Democratizing Luxury: Name Brands, Advertising, and Consumption in Modern Japan

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824895167
Published: December 2023

Additional Information

416 pages | 25 b&w illustrations
  • About the Book
  • Democratizing Luxury explores the interplay between advertising and consumption in modern Japan by investigating how Japanese companies at key historical moments assigned value, or “luxury,” to mass-produced products as an important business model. Japanese name-brand luxury evolved alongside a consumer society emerging in the late nineteenth century, with iconic companies whose names became associated with quality and style. At the same time, Western ideas of modernity merged with earlier artisanal ideals to create Japanese connotations of luxury for readily accessible products. Businesses manufactured items at all price points to increase consumer attainability, while starkly curtailing production for limited editions to augment desirability.

    Between the late nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, control over family disposable income transformed Japanese middle-class women into an important market. Growth of purchasing power among women corresponded with Japanese goods diffusing throughout the empire, and globally after the Asia-Pacific war (1931–1945). This book offers case studies that examine affordable luxury consumer items often advertised to women, including drinks, beauty products, fashion, and timepieces. Japanese companies have capitalized on affordable luxury since a flourishing domestic mercantile economy began in the Tokugawa period (1603–1868), showcasing brand-name shops, renowned artisans, and mass-produced woodblock prints by famous artists. In the late nineteenth century, personalized service expanded within department stores like Mitsukoshi, Shiseidō cosmetic counters, and designer boutiques. Shiseidō now globally markets invented traditions of omotenashi, Japanese ”values” of hospitality expressed in purchasing and consuming its products.

    In postwar times, when a thriving democracy and middle-class were tied to greater disposable income and consumerism, companies rebuilt a growing consumer base among cautious shoppers: democratizing luxury at reasonable prices and maintaining business patterns of accessibility, high quality, and exemplary service. Nationalism amid economic success soon blended with myths of unique Japanese identity in a mass consumer society, suffused by commodity fetishism with widely available brand names. As the first comprehensive history of iconic Japanese name brands and their unique connotations of luxury and accessibility in modern Japan and elsewhere, Democratizing Luxury explores company histories and reveals strategies that lead customers to consume these alluring commodities.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Annika A. Culver, Author

      Annika A. Culver is professor of East Asian history at Florida State University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Culver’s investigation of luxury products—their manufacturing, advertising, and sales—mainly in the twentieth and early twenty-first century Japan, enhanced my appreciation of corporate involvement in shaping gender, class, and ethno-nationalist identities. The histories themselves are fascinating. Knowing more about various things from the “comfort bags” assembled for men at the front to the wartime life of lipstick and the promotion of whiskey as escape for salarymen gave me a better understanding of modern Japanese culture. Each product story is told in rich detail.
      —Jan Bardsley, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill