Advertisement

A long recession in the UK may trigger Japanese-style inventiveness

Hello Kitty: One of the most recognisable characters - and brands - on Earth Photo: ITV News

Nine out of ten women... know who Hello Kitty is.

That fact was provided by the character's marketing people but, here in Japan, I'm inclined to believe it.

The cat's unblinking face stares out from myriad products: From mouse mats (irony, surely) to credit cards to purses to put them in. There are even Taiwanese passenger jets flown by EVA Air that are branded with Hello Kitty.

The character isn't new but four years ago she started earning her keep in a very different way. That's when Ray Hatoyama joined the board of Sanrio, the company which owns the rights to her image.

Mr Hatoyama is the antithesis of the Japanese executive. He's only 38 for a start, and he turns up to our interview wearing a Mr Tickle t-shirt (although since Sanrio now owns the rights to the Mr Men and Little Miss series it's business attire of sorts).

The owners of the Hello Kitty brand don't make goods so much as licence them Credit: ITV News

Sanrio used to manufacture the Hello Kitty goods itself, in traditional Japanese style, and ran the shops that sold them.

But Ray Hatoyama has ditched the factories and shifted the company's focus towards very liberal licensing, especially in international markets. It removes the risk of holding large inventories and allows the company to focus on developing the character and licensing.

The strategy is paying off handsomely: Sanrio's operating profit has trebled since Mr Hatoyama joined.

Nissan's factory in Japan makes cars destined for the domestic market Credit: ITV News

As economic growth at home in Japan has dwindled, companies like Sanrio are becoming innovative.

The manufacturing heart of the country is being damaged by the strength of the Yen which makes exports eye-wateringly expensive.

So some, like the car manufacturer Nissan, are taking their production abroad - into the very markets where they sell the cars. It avoids the currency fluctuations and is often cheaper than manufacturing in Japan.

In an ironic twist, Nissan recently started importing to Japan its own cars made in Thailand - a boon for the company if somewhat bruising for national pride.

Nissan has moved to manufacturing closer to their customers Credit: ITV News

Nissan still makes cars in Japan of course, but they are destined for the domestic market - just as the cars made at Nissan's plant in Sunderland stay in Britain.

Can British companies emulate these models? Everyone I have spoken to here thinks they can, but they speak of a reluctance among some of our executives.

Necessity is the mother of invention and a prolonged slowdown in the UK may trigger more inventive thinking