There was something wonderfully and oddly reassuring about the display that greeted me at the entrance to Muji at Tokyo Midtown on Wednesday morning. At first glance it could have been a promotion for the upcoming Golden Week travel season or perhaps a newly launched range of household products.
But closer inspection revealed something much more considered – even savvy. To the right, there was a row of neatly arranged wheelie suitcases in black nylon – complete with accompanying totes and satchels that could ride shotgun. On a large table to the left was a perfectly arranged display of aluminium flashlights in two sizes, stacks of glass tea-light holders and jumbo packs of candles. And in a shelving grid across the back wall there were bottles of water neatly stacked, gas burners, more candles, jars of antiseptic wipes and boxy white battery-operated radios.
CNN and other international broadcasters might have been conjuring up images of a city deserted and depleted but it was clear that the visual merchandising team at Muji HQ had more urgent concerns that included providing for their home market and also shoring up sales with some very clever displays.
For the record, a very large portion of the Japanese capital is getting on with business and blocking out images of Frenchmen, Brits, Americans and Australians queuing up at Narita airport for their flights out of the country. I arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday as planned and, while I had to check out a day early due to changes with flight schedules, everything that was booked into my calendar three weeks ago happened as planned – the meetings with advertising clients in Akasaka, the dinner with friends and collaborators in Meguro and the coffee summits with advertisers in and around Harajuku.
Hiroyuki Sasaki, CEO of retail group Tomorrowland, was doing the rounds at his latest venture A Supermarket (see a full report in our May issue) and inspecting the displays. With some sadness he explained that over 15 of his factories had been damaged or destroyed around Miyagi, but cracked a smile about the fact that everyone he worked with was OK.
At the headquarters of the holding company that owns the Mackintosh outerwear brand, Yagi Yozo was weighing up where he was going to open up his first Tokyo flagship store and how he was going to add more iconic elements to his collection. Aside from thanking me for making the effort to come to Japan, he didn’t mention the horrors of the past few days once.
And at the studios of architecture firm Wonderwall, founder Masamichi Katayama was of the view that the only way to help Japan recover was to keep working. “What else are we going to do?” he asked. “Where are we going to go? There is so much to be getting on with right now and we need to keep up this momentum. The last thing we should be doing is cancelling meetings and events.”
Unfortunately that’s exactly what is happening. Since Monday, one event after another has been postponed or struck from calendars as a collective sense of correctness and caution has started to take hold. While it may not be a time for celebration and festivities, it’s also not a time to be putting the brakes on commerce and events that bring people together. Japan needs to stay its course and stay strong – this means making clear to the world that it’s open for business.