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Spreading smiles and happiness: Amuse's commitment to 'Kawaii Culture’

Interview - August 5, 2023

We sat down with president Katsumi Iijima to learn how Amuse's management philosophy creates joyful experiences for employees and customers alike

KATSUMI IIJIMA, CEO OF AMUSE CO., LTD.
KATSUMI IIJIMA | CEO OF AMUSE CO., LTD.

Every major character design house has a very distinct identity or style. For example big eyes for Nintendo's Yoshi, Sanrio's Hello Kitty and popular characters like Gudetama are instantly recognizable. How would you describe the Amuse character style?

Amuse's character style can be best described as emotionally engaging and empathetic, with a strong focus on effective communication and connection with humans. The distinctive identity and soul infused into our characters revolve around meticulously crafting their eyes and facial expressions, evoking a sense of relationship and healing for our audience.

Notably, we take pride in catering to various sectors, supplying products to zoo aquariums and addressing the unique demands of dinosaur museums with our realistic-looking characters. Concurrently, we recognize the immense appeal of the deformed kawaii character style, which has played a significant role in bolstering our sales.

As a company, we actively pursue the licensing business of our characters, extending their reach through short video animations featured on YouTube.

 

How has the prevailing demographic trend of Japan's declining and aging population influenced your company's day-to-day sales operations and design strategies?

Expanding the target audience range is of strategic significance for enhancing our business prospects, especially within Japan. Here, the appeal of kawaii items extends well beyond the conventional market for children and finds favor among adults as well.

We have thoughtfully customized our merchandising approach to cater to specific target audiences. Our diverse range of products, including small keychains and miniature plushies designed for bag accessorization, as well as larger stuffed animals suitable for use as pillows or cushions, are carefully curated to resonate with different preferences.

In our bag design, we have incorporated larger characters to attract children while utilizing smaller character prints for a more adult-friendly appeal. Recognizing the varying preferences of our customers, we offer backpacks and rucksacks for children and pouches for ladies.

This meticulous differentiation in our product range enables us to efficiently address our audience's diverse needs and preferences, further bolstering our market position and fostering increased engagement with our brand.

 

 

How did Amuse adapt its sales and marketing strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the stringent border control measures and the absence of inbound tourists in Japan? In particular, how did the company leverage the e-commerce and maintain its connection with overseas markets to sustain sales and reach its international audience during this challenging period?

During COVID-19, our company's e-commerce platform played a crucial role in sustaining our connection and sales with overseas markets. In response to the challenges posed by the pandemic, we strategically shifted our focus towards leveraging social media to effectively engage with our international audience. Recognizing the importance of catering to our global customers, we diligently provided product information and updates in multiple languages, including English, Korean and others. Japanese kawaii culture has garnered widespread global recognition, now regarded as a universal standard of cuteness. Armed with this cultural phenomenon, we are resolute in our commitment to actively promote and expand this concept across the globe.

 

As you explore opportunities to expand your sticker business to other applications besides LINE? Do you have any interest or plans to partner with messaging applications like Viber, Telegram or WhatsApp, which have a more global user base?

Our primary focus at the moment is to strategically promote the popularity of our characters through engaging YouTube animations, laying a robust foundation for our licensing business. As we envision making our stickers available on multiple platforms, our current efforts are directed toward fostering widespread recognition of our characters through captivating content.

Presently, we diligently upload animations featuring Higemanjyu on a weekly basis and MAMESHIBA SANKYOUDAI on a monthly basis. Moreover, we have exciting plans in motion for the production of animations centered around another character. Our ambitious undertaking, commencing this fall, entails expanding our character roster to six, each with their own dedicated animation on YouTube and TikTok every week.

We recognize the importance of achieving international success and expanding our brand presence beyond Japan's borders. As part of our proactive approach, we actively pursue collaborations with external animators, harnessing their expertise to effectively project our brand image on a global scale.

We have emphasized the licensing branding business as a key aspect of our overall strategy. While UFO catchers in amusement parks have traditionally been one of the main pillars of our business, we have faced challenges in remaining competitive due to the need for large but cost-effective UFO catchers.

Recognizing the evolving market dynamics, we have redirected our efforts toward creating a robust brand image, which we believe will ensure a steady income for our valued employees. This shift involves substantial investments in content creation, particularly animations, to allow our characters to penetrate the market effectively.

Undoubtedly, establishing a brand presence and gaining traction in the market requires significant investment and time. Nonetheless, it remains a crucial component of our current strategy to differentiate ourselves from competitors and expand our operations beyond Japan. As part of our diversified business approach, we are engaged in various ventures, including game center merchandise, omiyage or souvenirs, toy retail stores in shopping malls, domestic and international licensing, product distribution through overseas trading companies and e-commerce.

To bolster our global presence and appeal, we are making considerable investments in the content creation of our characters, a strategic move to pave the way for our branding business.

Amuse also includes character costumes as a significant aspect of our business operations. We offer these costumes on a complimentary basis to shopping malls and event organizers, a service that has proven instrumental in attracting and engaging audiences during various events. By showcasing our Amuse character costumes, we actively contribute to the growing popularity of our beloved characters.

Given the widespread recognition of our characters, particularly among the younger demographic, the sight of our life-sized characters generates genuine excitement among children with a strong affinity for them. Witnessing their cherished characters come to life creates a memorable and thrilling experience for these young enthusiasts.

