Where There Are Asians, There Are Rice Cookers

Where There Are Asians, There Are Rice Cookers: How "National" Went Global via Hong Kong

Yoshiko Nakano
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Where There Are Asians, There Are Rice Cookers
    Book Description:

    This is the first English-language book to focus on the electric rice cooker and the impact it has had on the lives of Asian people. This account of the rice cooker's globalization aims to move away from Japan-centric perspectives on how "Made in Japan" products made it big in the global marketplace, instead choosing to emphasize the collaborative approach adopted by one Japanese manufacturing giant and a Hong Kong entrepreneur. The book also highlights the role Hong Kong, as a free port, played in the rice cooker's globalization and describes how the city facilitated the transnational flow of Japanese appliances to Southeast Asia, China, and North America. Based on over 40 interviews conducted with key figures at both National/Panasonic and Shun Hing Group, it provides a fascinating insight into the process by which the National rice cooker was first localized and then globalized. Interspersed throughout are personal accounts by individuals in Japan and Hong Kong for whom owning a rice cooker meant far more than just a convenient way of cooking rice. The book includes over 60 images, among them advertisements dating back to the 1950s that illustrate how Japanese appliances contributed to the advent of a modern lifestyle in Hong Kong. This account of the rice cooker's odyssey from Japan to Hong Kong and beyond is intended for a general audience as well as for readers with an interest in the empirical study of globalization, intercultural communication, Hong Kong social history, and Japanese business in Asia.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-526-0
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction We Are Not That Poor Any More
    (pp. 1-18)

    Where there are Asians, there are rice cookers. According to one estimate, some 43 million units were sold worldwide in 2006.¹ The electric rice cooker has to be one of the “Made in Japan” products that has had the most impact on the lives of Asian people. And yet the story of its globalization has not received much attention. In the United States, the rice cooker is basically a niche product for hyphenated Americans, often dismissed as a never-to-be-opened wedding gift. In Japan, it is not exactly glamorous either: when the automatic rice cooker was first introduced by Toshiba in...

  7. 1 Let’s Take Our Rice Cookers to the World Adapting Japanese Rice Cookers for the Chinese Consumer
    (pp. 19-42)

    Eight million rice cookers. Placed side by side, they would form a 2,400-kilometer-long chain stretching from Osaka to Hong Kong.

    Since 1959, the year William Mong began importing National automatic rice cookers to Hong Kong, his company, Shun Hing, has sold more than 8 million units in a city with a population of only 7 million. This equates to approximately ten percent of the total number of National rice cookers manufactured in the world. One might say that the rice cooker was the first “Made in Japan” product to be embraced by the people of Hong Kong. National was one...

  8. 2 You Have to Diversify to Survive The Anxiety that Fuels the Hong Kong Entrepreneur
    (pp. 43-62)

    Encased in one of the walls of William Mong’s office is a huge aquarium in which beautiful iridescent carp swim to and fro. Framed memorabilia include pictures of Mong: receiving the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure Gold Rays with Rosette, having lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, shaking hands with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基), and being awarded an honorary doctorate by Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong and then-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. Mong is a consummate businessman who, in addition to his native Cantonese, speaks fluent Japanese, English, and Mandarin, and moves effortlessly in...

  9. 3 You Salarymen Can’t Think Outside the Box! A Hong Kong Entrepreneur Takes on a Japanese Manufacturing Giant
    (pp. 63-84)

    William Mong officially started business with Matsushita Electric Trading on August 15, 1953. In a move that foreshadowed the synergy that would come to characterize the relationship between his trading firm and Matsushita, Mong changed its name from Shun Wo Company to Shun Hing Hong (信兴行), meaning “to develop a business on a strong foundation of trust.” From the beginning, Matsushita Trading adopted a hands-off approach and gave its Hong Kong agent free rein to manage the sales of its products in the city. This provided Mong with the confidence and motivation to put forward his own ideas about which...

  10. 4 Water Flows Downward Hong Kong as a Gateway to Asia
    (pp. 85-110)

    During the 1960s, just as William Mong’s business was showing signs of rapid growth, Hong Kong’s versatility began to play an increasingly important role in Matsushita’s plans for market expansion. The city was a showcase for National appliances, providing the company with the exposure needed to attract the attention of international buyers and consumers. It was the test market for new export items such as refrigerators and washing machines, and a gateway to Southeast Asian markets that remained off-limits for political or economic reasons. A free port, whose favorable customs regulations enabled the easy flow of goods into and out...

  11. 5 Pay in Hong Kong; Pick up in China Bringing Modern Convenience across the Border
    (pp. 111-130)

    “What on earth is going on?” Kyoichi Yoshioka, looking at an order sheet that had just come in from Hong Kong, could not believe his eyes. It was the beginning of 1979, and, seven years after joining Matsushita Electric Trading, he had recently been assigned to the company’s Hong Kong Section. Radio-cassette recorders were a hit item at the time. Returning to the office after the New Year holidays, he was stunned to discover that the number on the order sheet was double that of the previous month.

    When I took up the post, my predecessor gave me an overview...

  12. 6 What if We Can’t Buy a Rice Cooker in Canada? Across the Ocean to Asian Diasporas
    (pp. 131-152)

    The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed by Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Beijing, on December 19, 1984. The prospect of the British colony being returned to China in 1997 caused tremendous anxiety among the people of Hong Kong. Those who had fled poverty-stricken villages in China and whose family members had suffered hardship during the Cultural Revolution felt uneasy about their future under the Communist regime. Many feared the worst. Thus began the mass exodus from Hong Kong to the West, in order to obtain foreign citizenship as insurance against what might...

  13. 7 Only They Would Know Globalizing Rice Cookers through Local Insight
    (pp. 153-174)

    In 1976, a young Japanese diplomat was sent to the Chinese University of Hong Kong for language training. He lived on campus, attended Mandarin classes at the New Asia Yale-in-China Language Centre in the morning, and played tennis in the afternoon. That autumn, a Hong Kong Chinese student, Samuel Lee, invited him and a few other friends to his dorm for dinner.¹ When the young Japanese diplomat walked into Samuel’s room, however, the only cooking appliance he could see was a classic white-bodied rice cooker. This naturally made him wonder whether their dinner was going to consist of anything more...

  14. Epilogue Made in Asia
    (pp. 175-178)

    The globalization of “Made in Japan” products is usually presented as a heroic tale whose central characters are all Japanese men: it focuses on how diligently their project teams worked, how their products created a sensation in the United States, and how their efforts enriched the Japanese economy. The NHK documentary series Project X: Challengers is a case in point. This show aired weekly between 2000 and 2005 on Japan’s sole public broadcaster. It usually featured exceptionally dedicated salarymen, hailing them as unsung heroes who had played small yet critical roles in the Japanese postwar economic miracle. The program was...

  15. Who’s Who at Matsushita
    (pp. 179-182)
  16. Chronology
    (pp. 183-188)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 189-200)
  18. References
    (pp. 201-206)
  19. Index
    (pp. 207-214)