo kikime wa ōkikatta, “Products and services that gave a major fix effect on the thoughts or concerns each person holds in their mind”). The headline could therefore be read in English as “The winning choices in creating a satisfying home/inside.”
The yokozuna of successful products and services of the past 12 months are アマゾン・エフェクト (Amazon efekuto, the Amazon Effect) — more of a phenomenon as the U.S. company’s Japan subsidiary expanded its product range to fresh foods and streaming of TV and movies — and 任天堂ゲーム機 (Nintendo gēmu ki, Nintendo game units), including Nintendo’s Switch — the company’s stab at a “hybrid” game console/portable. Since its launch in March, the Kyoto-based manufacturer sold 10 million units worldwide as of Dec. 10.
Behind ōzeki, retiring vocalist Namie Amuro and AI speakers, the two sekiwake are the Ginza Six shopping complex on the former site of the Matsuzakaya department store and スタートトゥデイ「ゾゾタウン」 (sutāto toudei zozotaun, Start Today “Zozo Town”), self-described as Japan’s largest online retailer of apparel and accessories.
One notch below at 小結 (komusubi, junior champion second rank) are シワ取り 化粧品 (shiwatori keshōhin, anti-wrinkle cosmetics), from Pola and Shiseido, and 睡眠 負債商品 (suimin fusai shōhin, goods aimed at alleviating insomnia).
The うんこ漢字ドリル (unko kanji doriru, kanji poop drills) to help children master kanji, featured previously in this column, is in eighth place. Adults might find them gross, but close to 2.8 million copies have been sold so far.
The NMJ also conferred a 残念賞 (zannen-sho, booby prize) on プレミアム・フライデー (Premium Friday), the government’s attempt to encourage companies to let employees leave the workplace early on the last Friday of each month, in the hope of stimulating consumption. For reasons of bad timing, among others, the idea flopped.
The NMJ no longer enjoys a monopoly on naming hits. The affiliated monthly magazine Nikkei Trendy issues its own list of hits each December.
Observing its 30th anniversary this year, Trendy invited 398 companies to pick the greatest hits of the past three decades. The top 10, with the year they became popularized following in parentheses are: 1. スマート フォン (sumātofon, smart phones, 2011); 2. Line (rain, Line smartphone apps, 2012); 3. インターネット (intānetto, the Internet, 1996); 4. ユニクロ (yunikuro, casual clothing retailer Uni-Qlo, 2000); 5. J リーグ (jei riigu, professional soccer J League, 1993); 6. 携帯電話 (keitai denwa, mobile phones); 7. コンビニコーヒー (konbini kōhii, coffee at convenience stores, 2013); 8. たまごっち (Tamagotchi virtual pet, 1997); 9. プリウス (Prius hybrid car, 1998) and 10. フェイスブック (feisu bukku, Facebook, 2011).
And what’s the greatest hit product of all time? In this writer’s opinion, you need to go back almost 60 years, to August 1958, when Honda Motor Company launched sales of its 50cc Super Cub. Changes and improvements have been built into the fuel-stingy scooter, but its profile has changed so little it’s immediately recognizable.
A writer in the Sunday Mainichi magazine (Dec. 24) pointed out: カッブは海外でも評判が高く、今年10月には世界生産累計台数が1億台を突破 (Kabbu wa kaigai demo hyōban ga takaku, kotoshi jū gatsu ni wa sekai seisan ruikei daisū ga ichioku-dai o toppa, “The Cub is highly regarded overseas as well, and in October of this year, total worldwide production broke through the 100 million-unit mark”).