A look inside a business trade event in Japan - Tokyo Pack

Posted by Joanne Hunter
Tokyo Pack

For the third year running, Joanne Hunter has stalked the aisles for what's best, brilliant and sometimes a bit bewildering about Japanese packaging shows. This year, she visited Tokyo Pack, a biennial event that focuses on materials and design.

You can learn a lot about the way companies promote themselves externally and how they keep messages strong and consistent, by observing the Japanese work a trade show floor. With an often large team on stand duty, an interested visitor is not left alone for long before assistance arrives. On one level, such a responsive service is an extension of the friendliness that strangers to Tokyo typically encounter: on an underground station, you only have to pause with a map and furrowed brow before someone stops to help you out. In business, this jumping into action avoids the risk of a potentially valuable contact leaving with a less than perfect impression of a company; it certainly made a mere member of the press feel valued.

The practice of hiring an external public relations and communications agency is far from commonplace in Japan. Staff with product marketing responsibilities are as happy to deal with the press as they are with customers. Accessibility is key in Japanese packaging design and in all areas of life. No surprise then that someone wearing an “English Speaker” armband is easily found on most stands. Product summaries with English translations that served as introductions to many of the exhibits were also helpful.

Japanese exhibitors are not in the habit of producing printed handouts. Photography is discouraged, tolerated only if you wear a “Press” armband. Visitors go home with very little paper and hardly any give-aways. This could be down to a couple of factors: a country-wide, general crackdown on waste and wasteful behaviour, and a desire and the need to protect intellectual property.

So, compared to European trade shows, the Tokyo Pack visitor experience is very different, and the contrast may be even more noticeable for a member of the press. Only exhibitors with European and American collaborators supply press materials and photography on USB 'sticks' and companies rarely use the press room to distribute information. Nor is it easy to find detailed information in English on the web – an advantage for the sole native English-speaking packaging industry correspondent at Tokyo Pack.

Perhaps the marked differences in exhibition style are a manifestation of the cultural divide between an island nation with a
deep-rooted set of values, and Europe's patchwork of countries with shared borders, familiar customs and widespread use of English in business circles. In
addition, Tokyo Pack is run independently and outside the influence of an international events organisation, by the Japan Packaging Institute. As a result, this exhibition retains both a national and an industry identity, and its own unique character.

The Japanese have a great deal of respect for history and tradition and do things in their own, inimitable way, certainly when conducting business. Here, propriety and protocol are important and dictate how commercial relationships will develop. Although companies engage characteristic caution and meticulous care when showing their corporate face to the public, they also allow humour to creep in. This year, multi-media spectacles kept crowds temporarily pinned to the spot: a spoof newscast reported 'breaking news' and a dynamic illuminated stand sign flashed above people's heads, like in New York’s Times Square. The fun and fast-paced action definitely was turned up a notch for the show. Bravo!

Joanne Hunter
Print and online editor