Yozo Yagi

PR Office Director, Yagi Tsusho Limited.
01 October 2007
Yozo Yagi is the PR Office Director of
Yozo Yagi is the PR Office Director of “Branding & Communication” for veteran trading company Yagi Tsusho Limited. We sat down with Mr. Yagi to discuss Yagi Tsuho's recent acquisition of iconic British coat brand Mackintosh.

Yagi Tsusho is a relatively old company, correct?

Last December, we celebrated our 60th birthday, so this is our 61st year. Like many of the Japanese “trading companies” (shousha), we originally started in Osaka, and the main office is still there.

Right after the war, Yagi Tsusho began to engage in material trading — selling Japanese fabrics and yarn to the rest of the world. So at the beginning we were a “trading company” in the classic sense, but then in the mid-'70s, we started bringing in big foreign in “designer brands,” like Guy Laroche.

Non-Japanese have a hard time understanding the role of “trading companies.” Can you illuminate?

In Europe, countries are all adjacent to each other, so it makes perfect sense that goods flow between them. Like the UK, Japan is surrounded by ocean. Japan has never been invaded, nor ever became a colony — outside of the end of WWII. Because Japan nly has Japanese people, there isn’t much cultural intercourse. And there were few people who could communicate with foreign countries. So, the Japanese formed specific trading companies, bringing together those who could speak English and negotiate. After 1986 though, everyone was able to go abroad and many people now speak English, so the environment has changed.

But in the Japanese market, trading companies held a special position and built up power. And through making a lot of money in the past, they built up more power. At this point, the big trading companies are more like investment companies — not just “traders.” Yagi is no longer a simple trading company, and we couldn’t add much additional value by just being that.

But it’s not like trading companies are not profitable anymore due to more global travel among Japanese?

Trading companies used to go with a buyer to all the exhibitions overseas and negotiate an order on the way home, but the margin they can get from has shrunk. You can’t make money anymore doing that. So even within Yagi Tsusho, it’s not like we are just importing the clothes from Moncler and Mackintosh and selling them in Japan. In the past, we didn’t even have showrooms, just normal rooms where we’d bring people and say, “Here.” Now we have showrooms and a nice display. We no longer just directly translate the news releases from overseas, but instead write them in a way that reflects how these brands fit into the Japanese market.  And we don’t just put info in magazines as is, we think about the way it looks from a branding perspective. So we had to add that part of the job.

In the mid-‘70s, did Yagi see a boom in the brand business and go after it?

Well, we are a trading company, so our specialty was to import foreign products. We traded all sorts of materials, mostly fiber and fashion goods and food. We still import peanuts and honey, etc. 

We realized we could actually import and export anything, and since our main thing was fibers used in fashion, we also went after import brands. We were on the early side of companies to realize we could do this. 
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