In this article we would like to highlight some examples of Japanese brands that are making contributions during the coronavirus pandemic.
While numerous manufacturers are increasing their production capacity and running factories at nearly 24 hours/day, other companies are taking it a step further and retooling factories or diverting resources to produce desperately needed items, and for that we wish to recognize them for their contributions.
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The coronavirus is having a tremendous impact on lives, and livelihoods, around the world. As we continue to battle this global pandemic that has brought manufacturing and industry to a screeching halt we face severe shortages of essential items, especially those relating to hygiene, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) needed by healthcare professionals treating patients.
Not only have supply chains been adversely affected—with many airlines’ cargo operations essentially suspended—traditional manufacturers of surgical masks, PPE, and various kinds of medical equipment have not been able to produce nearly enough of said items, even with increased output at domestic factories, due to the unprecedented demand.
As a result of the current situation with the coronavirus, businesses in the private sector around the world are answering the call to help address these shortages.
In the US we have seen examples of distillers and brewers, like Anheuser-Busch, create hand sanitizer while a number of American automobile manufacturers have begun to make ventilators.
Photo credit: Anheuser-Busch
Photo credit: Anheuser-Busch
Brands such as Apple and Nike, meanwhile, have contributed by making face shields for doctors and nurses.
Photo credit: Nike
In Europe the luxury fashion industry has mobilized their resources and fashion houses, including LVMH and other designer brands, are making face masks for healthcare workers in addition to mobilizing their cosmetics divisions to product hydroalcoholic gels and hand sanitizers.
Photo credit: LVMH
In Japan as well, domestic companies and brands are stepping up to contribute and help address the critical shortages that we are currently experiencing in the country.
To start our list we would like to highlight the efforts of Kosé, a Japanese brand that primarily focuses on personal care products that includes cosmetics, skin care, and hair care items.
Kosé is donating 30,000 bottles of alcohol-based hand cleaner to Japanese daycare centers free of charge.
While not nearly as important to this story as the generosity of their donation itself, the graphic design is quite nice as well.
Photo credit: Kosé
The liquid dispenser features an elephant spraying with its trunk—mirroring the shape of the nozzle—and a sparkling, clean hand. It’s a cute design, with a hand drawn quality that would definitely not look out of place in a daycare setting.
It goes without saying, but this is sure to be very warmly received by daycare centers in Japan.
Following the sudden request by Prime Minister Abe on March 2nd, 2020 for all schools to close until April, the beginning of the Japanese school year, millions of Japanese students and their families were asked by the government to stay at home—and indoors—for an extended period of time. For those families with young children where both parents work, there were major concerns of how to care for their kids during the day, but another issue for school-aged children was the inevitable boredom that would quickly set in.
To help those students asked to stay at home, Shueisha, a major Japanese publishing company, made back issues of some of its most popular manga available for free.
Shueisha might not be as well-known outside of Japan, but chances are you’re familiar with some of the major titles, like Dragonball or Naruto, which have graced the pages of its magazines over the years.
In particular, the company’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, which as the name suggests is a weekly manga anthology, carries some of the most popular serialized manga titles in Japan.
On the same day as the request to close schools went out, Shueisha announced that from March 2nd through March 31st, 2020 the publisher would make the first 13 volumes of the current year’s Shonen Jump available for free through their app.
Photo credit: Shueisha
As the coronavirus situation in Japan has further developed, and we have entered into a country-wide state of emergency, Shueisha is proving its goodwill was not a one-time deal.
Soon after the original call to close schools had been lifted, the nation entered a national state of emergency that is currently in force until May 6th, 2020. We again saw schools and universities asked to close for an extended period of time and once more, Shueisha and other major Japanese publishers, have announced that they will offer previous issues of magazines, as well as digital versions of manga volumes, for people to read for free.
Photo credit: Shueisha
Manga is widely read in Japan, especially by school-aged children and students. With most schools up to university-level closed, major school events cancelled, and calls for students to stay at home for an extended period of time, this was a really great move for publishers who wished to support their core readership during these difficult times.
NOTE: Other major publishing companies that offered Japanese readers access to their respective libraries of manga volumes and magazines include: Kodansha, Shogakukan, and Kadokawa.
Shiseido is one of the most famous Japanese cosmetics brands. To help support the fight against the coronavirus, Shiseido is using its factories to produce an alcohol-based liquid to be used as a hand sanitizer.
Photo credit: Shueisha
As of April 17th, 2020 one factory in Japan—located in Tochigi Prefecture—has started production and from May the company will have three additional factories throughout the country producing the hand sanitizer. Shiseido expects to manufacture 200,000 bottles every month starting in May, which will all be sold to medical professionals.
