Patchwork Yokohama
6. Namebrand Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          When he got  to  Japan, Vince found namebrandism in epidemic
          proportion, not only  among  his  students but also with the
          whole faculty wherever  they  happened  to hail from. He had
          soon  discovered that  namebrand  went  beyond  the  product
          itself and where  you bought it was just as important if not
          more so. He  knew  he  could  get the freshest, sweetest and
          biggest strawberries just  around  the  corner  at the local
          fruiterer who also gave him the cheeriest and most efficient
          service. But, if  he  wanted  to win hearts, he had best buy
          smaller  ones  for   five  times  the  price  at  Isetan  or
          Takashimaya  department  stores.   The   strawberries   were
          obviously not the issue here. Somehow bags with Garden Fresh
          on them simply  didn't carry the same aura as Odakyu or Tobu
          bags.


          It was Connie  who  came  up  with the obvious solution. She
          advised him to  keep  a  collection of department store bags
          and wrapping from  his  regular  shopping  trips and buy the
          better  produce  at  the  cheaper  prices  with  the  better
          service. All one  had  to  do  was to take them out of their
          Garden Fresh wrappers  and  put them in exclusive department
          store bags. It  was,  indeed,  the  perfect solution. Connie
          remembered a lesson  when  she  was trying to find a present
          for a particularly  snobbish  friend.  She was short on time
          and these were  the days when Australian supermarkets didn't
          open on Sundays.  On that occasion, she had merely bundled a
          half dozen Harrod's  soaps,  she  had  bought  for souvenirs
          several years earlier,  into  a little basket and covered it
          with cellophane. The  friend had been delighted, although it
          must have been  obvious to the woman in question that Connie
          and Vince couldn't  have possibly popped over to London from
          Melbourne and back  again  especially to buy this woman some
          soap.


          The solution found,  it  still  rankled  Vince  that  people
          looked at the  label before looking at the product. As if to
          emphasise the point,  he  was  once taken to visit Yoshiwara
          Sangyo Scarf Factory in Konan Ward. On the way, they crossed
          the Okagawa River  ,  which  was  where the scarves had once
          been washed. In  those days, the waters had been very clear,
          but Vince was  surely  not  the first person to observe that
          those same waters looked as if they had been dyed themselves
          now.

          The Okagawa River  bespoke a long history of textiles in the
          area and Vince  found  the whole business rather impressive.
          The material was laid on long waxed tables which were tilted
          45 degrees. Once  the material had been silk and then cotton
          had  been gradually  introduced.  Cotton  and  silk  require
          different dyes and,  after several cock-ups, Vince was told,
          they settled on 100 % cotton.


          Workers  went around  with  screens  and  dyed  each  colour
          separately and gradually  the  pattern  took  shape and then
          gained body. The lighter colours were applied first, so that
          flowers grew from  their  mere  outlines  into  full-blooded
          blooms. Each table  was  some  25 metres long and there were
          four on both levels of the factory. Each bench made some 110
          scarves or, in  this  case, 220 handkerchiefs at a time. And
          this came to a total of 8800 hankies in a day. They were cut
          by machine and set in a heating room at 105 degrees Celsius.

          It was only  after the last touch was added that Vince noted
          the name at  the  bottom  of  each  handkerchief - Christian
          Dior, the sort  of name that Vince avoided on principle. And
          here, this factory  was  comitting an enormous fraud. People
          would buy these  handkerchiefs believing that they were made
          in Europe and  imported, not churned out in a factory on the
          other side of the Okagawa River.

          When he questioned  their  guide  about it, he was told that
          the factory also  produced  all  the  Renoma, Burberry's and
          Pierre Cardin scarves  for  Japan  as well. The designs were
          sent over from  Europe and for the first six months of every
          year, 40 different  types  of scarf were made. In the second
          half of the year, another 40 patterns were used. The designs
          came  into  Japan   through  their  Tokyo  office  and  were
          distributed throughout Japan under such brand names.

          It was fraud,  extortion, racketeering, daylight robbery and
          unfair labour practices,  Vince muttered under his breath as
          he left the Yoshiwara Sangyo factory.

          "I don't know  why  they're allowed to get away with it," he
          frothed to Connie, later that evening. "They even flaunt it.
          I mean guided factory tours indeed."

          "You're not still  going  on  about  that scarf factory, are
          you?"

          Vince's eyes bulged, "And it doesn't make you angry?"

          "Well, no!"

          "But it's fraud, extortion, racketeering, ... it's ..."

          "... daylight robbery?"

          "Yes, that too!"

          "It's nothing of  the  sort, Vince. It's exactly the same as
          someone I know  who  puts  Garden  Fresh  strawberries  into
          Isetan bags."

          "That's different. I'm  not  out  to  make  a  profit  on my
          strawberries."

          "Aren't you now?  You  save  a few thousand yen on that scam
          and I don't  see  why  you  shouldn't. Those scarves are far
          better made here than in Europe anyway and don't you believe
          that the average  Japanese  shopper would be relieved rather
          than incensed that  their  highbrow  hankies  were  actually
          Japan-made. I know  how  you  used  to  go  on  about buying
          Australian-made back home."

          Vince resisted telling  Connie  that when he had been a lad,
          Made in Japan  had  been  synonymous  with  junk. But Connie
          rarely debated anything Vince said and he knew that when she
          did, she was  always  right. The following Monday, he popped
          over to Isetan during his lunch break in search of some name
          brand handkerchiefs. If  he reeled at the sight of the price
          tags, he was nevertheless determined to buy one for Connie.

          He presented it  to  her  over a bottle of champagne, candle
          lit dinner.

          "What's this?" she laughed, opening the package.

          "Just buying Japan-made."

          "Vince, you shouldn't have!"

          "There's a catch, Connie."

          "What catch?" she eyed him suspiciously. ack

          "Can I keep the bag and the wrapping paper." ge.

          Vince loved stories  with  meaty  twists at the end and this
          one came on  a visit to Australia. Vince and Connie had gone
          to the Grampians  in  western Victoria and were enjoying the
          local aboriginal centre,  Brambuk. Connie wanted to buy some
          aboriginal souvenirs for  her  friends  back in Yokohama and
          was horrified to  discover  that  the tea towels, indeed all
          the fabric souvenirs,  had  Made  in  Japan  labels on them.
          Vince  wondered momentarily  if  Japan  was  also  exporting
          Christian Dior scarves  to Europe. Possibly not, he decided.
          Archaeologists surmised that  the  Australian  aborigine had
          walked over from  Asia  during  one  of  the later ice ages.
          Maybe, they were originally Japanese.