Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Japan. Temples, a Coke and a Toy

1970, I was sent to Japan to replace the creative director for three months. The previous one disappeared or something like that, and the new one was due in three months. I went alone for the first month and then my wife and son, who was five years old, joined me for the rest of the time.

Japan was disarming, modern buildings, traffic, color, hustle, at first glance it seemed almost normal until you realized you were on the other side of the moon. What a place, the most different country I had ever been to.
Wherever we went was a new experience. Ancient next to modern architecture, traffic and more traffic, amazing gardens, colorful clothing walking next to dark blue suits and always great food. A meal seemed to cost 50 cents or $120 plus, I never found anything in between.

The people were extremely polite and open in a very reserved way. Our son who was a blond kid with long curly hair (remember we had just come from London) was an instant hit and constantly being photographed with little Japanese kids.

Being a Greek American, even though we are friendly, I think we could learn something from the Japanese when it comes to politeness.

In art school the Japanese woodcuts and brush paintings always impressed me. What surprised me is that Japan actually looks like that, soft scenery, misty, moody, as if seen through a gauze screen.

I tried to make contact with the Japanese creative department, all one hundred and sixty of them. I asked them to wear nametags, and as I recognized them, and remembered their names, they took them off. Two guys drove me crazy, every time I recognized them, they would exchange their nametags. They got great pleasure from this, and so did the rest of the department, to my great confusion, the Abbott and Costello of McCann Tokyo.

The general staff spoke very little English and my poor secretary, who translated for me, never got to finish a meal. When I spoke she translated, the others ate, when they spoke she translated, I ate. She lost weight while I was there, poor Mariko.

When we had parties after work and drank, the creative guys were allowed to carry on, and even lift me and carry me around; booze was the excuse. Some good parties, even though I was mostly off the ground.

When my wife and son were there we went to Kyoto for a weekend.
It is a wonderful city, with amazing temples. My wife loves to visit anything of importance, and in Kyoto that meant temples, temples and more temples.
It was August; the temperature must have been over one hundred at 10:00 am in the morning. At our third temple, none of which I could tell apart, our five year old rebelled, thanks heavens. He said “ I do not want to see another %&+ing temple, I want a Coke and a toy”. Bless you kid, I took him for a Coke and a toy, I had a gin and tonic and my wife admired my devotion to our son. Thanks Paul, I did not want to see another temple that morning either.

This was one of the most memorable three months of my life, personally as well as professionally.

We did an ad for band-aids, we said it was like a mothers kiss, neat idea.
The commercial was shot with a cute Japanese mom kissing her baby’s cut and then putting a band-aid on it. “Just like a mother’s kiss”. Simple idea, we thought it should do well in research, wrong, big bomb. Nobody could figure out what was wrong. Another Japanese creative looked at it and said we should re-shoot it with a western woman and child. Japanese mothers didn’t do that, but they would understand and relate to it if they were westerners.
Great success, the campaign ran for years." J&J band-aids, just like a Mothers Kiss".

They are different, but down deep, exactly the same.

When you go to Japan, remember, after enough temples, get a Coke and a toy, it helps, or a gin and tonic might help even more.

1 comment:

  1. Is there any place you haven't been? Very funny story and very typical of the inscrutable Japanese. Especially their humor.

    Loved the story.