Like most of the world, Japan is struggling along and trying to cope with the Pandemic. As the seriousness of the crisis began to make itself known, Japanese lawmakers swiftly concluded that many of the steps being considered or taken in other countries (obligatory wearing of masks, travel restrictions, stay at home orders, etc.) would be in highly controversial under the terms of the Japanese constitution.
By David Buckley
Recently Retired — President, Copyrights Asia Ltd.
Instead, states of emergency have been temporarily declared, relaxed, and occasionally re-instated in many of Japan’s 47 prefectures. The various governors operating in the affected prefectures can and do “strongly request “ that individuals and businesses act with “jishuku” (self-restraint) in going about their lives and work. The result has been a sort of “soft lockdown” under which most of the country has voluntarily refrained from many of their normal activities and with shops and restaurants temporarily closing or operating under restricted hours while urging social distancing. Most office workers have been granted permission to work from home at least part of the time. With no regulations in place there are no penalties to be mandated. From a health point of view, social pressure seems to be enough to contain the worst effects of the coronavirus and its spread (as of the end of September, fewer than 2,000 deaths due to the pandemic have been recorded).
However, and again like most of the world, the effects on retail in general and on licensing in particular have been severe. E-commerce was already well developed and popular in Japan and it seems to be unique in claiming some growth. Unfortunately, brick-and-mortar retailers are suffering from lack of customer traffic as customers stay home or make only brief forays into shopping areas to make pre-planned purchases or to grab a quick bite. A recent visit to a very large shopping mall near Tokyo on a usually very busy Friday afternoon found most shops empty except for masked store clerks and the normally clogged corridors largely abandoned, the few customers present were sadly mostly unburdened by shopping bags.
2020 began on a very high note with the Summer Olympics expected to bring in thousands of foreign visitors not just for the Games but to enjoy a long list of special activities and attractions scheduled for the year. In particular, many department stores, museum spaces, etc. had signed license and other agreements to host some spectacular exhibitions and events. Due to standing commitments, many of these have gone forward but are being forced to operate under very restricted access or temporary closures. The Olympics are currently rescheduled for next summer and many of the planned events have extended their schedules so there is hope that next year will see a resurgence of activity and the release of a great amount of pent up demand.
In the meantime, licensing partners are doing their best to promote their businesses despite the challenges. Local brands and characters continue to lead the way. With consumers spending more time at home, gaming is doing particularly well as are game-based licensed products. Likewise, television/streamed-video have expanded their fan base and are sharing the benefits of this popularity with co-branded merchandise products and promotions.
Perhaps a more uniquely Japanese promotion idea has been the expanding popularity of decorated manhole covers throughout the country as a way to promote tourism (and royalty revenues). This year the city of Tokorozawa in cooperation with anime publisher Kadokawa has installed 28 different licensed manhole covers in the area around the city’s main train station and featuring such popular anime characters as Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. These manhole covers are not only decorated and painted with character art but they are also solar powered and light up the streets from 6PM to 2AM! Even during trying times, one of the great things about licensing is that there is always something left that hasn’t been licensed yet.