Big in Japan

Published April 15, 2018, 12:05 AM


By AA Patawaran

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Big in Japan! Not that there is anything especially big in Japan, though it holds the record of still regularly using the coin with the largest value, the ¥500 coin. Tokyo Disneyland is the theme park with the third biggest number of visitors in the world and there’s the world’s largest screen: Turf Vision of Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchū at 11.2 x 66. 4 meters. Plus a hotel that’s big in age, the world’s oldest, Hōshi, a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, in Komatsu, Ishikawa, which opened in 718, although it has been dislodged from its place of record lately by a bigger hotel that is older, opened in 705, also Japanese and still operating, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, in Yamanashi.

To Ben Chan, chairman of the lifestyle retailer Suyen Corporation and the man behind Bench, Japan is big, indeed. Here is how he came across Jins, but also elsewhere, while shopping around, such as in Shanghai. “I was introduced to this company by Mr. Katsumi Kubota, ASEAN head of Seiko,” he says. “This was also facilitated by the SM Group who gave impressive push on Suyen Corporation as the right partner for distribution of Jins in the Philippine market.”

But it’s not only the big things that are big in Japan, in Tokyo at least. When I was last there, each miniscule unit of a cluster of cherry blossoms was big, too. The famed flowers were coming into season, blooming overnight, as if by magic because they were suddenly there one day when they weren’t there the day before, the day I arrived. Either that or they simply escaped my notice and, upon seeing them with new eyes, they overwhelmed me, pink and pretty, just as pretty as they would have been in postcards but prettier because they’re right in my face. I could touch them. I could pluck them out, if I so wished—and I could be in a postcard with them with a caption that would go, “With love from #Tokyo as it turns to spring.”

I, too, am emerging personally into spring. I have just acquired for myself a new pair of prescription glasses from no less than Japan’s number one eyewear brand Jins, named after its founder Hitoshi Tanaka, also Jins Inc. president, CEO, and representative director, whose name in Chinese characters reads as Jins.

And that’s why everything is big in my life right now—through the lenses of my new Jins eyewear that’s big, big, big in design, but light on the bridge of my nose and light on the hook of my ears, and also light on my pocket.

On the invitation of Ben Chan, who is opening the first Jins store in Manila, we met with Tanaka and his team, touring the Jins global head office in Chiyoda City in Central Tokyo and it’s all big, the slogan after which Jins keeps its workforce’s eyes on the goal, after all, is to “Magnify Life.” The work area on the 30th floor of Iidabashi Grand Bloom Building is a study in the office of the future, just a vast floor that extends to the sky through picture windows, filled with long desks at which the staff and managers can just park themselves anywhere they please.

“It’s good for communication,” Tanaka-san told us at a dinner he hosted for us. “But it’s bad for concentration.” To address this, he decided to convert the 29th floor, just one floor beneath the global office, into what they now call The Jins Think Lab, lush with indoor trees, that smells of a spa. In the Think Lab, much like a library or a sacred shine or spa or meditation room, silence is imposed and, if you must speak at all, you are encouraged to whisper. There’s a massage room, too. Here is a CEO who keeps an eye on the welfare of his crew, the success of whom, as he openly acknowledges, is the secret to the success of his vision. This design philosophy has won awards, the latest of which was given by Nikkei’s in its search for design that “explores the future.”

Tanaka-san’s vision is drawn from 18 years ago, when he accompanied a friend to an eyewear center to seek remedies for his failing vision. He recounted that it took a long time and it wasn’t very convenient or even friendly, requiring several trips back to get the glasses done, so, fast forward to 1988, he built Jins, with which he took on the challenge of “creating a future with eyewear for all.” His vision, as I mentioned earlier, was—and still is—to “Magnify Life.”

It’s a big promise and a big commitment. Of Japan’s 120 million people, 80 million are in need of prescription glasses and, as Jins pursued the business, it grew by leaps and bounds in no time to be the number one eyewear brand in Japan with 335 stores all over the country and grew out of Japan to carry out the vision in China with 128 stores, in Taiwan with 20 stores, and in the US with four stores and counting. The Philippines, thanks to Ben Chan, is the fourth international location and the first to be entrusted to a foreign partner, as operation in locations outside of Japan is still directly handled by the Tokyo office—the first Jins store in Manila will soft-open in the next few days at the SM Aura in Taguig City.

Like most brands under Suyen Corporation, Jins sets its products apart by simply anchoring itself on market needs. In fact, this is exactly why Ben is drawn to this Japanese brand. “I’d like to think that Suyen and Jins follow more or less the same principles in marketing,” he says. “We produce fashionable items that cater to a good range of demographics; very accessible in price and value. Both companies share humble beginnings exactly 30 years ago. We adhere to similar design aesthetics always on the lookout for something fresh and new to offer to the discriminating market.”

Jins is very serious about keeping its prices at the most reasonable level, which is why it has recently introduced its all-in-one price. You buy a frame and the price already includes a pair of “Basic Vision” aspheric lenses, whether or not you like them thinner, but they’re already all thin, scratch-proof, and fog-proof. What’s more, Jins does not charge extra for single vision prescriptions, not even for strong myopia or astigmatism. The stores are also well-distributed, at least in Japan, and welcoming, instead of intimidating, with open spaces and clear displays, as well as apps by which customers can try on up to 1,200 types of frames in search of what best suits them. Each store, too, as a matter of policy, has a regular stock of more than 4,000 lenses with various lens power, along with other specialty products like blue light cut glasses or even glasses that protect from allergens, such as pollen, especially in Japan, where allergic rhinitis in is a big issue in spring.

At Jins, you really only have to worry about the design that’s perfect for the shape of your face or your lifestyle. Exceptional fit and “zero-compromise” comfort are ensured by thoroughly selected material for the nose and ear pads.

Best of all, you can have your glasses in 30 minutes or less. The eye exam was a breeze, too, handled by optometrists who are not only efficient but also friendly. I got mine in no time at all and all in three steps: 1. choose your frame, 2. undergo the eye exam, 3. then pick up your new glasses and walk out of the store for a stroll, shop around, go to the movies, read in the park, meet up with friends, and just take in all that your bigger, brighter eyes can see ever more clearly.

The first store of Jins Philippines will open at SM Aura in BGC, Taguig.