Furthermore, we organize a special event called the "Nuidori" event, exclusively designed for owners of Amuse characters. During this event, participants have the opportunity to don character costumes, effectively transforming into the very plushies they hold dear. The Nuidori event is an enjoyable and immensely popular fan gathering, fostering a deep connection and empathy with our beloved characters.

In summary, our character costumes play a pivotal role in enhancing brand engagement, while the Nuidori event provides a delightful and unique platform for our dedicated community to immerse themselves in the world of our cherished characters.

The inception of our e-commerce venture primarily focused on catering to the wholesale market for our merchandise. While we engage in retail operations, the wholesale segment has proven more financially rewarding for our business. By offering wholesalers the chance to procure our products directly in bulk, we empower them to conduct their own ventures more efficiently.

Many individuals and businesses within Japan and overseas are well-acquainted with our esteemed characters. However, they may lack information about how to access our products through wholesalers. Establishing a direct channel through which we can efficiently dispatch our merchandise domestically and internationally in bulk will undoubtedly unlock fresh and promising opportunities for our company and our esteemed clients.

Those who know our characters in Japan and overseas don't know a wholesaler or how to procure our products. Our e-commerce initiative centered on wholesaling has proven to be a strategic move, enabling wholesalers to acquire our merchandise in larger quantities directly from us while extending our reach to customers worldwide who have, until now, faced challenges in procuring our products through traditional wholesale channels. Through this approach, we can facilitate the seamless distribution of our products, create new avenues of business development and forge strong and lasting partnerships with our valued clients.

 



Last month, you participated in the Tokyo Toy Show at Tokyo Big Sight. Are you also interested in actively joining toy exhibitions and shows overseas?

We are always on the lookout for valuable opportunities to showcase our exceptional products. Over the years, we have extended our support to customers in setting up booths at various events, including comic conventions, anime fiestas and exhibitions such as the one in Paris. Our adaptability and openness to diverse opportunities have been pivotal in our success.

Market trends vary across different regions, including Japan, the US, Europe, and other countries. We understand that regardless of a character or product's inherent quality, its success hinges on aligning with these prevailing trends. To this end, our sales and marketing department actively engages in daily discussions to analyze trends in Japan and overseas. By staying attuned to market demands, we can readily adapt our offerings while accentuating our unique strengths, particularly our unwavering commitment to producing high-quality products and imbuing characters with the ability to evoke genuine empathy among end-users.

The happiness of our customers remains at the heart of our mission and values. We firmly believe that our own happiness is intrinsically linked to that of our customers. Thus, their success becomes a driving force for our growth, fostering a sense of coexistence and codependency. As the President, I continuously emphasize the significance of deriving happiness from our customers' satisfaction. This mindset serves as a guiding principle in developing exceptional products, thereby empowering our sales team to promote and our factories to manufacture with the utmost dedication.

Our commitment to ensuring high quality extends beyond borders, exemplified by our communication with our Chinese factory. Aligning them with the same philosophy, we strive to consistently create characters that contribute to people's happiness. This shared mindset resonates throughout our entire organization, as all our employees are united by the common goal of creating products that spread joy and delight.

 

Is Amuse actively seeking to establish new partnerships with foreign actors?

We are actively seeking an overseas partner. Our product manufacturing has been reliant on a consignment agreement with a Chinese factory. China presents geopolitical risks, and its business practices often include social engagements like golf, shared meals or parties with business partners. Nevertheless, I prioritize partners who are dedicated to their work rather than relying on such entertainment tactics. Naturally, there are inherent risks in any business venture. In response to our customers' concerns about business continuity, they have suggested opening a factory in Vietnam, Thailand or another suitable location. A disruption in our product supply could also adversely affect their operations. Currently, we are in talks with potential consignment partners for a new factory in Thailand or Vietnam, exploring opportunities through JETRO or exhibitions in these regions. We are keenly interested in participating in such events. 

 

Out of all the characters you have designed or been a part of over the years, is there one that holds a special place in your heart?

Among all the characters I have designed or been a part of over the years, I must confess that I hold each one close to my heart. However, there are two particular creations, Alpacasso and MAMESHIBA SANKYOUDAI, our earliest four-legged animals, which I find particularly endearing and cute among all the characters we have designed. In the past, our products predominantly featured two-legged characters, which inherently resembled human beings more closely. However, as time passed, we underwent a shift in our creative affinity, leading us to focus more on pet-like characters. I cherish each character as if they were my own children, and I understand that comparing them wouldn't be fair or appropriate. Each one holds a unique and special place in our creative journey. Speaking of which, I have three daughters, and I find them all equally adorable.

 

Imagine we come back in five years and interview you again. What dreams and goals do you envision having achieved for Amuse as a company?

We aim to elevate the popularity of Amuse characters and enhance our brand presence by venturing into animation film production featuring our beloved characters. Our focus extends beyond the Japanese market. We are committed to targeting the international audience, a point we consistently emphasize to our animators. Drawing inspiration from the achievements of renowned companies like Sanrio and San-X, who have successfully developed numerous merchandise and animation films based on their unique characters, we aim to establish Amuse as a leading character company.

 
 

 

 

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