Over the last three years, I wrote a weekly blog on world events, cleverly titled ‘Stuff Happens’, followed by less cleverly titled sequels. This year, I decided to abandon the weekly news roundup because it was just so damn depressing. I couldn’t write another word about the insane clown president to the south, or our simpering sock-salesman of a prime minister. While I don’t regret the decision – and I especially don’t regret cancelling my Edmonton Journal subscription in an effort to reduce my news intake – I missed writing a weekly blog.
It has taken me years to figure this out, but writing makes me feel better. Some say that writing releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones, and I think that’s true. If nothing else, I feel that I have accomplished something when I write a blog. So, I don’t want to abandon it completely. But what to write about?
It came to me one morning, while listening to a podcast called Part Time Genius. I learned some weird, interesting stuff about Japan on the episode I listened to, and it dawned on me: why not share stuff I learned this week? While I am trying to read less current news, I’m still absorbing a lot of other non-news stuff. Odd stuff, cool stuff, ugly stuff, ‘what,seriously?’ stuff … just lots of stuff. Compile it, write it, share it. That’s my new blog focus. So here we go with Stuff I Learned This Week.
The aforementioned podcast Part Time Genius was all about great things the hosts learned about Japan. For example:
- The Japanese are so loyal to Toyota and Honda and all the other car makers that they account for nearly 90% of all cars sold in Japan. Even the mighty Ford motor company pulled out of Japan in 2016 because nobody was buying their cars (they sold only about 5,000 cars in their last year there). And get this: Japanese car dealers will actually bring demo cars to your door for you to try. And when you buy the car, they’ll even arrange the insurance for you. And give you a free car wash every couple of weeks. And when your car needs a tuneup, they’ll pick it up.
- I also learned that almost all Japanese cell phones are waterproof, because the Japanese like to take their phones into the shower or bath.
- The Japanese have a madness for a 1960s-era American band called The Ventures. They toured every year up until 2015, and their albums have outsold The Beatles 2-1. Here they are in Japan in 1966.
- In Japan, the population is aging so rapidly that a Japanese diaper maker says the sales of adult diapers now outsell baby diapers. They have also developed ‘choke proof food’ because more people die from choking than car accidents. The food is mixed with a gelling agent and shaped like the food it is supposed to taste like.
- Japanese kids have a high level of independence. In fact, there is a reality TV show, My First Errand, that follows kids as young as two or three as they run errands outside the house.
Also this week, I listened to one my favourite podcasts, the CBC radio show Under the Influence, which deals with marketing and advertising. It’s always filled with remarkable nuggets of stuff. For example:
- Many foods start out with names that practically shout out ‘don’t eat me!’ In the early 1900s, a fruit seed was imported into New Zealand. It grew well there, and was quite tasty. It was called a Chinese gooseberry. When they tried years later to export the Chinese gooseberry to the U.S., they were told nobody would buy it anything associated with China. So, somebody decided to rename it … the kiwi. The rest is history.
- Then there’s something called the alligator pear, which is ugly, green and leathery. In 1915, the growers of the alligator pear changed the name to avocado, and sold it as a high-end treat.
- Ever heard of the Patagonian tooth fish? Nobody wanted it because nobody knew what do to with it. It got caught up in Chilean fishing nets, and the fishermen promptly threw it out. In 1977, a fish merchant chanced upon the fish, took one home and fried it up. It was great. Knowing that no one would buy a Patagonian tooth fish, he changed the name to Chilean sea bass, and before too long, it became the fish to ask for in upscale restaurants.
- Remember prunes, that shrivelled up fruit so commonly associated with constipated old people? Not surprisingly, the sale of prunes was not good with young people, so back in 2005 the prune marketing board changed the name of its primary product from prunes to … dried plums. Combined with a canny marketing campaign, sales of prunes – sorry, dried plums – began to rise.
And finally, unrelated to any of the above mentioned stuff, The New York Times this week reported that subscription revenue for its product hit $1 BILLION in 2016. Subscription revenue now accounts for 60% of the company’s revenue.
See what you can do when you offer people a quality product?