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To deliver “stories” of Japan’s high-quality crafts in European market

Anime Consortium Japan Inc.

PROLOGUE

Authentic craft products nurtured through the ages amidst rich nature and diverse cultures of regional Japan embody sensitive skills and aesthetic senses of traditional values. These products can definitely be said to symbolize “Cool Japan.”There is one professional who has been delivering “stories” of authentic Japanese crafts in Paris, a city that reveres histories and authenticities: Yoshiaki Shiokawa, CEO of SAS ENIS. The company name implies a Japanese word enishi that means ”bond”. Mr. Shiokawa has tried to forge a bond between authentic Japanese crafts and European markets. In November 2015, Cool Japan Fund invested approximately 100 million yen. We interviewed Mr. Shiokawa to learn how authentic craft products from regional Japan work in European markets.

*Interviewed as of February 2016


PROFILE

Yoshiaki Shiokawa, CEO of SAS ENIS

Yoshiaki Shiokawa

Born in 1970. He majored Art History at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University. A year after graduate, he visited Paris to join the Master’s Program in Art History at Poitiers University. In 2011, Mr. Shiokawa founded SARL ISONO, former form of SAS ENIS. It aimed to introduce Japanese crafts in Europe to generate business transactions. Following the initial success of “Discover japan paris”, its first showroom with retail/wholesale functions, Mr.Shiokawa opened second facility named “Maison WA” in 2015 to enhance craft exports further.

chapter1 Prefectural governments and manufacturers work together to promote regional brands
SAS ENIS now has two facilities in the 1st arrondissement, the very heart of Paris, known as one of the most bustling travel district worldwide where the Paris Opera and the Louvre exist. The first facility “Discover japan paris” was opened in October 2011 with 60 m2 shop space, and the second facility “Maison WA” in September 2015 with three times larger footprint and meeting spaces for business discussions with local buyers. Both facilities hold themed events periodically to accurately and beautifully promote Japanese craft products with their background stories. SAS ENIS has helped a number of Japanese local authorities and related manufacturers to showcase and sell their regional authentic crafts. More than 50 promotional events have run so far.
Q.
What kind of promotional events do you produce?
Shiokawa
We run an event for around two to three weeks so as to well inform local buyers, consumers and media of the charms of the products. One important thing is to arrange the products from consumer perspectives. Local authorities of Japan often tend to bring all the products from their regions to put on display, but it does not work if various items are just displayed randomly. This is why we use our know-how, such as theming each event clearly.

For instance, we ran an event on the theme of “A Dinner Scene” with Gifu Prefecture famous for Mino tableware and kitchen knives. We utilized paper and designed plastics, also well-known in the region, for luncheon mats and coasters to endorse the message as a whole. This event was highly appreciated, and we ran another event “Gifu Wrapping”. Here we showcased giftwraps and origami made from Gifu paper to make local communities further aware of this prefecture.
Q.
You also work on Arita Ware from Saga Prefecture.
Shiokawa
We have formed a strong partnership with Saga Prefecture too, and run several promotional events annually, and now Arita has obtained a good brand recognition in Paris.

Some very hard-working individuals exist in both Gifu and Saga Prefectural Government and we have built mutual trusts with them. Good relationships among companies who manufacture high quality products in the regions also play a key role. These products only become of value once appreciated and actually used by local users, and prefectural governments and manufacturers have to work together to deliver unified brand messages. It’s always a team effort.
the 1st shop of SAS ENIS in the 1st arrondissement, the very heart of Paris

the 1st shop of SAS ENIS in the 1st arrondissement, the very heart of Paris

the 1st shop

the 1st shop

the 2nd shop

the 2nd shop


chapter2 Selling products that resonate in Parisian life-style
Good authentic Japanese crafts are regarded highly globally, but manufacturers generally do not possess local business functions or knowhow to realize sales in the overseas market: they fail to translate good reputations into business. To solve this issue, SAS ENIS helps to handle negotiations with local retailers, customs clearance, logistics or other procedures required for setting up a business in Europe on behalf of Japanese manufacturers. SAS ENIS’s deep understanding of cultures and commercial practices of both Japan and France make it possible. We asked how he sees the market.

the brochure of the promotion event for Mino and Arita tableware (September 2014)

Q.
You have lived in Paris for 20 years. What made you go to France?
Shiokawa
I have always been interested in art as seen in my resume. When you talk about art, Paris is the city of dreams. I joined at a university in Paris, and kept living there after graduation. I started working part-time at a copyright-related company primary to obtain a working visa. I never imagined I would become the CEO of that company though… (Smile).

I kept wondering what I really wanted to do. One thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to promote French goods to Japan but rather the other way around. Years ago, people living in France had shown little interest in Japanese products. I believed there was a chance, and stepped ahead to take a challenge to open a shop in 2011, where they could see and feel good authentic Japanese crafts. Recognition has changed gradually, I now see even bento boxes, a sophisticated form of luncheon bags, well attract French people.
Q.
How did the Parisians react initially?
Shiokawa
Not so bad. Carefully selected products and the store’s unique atmosphere to deliver “stories” attracted local people, although it did not fit a traditional retail theory to lineup well-selling items only. Showcased Japanese goods were perceived very favorably. Initially, we displayed products with both “traditional” and “modern” designs to investigate local interests, and contrary to expectations we found Parisians overwhelmingly snapped up the former. Now, we tend to display mainly traditional items; pottery, small handicrafts with patterns used for kimonos, and so on.

Japanese and French people are very similar in the sense that they want to live a humane life surrounded by good things. This is probably why diverse authentic craftworks shaped by daily life in regions of Japan resonate in the hearts of Parisians. However, the ordinary lives of French people are different from those in Japan. Without taking the Parisian style of consumption into consideration, you might not sell anything at all, even if they show interests in your product. This is why manufacturers ask SAS ENIS to help to test reactions to obtain hints for improving their products or their way of selling in local European market.
Arita set up their booth at general exhibitions in Paris (left),

Arita set up their booth at general exhibitions in Paris (left),
then they showcase the products at SAS ENIS

then they showcase the products at SAS ENIS

chapter3 Creating shops that last long
Mr. Shiokawa says that one main reason French people are favorably disposed toward Japanese things is the influence of manga. He smiles, saying that it may be because many Japanese manga feature characters with no clear nationality, and non-Japanese can also read manga as their own stories. Mr. Shiokawa has lived half his life in Japan and half in France, he has contemplated the similarities and differences between two countries. We asked him what dreams he has for the future, based on the achievement so far; a solid presence and reliance by both local buyers and Japanese local authorities and manufacturers.
Q.
With your 2 facilities, what would you like to achieve next?
Shiokawa
Firstly, I simply want to create stronger facility recognitions where European people gather to find high-quality Japanese goods. If our stores are loved by locals and live 30 years from now, then business transactions between European market and Japanese regions will become more and more thicker, and Japanese craftspeople and creators will survive and grow globally, overcoming the difficulties caused by shrinking domestic economies.

Our business will not last long if we simply try to create shops that sell goods.For example, there is a shop in Paris named TORAYA, offering traditional Japanese sweets for 35 years, at the very same place. There we see a basic philosophy to introduce the authentic values of Japanese sweets in general. It now has core fans who frequently visit, almost daily. It requires patience. Investment from Cool Japan Fund will help us accelerate our business to deliver “stories” of Japanese craft products to build solid business bases for manufacturers in Europe. I will keep telling core values of high-quality goods from various regions of Japan. We will grow together.
ロゴ

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