The maker’s of Japan’s famous ice candy Garigari-kun released an ad apologizing for a 9-cent price increase, and I still haven’t heard jack from my insurance company.
The new commercial, titled Garigari-kun Neage (Garigari-kun Price Increase), features Akaginyugyo President and CEO Hideki Inoue along with the company’s executive brass and the staff of the Fukaya City factory headquarters.
As the one-take segment nears the end, some titles appear on the screen. The text reads “We’ve worked hard for 25 years but,” followed by a discreet “60→70,” in reference to the price of a single soda flavored Garigari-kun bar going from 60 yen (US$0.54) to 70 yen ($0.63).
Now, you might be thinking this is a kind of tongue-in-cheek joke, but rest assured that it is not. In my time in this country I’ve come to learn that few things irk Japanese people more than an insincere apology — let alone a farcical apology.
There’s no way the company’s president would put himself out on the line like that for what would be a lukewarm gag at best. The cute music you can hear was likely added because without it the tone of the commercial would have been much darker than a 10-yen more expensive candy would have warranted.
The response to the advertisement was mixed; some expressed support and others mild confusion as to why Akaginyugyu felt the need to apologize at all.
“Don’t worry, I’d still buy them even if the price were 100 yen.”
“I never bought them before, but I might try this summer.”
“I forgot those things were so cheap.”
“Is this because they lost so much from the Napolitan?”
“For a moment I thought they were apologizing for the Napolitan.”
“It maybe just a promotion, but I see respect to customers, and also transparency. Thumb up for this Japanese company.”
The Napolitan (spaghetti & ketchup) comments were in reference to the ill-fated Garigari-kun Napolitan bars which were a part of their 2012-2014 line of savory ice candies. While Corn Soup was a hit and Potato Stew had mixed reviews, the Napolitan – which in this writer’s opinion tasted like frozen hotdogs, ketchup, and milk blended together – was unanimously despised.
On a side note: The same team responsible for the Napolitan disaster reunited this year to create the Garigari-kun Sakura Mochi flavor. We’re pleased to announce that they have successfully reclaimed their honor with this excellent ice candy featuring anko (sweet bean paste), mochi sauce, and sakura flavored crushed ice.
As for the apology, this type of behavior might seem unusual from other more litigious countries where a wholehearted apology is sometimes an admission of guilt, but in Japan, public apologies are both expected and scrutinized.
One might look to the recent woes of McDonald’s Japan as an example. Since the restaurant chain was implicated in a tainted Chinese chicken scandal in 2014, sales have been steadily on the decline. However, while other major fast food restaurants and convenience stores in Japan had also received chicken from the same supplier, only McDonald’s seems to have been hit hard by the scandal.
Some suggest that the ill will stems from the company’s official reaction to it — President Sarah Casanova condemned the chicken producer and issued a strong promise to take the appropriate steps to ensure such a health problem doesn’t happen again. In the west, her statements were par for the course and probably would have been enough to make people not care and go back to life as usual.
However, her firm eye contact as she apologized, despite being a sign of sincerity in the west, had the opposite effect on some Japanese people giving them little sense of remorse or humility. Compare that to this press conference held by the Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who’s no stranger to apologies, after one of his executives was arrested on drug charges.
Notice how the room becomes a veritable nightclub of camera flashes once Toyoda makes his bows as that is what everyone came out to see. Granted, sincere bowing is hardly a panacea for corporate wrongdoing and even if Casanova had done the same, McDonald’s Japan may still very well be in the same predicament as it is now.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that a proper apology has potent power here in Japan, for better or for worse. So when in doubt, you better get bent!