The company has also said that it will be sharing its formula for the hand sanitizer, which they say helps prevent hands from drying out even when used repeatedly, with other companies.
Electronics manufacturer, Sharp, converted some of their spare production capacity in their clean rooms at a TV factory to make face masks, which are in perennial short supply as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo credit: Sharp
In response to the increased consumer demand, especially for domestically produced (i.e. Made in Japan) masks, Sharp initially planned on manufacturing up to 150,000 of these masks per day and selling them through the company’s ecommerce site. Sales were to be limited to one box of 50 masks per person, with orders shipping directly from the manufacturer to Japanese customers.
However, due to the incredible demand for the masks, on the first day they went on sale the company had to temporarily shut down its website because it couldn’t handle the number of requests.
Since then the company has shifted to a lottery system to sell the face masks, the first of which will be open to entrants on April 27th, 2020. The details state that the drawing will be conducted on April 28th, 2020 and 30,000 boxes (50 masks/box, limit one box per entry) will be sold.
Photo credit: Sharp
While not the cheapest option available, one box costs 3,278 YEN with tax (roughly $30 USD) and a separate 660 YEN (roughly $6 USD) for shipping, many Japanese customers are showing an increasing willingness to pay the premium for surgical masks from a trusted, domestic brand.
Toyota is poised to provide support to combat the coronavirus in Japan in a number of areas. The most tangible being the production of face shields for medical workers and using their supply chain to help procure masks, thermometers, and other necessary medical equipment.
The automobile maker will also be providing medical device manufacturers (i.e. respirators/ventilators) with support to improve production capacity by leveraging their famed Toyota Production System (TPS) and applying this approach towards manufacturing at those companies’ factories.
Toyota was already producing face shields at the company’s own factories in other countries, like the US, but the Japanese automobile manufacturer will begin to produce face shields at their Japanese factory in Aichi Prefecture as well. Using 3D printers, Toyota says they will be able to provide 500 to 600 face shields per week for medical professionals.
Similarly to Toyota, Nissan is also planning to use its factories to produce face shields for medical personnel domestically in Japan. The company is already doing so in a number of other markets it operates in within North America and Europe.
The Japanese automaker says that it plans on making 2,500 face shields per month with production beginning this month, April 2020, at various locations, including their Yokohama Plant. According to Nissan, if possible they will also look to provide medical device manufacturers with parts that are in short supply and that can be used by these manufacturers.
Photo credit: Nissan
Teijin is a Japanese company in the chemicals industry that is also known for its high-performance materials and advanced fibers.
Because of its expertise with textiles, sources close to the firm have said that the company will start producing up to 50,000 medical gowns per month starting in May 2020 at its factory in Fukuoka Prefecture. In addition to the domestic production, Teijin will also make millions of gowns overseas through partners, and the company says that they plan on sharing the patterns for these medical gowns with other companies in order to help meet demand in Japan.
Another Japanese company in the chemical and textile business, Toray, is increasing production of nonwoven fabric used in disposable face masks in the hopes of providing enough fabric to make 60 million masks per month beginning in May 2020.
According to Japanese news agency, Jiji, the company is also considering a threefold increase in its production of medical protective wear compared with last year.
Iris Ohyama is a Japanese company that primarily focuses on home appliances and other houseware items, but it also produces healthcare products like disposable face masks. The company currently ships about 80 million masks per month from two of its factories in China, but starting in June 2020 they will also ramp up production at a factory in Miyagi Prefecture, which will result in an additional 150 million masks every month. In total, with the increase in planned mask production at their factory in northeastern Japan, Iris Ohyama will be able to provide up to 230 million masks monthly.
Like the rest of the world, domestic manufacturing of masks and PPE has become a priority since the coronavirus pandemic began and, as the example with Sharp illustrated, Japanese consumers are increasingly looking for these products to be made closer to home.
In spite of the immense difficulties we still face in dealing with this pandemic, right now many brands and companies that can, are helping in the fight against the coronavirus (Covid-19) here in Japan.
In addition to brands that are stepping up to create much needed items, other businesses are contributing in different ways.
Hotels are offering rooms to patients who have tested positive, but who don’t require urgent medical care, in an effort to free up hospital beds. Workers in essential businesses, from logistics and delivery services to convenience stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets, are continuing to show up to their jobs that are vital to ensuring everyone can continue to buy necessary items like food and medicine.
There are many who are deserving of praise and we may update this list as more notable examples come to our attention.