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The Key to Innovate Japanese Businesses is the “Kansei/Affective Quality” that Customers Feel

The Kansei/Affective Product Design Special Interest Group, WBS Research Center

Founded in October 2007 based on the Research Institute of the Faculty of Commerce, the WBS Research Center (independent from the international business discipline of the Waseda Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, or WIAPS) was set up with the aim of promoting joint research and educational activities between the Waseda Business School and the Faculty of Commerce. A number of research units and workshops are organized within the WBS Research Center, and strategic activities are developed involving other faculties and external and overseas researchers.

The research activities led by one such group, the Kansei/Affective Product Design Special Interest Group, and the related endowed course program run by Waseda Business School have been receiving a lot of internal and external attention. I spoke with Professor Shin'ya Nagasawa of the Faculty of Commerce, a well-published leading expert in this field and head of the Kansei/Affective Product Design Special Interest Group.

Professor Nagasawa, head of the Kansei/Affective Product Design Special Interest Group

The era of kansei (affection) from a consumer perspective

“Since the early 1980’s, “kansei” has become a buzzword in Japan,” said Nagasawa. “People’s lives had become richer, daily products were reaching all parts of the world, and consumers were no longer satisfied with having the same as other people but wanted things only they themselves had. That time has been called the “age of kansei (affection),” when leading creators and trendsetters used to initiate edgy styles. Eventually, however, consumer culture matured and, with the collapse of the bubble economy, a new era emerged in which there was a demand for “kansei (affective) products” and “kansei (affective) marketing” based more on the perspective and kansei (affection) of consumers.”

It is not that consumers nowadays always buy products for their practical value (function and benefit) alone. They are also purchasing a little something extra in informational or meaningfully semantic value such as design, ease of use, comfort, classiness or luxuriousness, taste, and so on, the relative importance of which has increased with the times.

“More or less all products contain elements that depend on the consumer’s subjective sensory evaluation and cannot be just measured by objective physical qualities or cost value,” Nagasawa continued. “In this sense, we have come to understand that all products are “kansei products” and all marketing is “kansei marketing.”

The Japanese word “kansei” has in fact been exported to the rest of the world. The trigger for this was a speech given in the United States in 1986 by Kenichi Yamamoto, the then president of Mazda Motor Corporation, who said, “what has led to the success of Japanese automotive development is Japan’s unique Kansei Engineering. Because kansei was recognized as a very Japanese concept, since that moment the word has been used in other languages too.

“Unfortunately, the definition of the concept of kansei has never been standardized and the term is used slightly differently depending on the research group or researcher,” Nagasawa added. “I define it as an integrated, comprehensive concept that includes the sensation, perception, cognition, emotion and expression that exist between a person and an object. I have long been involved in research into kansei marketing and kansei evaluation, and in my experience this is the definition that makes sense to most people.”

Rather than indicating any single part of the process of human sensation, cognition and expression, kansei is defined as an idea encompassing the holistic process, and so research on kansei can be seen as an integrated field of study covering human science, ergonomics, sensory evaluation and statistical analysis, sensoring and modeling, and even communication and management.

Nowadays the research group or researchers in the field of product design tends to use both “kansei”and “affective” the words “Kansei/Affective Engineering” on their papers or in the field of Soft Computing “Affective Computing” has been used.

Figure 1 Definition and scope of kansei (Product Development Concerning Kansei – Methods and Practice [Kansei wo Meguru Shouhinkaihatsu – Sono Houhou to Jissai], edited by Shinya Nagasawa, Japan Publishing Service, 2002)

Development of multidisciplinary joint research

Based on our awareness of the issues, we started the Kansei/Affective Product Design Study Group activities in 2009. The purpose of setting up the group was to generate innovative power in the Japanese manufacturing industry through research into the development and management of kansei/affective products. The lineup of the group’s leading members spanned the humanities, sociology and science and engineering, including: Professor Kazuhisa Takemura of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences (Consumer Behavior); Associate Professor Atsushi Osanai (Technology and Innovation Management), Professor Yoshitaka Kobayashi (Management Accounting and Costing), and Professor Yoshihiro Ito (Management Accounting and Costing), all of the Faculty of Commerce; and external visiting research scholars Professor Katsuari Kamei of the College of Information Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan University (Kansei and Emotion Evaluation and Modeling) and Associate Professor Hiroaki Kosaka of the Nara National College of Technology (Kansei Engineering and Kansei Evaluation).

“The trouble with Japan’s manufacturing industry is that although it can make high-performance, high-function items, it cannot make saleable items,” explained Nagasawa. “It demonstrates superb ability to improve technology and product design-centered quality, as seen in the development of mobile phones that are 0.05mm thinner than rival products, but on the other hand it is poor at incorporating human kansei-centered quality. It has therefore lost its competitive edge.”

Many overseas brands have arrived in Japan, but the country needs to build a production system for foods that rely on freshness such as cakes and bread. Fortunately, Japan has many food manufacturers that can boast high technical ability and reliability so famous overseas brands have entered the Japanese market by aggressively commissioning their business to Japanese companies. Two examples are French pastry brand Dalloyau and French bakery Paul, who have grown their production and sales in Japan by entering into respective license agreements with Fujiya Co., Ltd. and Pasco Shikishima Corporation.

