Osaka Brand Committee
Gaku Azuma
Gaku Azuma
Gaku Azuma
Gaku Azuma
Yasumichi Morita
Yasumichi Morita
Ken Miki
Chiaki Murakami
Ryo Yamazaki
Biolgical field
Water city
Osaka Kaleidoscope
#1 MADE IN OSAKA, JAPAN - Delivering Brand New Osaka to the World

 Many would easily agree that “cool” is probably the most unlikely choice for a word to describe the city of Osaka. Instead, it is generally seen as a rather unrefined and monotonous business city. As we attempt to look at Osaka from a perspective of city branding, we inevitably face its overpowering stereotyped image, which is marked with the nonsense comedy industry led by the entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto, as well as with the “kuidaore” gastronomic culture illustrated by common favorites such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki. While such conventional images indeed depict certain sides of the city’s characteristics, a number of motivated individuals continue their efforts to update its antiquated description.
 Hideki Tominaga, CEO of SOZ CORPORATION, co, ltd., is among those people. Tominaga is determined to deliver a new, cool image of Osaka, expressing his personal attachment to the city in a phrase “MADE IN OSAKA, JAPAN” and overlapping it with the image strategy for his own products. With its sophisticatedly designed products, SOZ has successfully expanded its market worldwide in its casual way of promoting the international recognition of Osaka. So what is the secret of SOZ’s successful strategy?

From children’s toy to artists’ toy

Tominaga, who is in early thirties, took over a toy assembling business from the printing company of his relatives and founded his own company in 2004. The name of the company, SOZ, is derived from the Japanese word, “SOZO (creation).” For SOZ, creativity is the most important key concept. Their products are inscribed with the catchphrase, “ART TOY FOR CREATORS,” on their packages.
The company’s feature product series, CARPENTER BLOCK, is a set of flat blocks, which, unlike conventional ones in cubic form, provide more freedom to create objects. While the product was originally marketed as an educational toy for children, the renewal of its packaging design eventually became the onset of the product branding. The story began when one student from a design college asked Tominaga if he could design a new package for the blocks. With his firm belief in the potential of the product, Tominaga accepted the student’s proposal, which led to a smart-looking new package that sufficiently appeals to adults’ sensibility. An innovative, sophisticated image of the blocks was further enhanced by developing additional products such as an easy kit and a guide booklet.
The renewed CARPENTER BLOCK gradually started attracting public attention. Last April, the company opened its direct store in the shopping complex of Namba, Osaka, where a wide range of customers come and buy the blocks as a gift for children or as a new addition to a room’s décor. Depending on the combination of the blocks’ sizes, shapes, and colors, the product can be enjoyed in a variety of ways to create small objects such as animals and pen stands or larger items such as lamp shades, stools, and counter tables. Such diversity is obviously the key to the product’s appeal to different generations, which is not the case of traditional blocks.

Hometown commitment - MADE IN OSAKA, JAPAN

Tominaga was born and raised in Osaka. His attachment to his hometown became even stronger when he lived in Tokyo for about two years in the late 1990s because of his job at that time. Every time he returned Osaka, he felt the city looked terribly deserted. When compared to colorful Shibuya and Harajuku, the dryness of Osaka looked more obvious and bothered him.

- Didn’t Osaka used to be brighter?
- This is not what Osaka should look like.

It broke Tominaga’s heart and made him sad to see his hometown losing its original liveliness. From history books that he often enjoys reading, he has come to believe that Osaka today should be a dynamic city full of potential as shown in the past. His passion for his hometown eventually became the basis of “MADE IN OSAKA, JAPAN,” an inspiring message that is found on SOZ’s product packages and paper bags.

Expanding access to the world

Other than the “MADE IN OSAKA, JAPAN” inscription on the product packages, Tominaga’s commitment to Osaka is found in many examples. His refusal of any proposals to open a direct store in Tokyo, which he started receiving as the SOZ brand becomes stronger, tells it all. “I see no merits in opening a company store in Tokyo just for profit,” said Tominaga. While the number of retailers dealing with SOZ products continues to rise nationwide, he has no plan to open a direct store outside Osaka. Instead, his focus has been on the global market. He aims to establish access to the world directly from Osaka, not via Tokyo.
Tominaga tells us about an e-mail which he received one day from Europe. He was about to delete it along with other spam mails. However, he had an unusual feeling about the email and decided to read the message, written in an unknown language, which turned out to be a business offer from France. The business relationship has continued to grow since then, leading to the purchase of CARPENTER BLOCK by Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris as its permanent collection. The blocks are now sold at fifteen locations overseas, including the museum shop at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Tominaga expresses his doubts about the trend in today’s manufacturing industry to shift production bases to China and Southeast Asia for cheaper labor costs. “I will stick to MADE IN OSAKA and want to be true to its name,” said Tominaga. “If we decide to open our production bases to China, we will also establish a system to utilize ‘soft powers’ such as ideas and skills that local Chinese people have.”
Tominaga devotes himself especially to the development of the concept as well as the image strategy for his products, from packaging design to marketing methods. His efforts for brand control have brought back the positive reputation of CARPENTER BLOCK as a “cool” item in overseas markets. Tominaga hopes that a new image of Osaka as a cool city will grow internationally along with the popularity of his products. Today, Osaka is still far from being called a globally recognized city. However, a simple print of “MADE IN OSAKA, JAPAN” on Tominaga’s products makes us expect that the world may come to know more about Osaka via this new impression. Our admiration and encouragement goes to Tominaga and other passionate individuals who continue with their actions and efforts believing that they can make a positive change for their beloved city.

July 3, 2007
Text by Michi Komura, Osaka Brand Center
(original text written in Japanese)