Friday, June 4, 2010

Branding an Area

Walking down any street that neighbors a temple, a shrine, or anything that could even be remotely of interest to tourists, you will see several blocks worth of shops selling trinkets and memorabilia. They are not only tailored for the specific sites, but also to buy anything Japanese as well. The colors are bright, and the patterns ornate, everything sold is very graphic and simple to understand. This is the touristy side of all of the places we have gone, and it is interesting to think about how it helps to define the area.

One of the areas with the most extensive expanse and quantity of these shops was Nara. Nara is famous for its very aggressively hungry sacred deer and Todai-ji temple with its monumental Buddha. Though, if you didn't know these things about the area, you would figure it out very quickly from the souvenirs. They have everything from blow up plastic deer, deer hats with little knit antlers, and an extense of cell phone key chains with little Buddhas and deer . Even within the walls of the temple, there was an entire large corner that was dedicated to selling things relating to the giant Buddah that was just a few feet in front of them, or the deer that were wandering around outside. As you walked onto the temple grounds to get to the exit, you would run into a half a dozen more of these souvenir stands, all selling the same things for the same prices. The street that had all of the tourist shops, including places to buy food for both you and your friendly deer friends, was nearly a mile long.

The thing that is most interesting about this is the branding of what a certain part of the country is by what you can get there. Areas will become famous for things, such as Nara for its deer and Buddha, and that branding will give it a very superficial and commercial definition. This can apply to even larger areas, such as buy paper fans and chopsticks at the Japan airport. It is strange to think about how you can really make a culture into something super commercial if you just pick out a few things to focus on and offer a consumer a variety of ways to buy it. They are presented in usually graphic visual cues, like cute pink Buddhas or brightly colored deer cell phone charms. There is a non verbal understanding between consumer and shop owner. “If you give me a pastry with a deers face plastered on it, I will give you money.”

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