“But with their high technical ability, Japanese manufacturers should be building attractive brands for themselves rather than relying on overseas brands,” Nagasawa went on. “That is why we are promoting research activities aimed at methodizing the development and management of kansei products and spreading it widely to Japanese companies.”

Our research results are compiled in various publications. From the left:
Chanel’s Strategy – Technology Management as Seen in the Ultimate Luxury Brand [Shaneru no senryaku – Kyuukyoku no ragujuarii burando ni miru gijutsukeiei] (Toyo Keizai, 2010)
Luxury Strategy – How to Build and Manage Genuine Luxury Brands [Ragujuarii senryaku – Shin no ragujuarii burando wo ika ni kouchiku shi manejimento suru ka] (Toyo Keizai, 2011)
The Principles of Louis Vuitton – Strongest Brand Strategy [Rui viton no housoku – Saikyou no burando senryaku] (Toyo Keizai, 2007)
Product Development Concerning Kansei – Methods and Practice [Kansei wo Meguru Shouhinkaihatsu – Sono Houhou to Jissai] (Japan Publishing Service, 2002)
Implementing Kansei Product Development – Conversion of Kansei to Product Elements [Kansei shouhin kaihatsu no jissen – Shouhin youso e kansei no tenkan] (Japan Publishing Service, 2003)
Basics of Mathematical Kansei Engineering – An Approach to Kansei Product Development [Suuriteki kanseikougaku no kiso – Kansei shouhin kaihatsu e no apuro-chi] (Kaibundo, 2010)

LVMH endowed course gaining worldwide attention

Developed in relation to a series of research activities is the Luxury Branding Chair Module (LVMH Moet Hennessy – Louis Vuitton endowed course), a business school MBA professional program offered from 2012.

“The word “luxury” suggests things like superiority, exclusivity and extravagance, although no one other word has quite the same meaning, which is why we use it in this course,” explained Nagasawa. “Overseas luxury brands create an allure that attracts discerning customers who feel they must have an object, however expensive it is. They also have made constant innovation in line with the times while coming face-to-face with customers and markets. This is exactly the model for kansei/affective products.”

Table 1 Luxury strategy is based on ideas contrary to conventional marketing (Chanel’s Strategy [Shaneru no senryaku] by Shinya Nagasawa, Toyo Keizai, 2010)
Item Marketing tactics Luxury strategy
  • Sufficient quality (not suitable quality or excess quality)
  • Relative quality
  • F&B (function & benefit, fitness for use, matching demand)
  • Outstanding quality (fastidious quality, products with a story)
  • Absolute quality
  • Kansei quality (experienced value)
  • Low price
  • Relative value
  • High price (fair price)
  • Absolute value
Place Wide distribution channels (more stores, mail order, volume retailer stores…) Limited distribution channels (control distribution, do not use channels that cannot be controlled)
Promotion Mass advertising (TV commercials, etc.) Attach importance to publicity (get taken up by the media)
Brand Conventional marketing theory and brand theory (brand equity, brand ranking, etc.) Contrary to conventional marketing theory and brand theory

The two educational institutions that have accepted the LVMH Group’s endowed course are the ESSEC Business School in France and Waseda University. It is attracting a great deal of attention worldwide. The Luxury Branding Institute was established under the leadership of Nagasawa and with the involvement of Professor Junji Tsuchiya of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Professor Tomoo Noguchi of the Faculty of Social Sciences, who have put all their efforts into offering an educational program. The program has been running for two years, and from 2014 will include a partnership program with the ESCP Europe business school in France, a three-day visit to Paris. Students will receive two days of lectures from five ESCP teachers and go on a one-day field visit to local luxury companies in Paris and the surrounding districts. Going forward, there is also talk of establishing a double degree system with ESCP.

“With this endowed chair module, we have developed and implemented a program with which France and Japan can learn from one another from an international perspective,” said Nagasawa. “The most sophisticated market and consumers in the world are in Japan. That is why Louis Vuitton launched its global strategy in 1978 from Japan by opening six stores here at a single stroke, next only to their stores in Paris and Nice. Louis Vuitton discovered the kansei market of Japan while Japan discovered the luxury brand of Louis Vuitton. Luxury branding strategies should flourish in Japan of all places, where many time-honored businesses remain in operation after 300 or 400 years compared to Louis Vuitton which was established less than 200 years ago.”

In December 2013, UNESCO designated traditional Japanese cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is as if the world recognized Japanese food as a luxury brand. Expectations are increasing that Japan’s traditional crafts and exquisite manufacturing industries will also rise up and reform themselves into attractive brands that are looked at with yearning around the world.

Related links

WBS Research Center, Waseda University
Luxury Branding Institute, Waseda University
Research Institute of the Faculty of Commerce, Waseda University
Waseda Business School
Luxury Branding Chair Module (LVMH Moet Hennessy - Louis Vuitton endowed course), Waseda University