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
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
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
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
Vince's eyes bulged, "And it doesn't make you angry?"
"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
"That's different. I'm not out to make a profit on my
"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
"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.