Design Marketing

29th March 2016

The Japanese Approach to Advertising

by Jamie Ker, Designer

The first thing that strikes you when you get into central Tokyo is the sheer volume of advertising shoved in your face.

It’s a total sensory overload! 60 foot wide TV screens (loudly) playing J-Pop, an articulated lorry with numerous flashing lights and music blaring meandering along the street and with girls running alongside handing out flyers. Or guys in Daft Punk-esque robot outfits advertising the ‘Robot Restaurant’ show (think those Medieval Nights type of shows, just a lot more Japanese) and that’s before I mention the bright, flashing neon that’s plastered to practically every surface you see.

When I pictured myself getting out of Shinjuku station I thought it’d be quite overwhelming, and to be honest, it was. With around 13 million people in an area just over 2km, space is at a little bit of a premium and advertising space is even less! Restaurants and bars don’t always occupy ground floor or basement premises though, they can be on the 6th floor of a 12-floor building and the only way to find them is to look up and hopefully see the name of the place you’re looking for.


Probably my favourite example though came in the form of a 10-foot wide mechanical crab. The Kani Doraku Crab Restaurant in Shinjuku, which is part of a chain, so there’s a fair few of these big mad robot crabs kicking about the claws and legs move, as various songs blare from speakers underneath, drawing in tourists and locals alike for 12 hours a day. Every time I went past it was mobbed, and it would be easy to bump into one of the many people taking photos or selfies with it. It did make me think of Edinburgh, when Kyloe, the steak place in the West End, was forced to remove a fibreglass cow from it’s window as it wasn’t in-keeping with the area. Hard to imagine what the council would make of a muckle moving crab.

The most distinctive, and what in most people’s minds is the “most Japanese”, is called the Kawaii style of advertising. It usually involves cute cartoon type characters, the most famous of which is probably Hello Kitty. It’s always very colourful, which suits the cartoon look, and the Japanese have historically culturally embraced colour, like the bright reds and greens seen on their shrines and temples, as well as all the bright colours seen on kimonos. It started off in the 70’s almost as a rebellion to the strict upbringing a lot of Japanese youths were used to. Even now, Japanese people can work crazy hours – workplace stress, pressure and expectation is still a big problem there and this youthful acting out is seen as the total opposite of that. Even though it looks like its for kids, adults of both sexes embrace it, you’d be surprised how many guys phone covers have a little Hello Kitty or Pokémon keychain hanging off it.

Cosplay is a further example of that, walk in the Harajuku area on a Sunday and half the people you see will be dressed up as Anime characters, or creepy dolls that give me the fear.

It’s also used in places you wouldn’t expect, not just advertising. The funniest example I saw was these Hello Kitty road safety barriers.


It’s also pretty common to see cute cartoon characters giving safety warnings at construction sites, or on a fire hydrant. I certainly found them much more noticeable, which in turn means they are more likely to be paid attention to.

Japan’s often seen as quite a serious country, so seeing things like this being used so prominently was pretty cool.

It would be nice to see it here too, but I can’t imagine a workie on a cold December morning humphing a load of Hello Kitty road barriers about…

Jamie Ker, Designer

The Japanese Approach to Advertising