I don’t know a hell of a lot about Japan Home Centre. It’s a good place to buy cheap bleach or Drano, I’ll give it that. I did find out, in looking into my grievance with the chain, that despite the name, Japan Home Centre has no relation to the country of Japan. A Hong Kong firm, it started out as ‘International Housewares’ in 1991, selling HK$10 knick knacks before going on to specialise in housewares. A quick google search shows that Japan Home Centre stores are scattered around Asia in places like the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and even New Zealand. Hong Kong’s the sweet spot though, with a branch on just about every corner. When your toilet just wont flush, it’s nice to know help is nearby. In 2012, the Japan Home Centre group approached a branding agency called ‘CBA Asia’ to do something about the word ‘Japan’ in the store’s name. Apparently, research had been indicating that it was hindering the growth of the retailer in Asia in view of resonant political issues such as the ‘Daioyutai Islands’ consumer boycott. 2012 was a touchy year for China and Japan in the long history of the disputed islands. Here’s some of the highlights that had the CEO’s at Japan Home Centre going into public relations meltdown:
August 14, 2012: Hong Kong activists reach the disputed islands by sea for the first time since 1996, with seven activists disembarking onto the island.
August 19, 2012: Ten Japanese activists swim ashore and raise Japanese flags on the island chain.
September 10, 2012: Japan’s government says it has decided to purchase the disputed islands from a private Japanese owner in an effort, Tokyo claims, aimed at diffusing territorial tensions.
September 14, 2012: Six Chinese surveillance ships sail into waters around the Diaoyu Islands to assert China’s territorial claims and for “law enforcement”, leaving after seven hours.
September 15, 2012: The biggest anti-Japanese protests since China and Japan normalised diplomatic relations in 1972 are held in cities across China. The Japanese embassy in Beijing is besieged by thousands of protesters throwing rocks, eggs and bottles.
September 16, 2012: Anti-Japanese protests break out in dozens of mainland cities for a second day. In some cities peaceful protests turn violent as protesters clash with policemen, attack Japanese made cars and smash up Japanese restaurants.
September 17, 2012: Some major Japanese firms such as Toyota and Honda temporarily shut factories and offices across China.
September 18, 2012: Two Japanese activists land on the Diaoyu Islands while widespread anti-Japanese protests have been held across China at the anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria.
So, with the dispute red hot, CBA Asia was called in to clean up Japan Home Centre’s image so that racists could still shop there. CBA Asia claim in their ‘manifesto’ to specialise in ‘brands with soul that can inspire our daily lives’ and in generating an ’emotional connection between brands and consumers’. Holy shit, they sound great! According to CBA Asia’s website, the masterstroke in rebuilding Japan Home Centre’s image was to design a new symbol representing 2 hands gathered into the ‘reconstitution of a roof’ and to shorten the name ‘Japan Home Centre’ to JHC. The new branding was deployed at the end of summer in 2013 and everybody went home happy…funnily enough there are plenty of branches around Hong Kong still sporting the full ‘Japan’ label. Maybe the head honchos at Japan Home Centre hit the panic button too soon and didn’t give the Daioyutai Islands dispute the couple of weeks it needed to cool down, for people to forget all about it and to go back to buying this summer’s new arrivals in rice cookery. Who knows.
While I do think it’s strange that a Hong Kong company opted for the word ‘Japan’ in the first place (maybe they wanted to impart a sense of class for their business or to bask in the perceived reflected glory of a much more sophisticated nation…or maybe they just thought Hong Kong Home Centre sounded like some sort of homeless shelter or something), I don’t think it’s really that strange that in 2012 they sought the help of expert branders to steer their image away from controversy. Chinese/ Japanese relations are on a slippery slope at the best of times…might be a good idea to get rid of the ‘Japan’ association, especially if you want to crack on into the big Chinese market as time goes by.
But whatever! I don’t have a problem with any of that. The big business issues of cultural & racial tension based consumer backlash are very ‘adult’ and a bit too high-brow or something for me. I just sit back snickering and tee-heeing at that sort of stuff. I keep imagining the geniuses at CBA Asia sitting around the old think-tank spitballing ideas about how to make ‘Japan Home Centre’ seem…less Japanese…which, to me, is pretty damn funny.
But it’s not all beer & skittles, dust brooms & cheap saucepans…I’ll tell you something that isn’t funny at all…something so mind bogglingly rage inducing it makes you want to rampage through Japan Home Centre, JHC, or the Culturally Neutral Unit Shifting Centre, or whatever the fuck it’s called, with a huge splintery baseball bat, crashing shelves and smashing glassware and bludgeoning the electrical appliance section into jagged piles of twisted steel…and that’s the hatefully loud, objectionably intrusive, in-store looped PA system hawking policy. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just watch this video. I think it goes for about 4 minutes…but you wont even make it through 1.
That’s right…it’s looped hawking BLARING from speakers placed strategically around the shop to FUCK WITH YOUR EARS and make you buy paper plates, sanitary pads and a thousand other things you didn’t go in there for. It’s a relentless shopping experience. Every time I go into ‘JHC’ I’m like a lab rat that doesn’t know where to stand. I go over here and KA-SMASH, I’m being assaulted by some stupid moron yelling at me about half priced plastic spoons…I run away…but right into the teeth of another hidden speaker screaming at me about toothpicks. There’s nowhere to stand that doesn’t make my ears bleed. The decibels coming out of the speakers are almost visible. The air is rupturing all around me…being raped over and over again…tongue lashed by that horrible piercing voice and it never stops…it wont ever stop while the shop is open. For the love of god…turn it off…I’m already in your store…I’m already innnnnnn!! Stop hustling me…stop hawking at me, I’m already shopping…I’m already shopping!!
Let’s take a look at the Japan Home Centre end of quarter business report card. Zero out of 10 for your flash in the pan knee jerk culturally neutral re-branding that you didn’t even fully go through with because the Daioyutai Islands issue disappeared from the news after 2 seconds, saving you the need to have to bother to change the signage on all your branches. Zero out of 10 for you and your marketing people who came up with this boorish, blunt, typically Hong Kong sales strategy rubbish: WELCOME TO JHC WHERE WE BEAT YOU REPETITIVELY OVER THE HEAD AND STAB YOUR EARS GOOD AND HARD AND HUSTLE YOU OVER & OVER & OVER AGAIN WHILE YOU’RE SHOPPING WITH LOOPED SUPER LOUD HAWKING THAT YOU CAN’T HIDE OR ESCAPE FROM ABOUT PRODUCTS YOU DID NOT COME FOR AND HAVE NO INTENTION OF BUYING. And while I’m at it, a big fat zero for your association with flimflam artists, CBA Asia, and their stupid inanities about emotional bonds between brands and consumers. That’s a grand total of zero. Keep up the good work.
It could be worse I suppose…at least the staff in Japan Home Centre generally leave you the fuck alone, unlike so many other shops in Hong Kong where you’re stalked and eyed suspiciously by salespeople or leered at by dickheads telling you about your fantastic ‘free gift, free gift!’ with every $1000 purchase…but then again, if I was working all day in Japan Home Centre, I’d have no time for stalking customers…I’d be focusing every ounce of my energy on not going completely and utterly bat-shit-insane from having to endure the relentlessly cruel, loud, crude hawking that viciously stabs and snarls at you from every wall.