Promotional Products and Culture: Japan
Our culture is shaped by a lot of things. Utility, storytelling, societal agreements, and resources. This, and more are just a few reasons why one group of people solve a problem one way, and why another group of people would solve their problems another way. This difference in cultures, whether it be a religious difference, the celebration of holidays, and even mannerisms, contribute all the way to the promotional products we have today. What is acceptable or useful in one place, is not acceptable or is outright useless in another. Also, the increase of globalization in the marketplace almost demands a level of understanding between disparate cultures. So, we are going to look at the promotional products that are par for the course in a randomly chosen region and discover their cultural context.
Keychains exist in America. We maybe have one for a specific person or a couple for a different set of keys, but they aren’t really a common promotional product. The same thing applies to phone charms. Only people with older phones or someone who is a fan of a sports team might have one attached to a purse or a keyring.
In Japan, however, there are phone charms EVERYWHERE. If you see a cellphone, you will find at least 5 of those suckers attached to it. And this isn’t just a kid thing. Adults participate in it too. Sometimes there are more charms than there is a phone. What makes it so popular? How long has this been a thing? And where is its cultural origin?
Phone charms specifically have been prominent in the 1990s, ever since cell phones exploded in popularity. Especially with the rise of the Kawaii fashion movement and the presence of the anime industry. But that still doesn’t explain why it is a thing for adults too. Also, that is a very quick timeframe to adopt them into mainstream fashion.
Omamori – The Promotional Products from Local Shrines
That is because the tradition is far older than the existence of the cell phone. And it all has to do with Japanese Shrines. In Shinto and Buhdism, it was believed that priests of various shrines had holy powers, and could give blessings , specifically to ward away evil spirits that would plague a person or a village. These blessings came in the form of a token, usually a piece of paper with a special character on it.
Eventually, those tokens became talismans for personal use. Shrines would use them as promotional products. This helped them advertise themselves and make a little bit of money by selling these charms at events like festivals or for tourist spots. These tokens, Omamori, are small hand made silk pouches that contain blessings for specific events or wishes. They are bags with a string attached that are made to fit around a body part like the wrist or a piece of clothing attached to the wearer.
These talismans can be purchased by anyone and there are good luck charms for every scenario. Are you missing a loved one? Do you need help with your Exams? Do you want money? Is your health failing? There is a different talisman for all of these.
But, there are a few rules for these things. For starters, the power of a talisman is temporary and lasts for only a year. Also, opening the bag and taking out what is inside brings you bad luck. Also, it is ridiculously disrespectful to throw them away. If it wears out, you bring it back to the shrine you got it from.
How it Translates Today and Why America Doesn’t Have Them
With this knowledge, you can understand why Japan adopted the use of phone charms so quickly. It is a byproduct of the cultural significance of talismans. Some people even attach their good luck charms on their phones, so they always have it on their person.
It also explains the reason why this isn’t much of a thing in America. Anything that resembled a charm or a talisman in our Puritanical cultural origins were seen as an item of witchcraft. Not a blessing. These negative connotations, though somewhat eased over the years, still come into play when it comes to symbolism. The only really acceptable practice of carrying imagery for the purposes of good fortune would be something Christian in nature, like a cross or a saint. It is also acceptable to carry a token that is representative of a family member or home town. However, it isn’t enough to boost something like cellphone charms in western culture. Phone charms are just not a good option as a promotional product in Decatur Alabama, or anywhere in the US.