Americanization in Print Advertising: an Historical Comparison of Japanese and U.S. Advertising Since 1945

ABSTRACT - Based on content analyses of Japanese and American magazine advertising since World War 11, evidence is found for increasing Americanization in the clothing, furnishings, and language of Japanese ads. However, there now appears to be some tendency away from such Americanization. Furthermore, while there is some convergence of values in the advertising themes of the two countries, Japanese value-related themes remain distinct, suggesting that there has been little change in deep-seated cultural values.


Russell W. Belk and Richard W. Pollay (1985) ,"Americanization in Print Advertising: an Historical Comparison of Japanese and U.S. Advertising Since 1945", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 302-306.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 302-306


Russell W. Belk, University of Utah

Richard W. Pollay, University of British Columbia


Based on content analyses of Japanese and American magazine advertising since World War 11, evidence is found for increasing Americanization in the clothing, furnishings, and language of Japanese ads. However, there now appears to be some tendency away from such Americanization. Furthermore, while there is some convergence of values in the advertising themes of the two countries, Japanese value-related themes remain distinct, suggesting that there has been little change in deep-seated cultural values.


Several recent accounts note that Japanese fascination with American-sounding English- language brand names seems to have reached epic proportions (Burton 1983a; Fields 1983; Lubarsky 1984 ; Rice 1983) . Occasionally the result is humorous to Western ears, as in names such as Germ Bread, Pocari Sweat soft drink, My Pee baby talcum powder, and Trim Pecker trousers. The use of such loan words, or gairaigo, from English has resulted in thousands of such words being incorporated into the Japanese language (Shibata 1983). Traditionally, however, they are written in a syllabic alphabet called katakana. In this case they are usually no longer thought of as being English and are viewed as essentially Japanese. Examples would be "the aboreji sarariiman (average salarymar has a deito (date) with his gaaru furendo (girl friend)"DeMente and Perry (1967, p. 174).

The Japanese consumer speaking these words or reading them in phonetic katakana would not typically view them as English words any more than the pictographic kanji would be viewed as Chinese, even though the Japanese kanji were borrowed and adapted from the Chinese kanji. But recent advertising has often made it a point to retain the Western flavor of its borrowings by printing them in the original Roman alphabet.

Nor is the Japanese fascination with American images limited to borrowing brand names and words. American movie stars (Talen 1984) and American brands (Burton 1983b) are also popular. Evidence of Japan's adoption of Western, and especially American, culture is also found in increased use of Western products and styles in foods, clothing, and furnishings (Christopher 1983; Cleaver 1976; Fukutake 1974, 1982; Kikusawa 1979; Woronoff 1981). Kikusawa (1979) found for instance that Western furnishings replaced traditional Japanese tatami floor mats, folding bedding, and pillows, especially in the kitchen, dining room, guest room and rooms of the young, but not in the living room and rooms of the old. Japanese fascination with things American is also seen in the frequent attention to American styles and trends in Japanese media (Gardner 1961) and the several magazines solely devoted to reporting the American scene (Asahi Shimbun 1980).

In seeking a theoretical explanation for Westernization and Americanization in Japan, Lebra (1976) suggested that in Japan the West and the U.S. are associated with status and modern sophistication in somewhat the same way that France and things French have long been associated with elegance and status in the U.S. Rosenberg and Thompson (1985) and Lebra (1976) suggest that the notion of retto-kan or inferiority-superiority complex is responsible for this view. While the Japanese feel superior to the West from a traditional Japanese cultural perspective, they feel that they are seen as inferior from a modern Western perspective. It has even been suggested that the Japanese receptivity to Americanization is due to a psychoanalytic case of identification by the (World War II) defeated with the victor (Kitahara 1983).

However, it is important to recognize that the apparent Americanization of Japan is not new. While one analysis of the images of Americans in popular Japanese literature shows an improved image emerging in the 1970's (Kishi 1975), another analysis finds that Americanization began with the 1868-1912 Meiji era (called a "restoration" but more of a revolution in borrowing from the West), if not earlier (Kinmonth 1981) - Kato (1965) suggests that there have been three periods of receptivity to Western ideas in modern Japanese history. Each followed a great change: the Meiji Reform, the First World War, and the Second World War. Kato also notes that each was supplanted by a period of nationalism in which receptivity to Wetern ideas vanishes. Clark (1985) suggests that Japan may be headed into such a cycle at the present time. In support of this conclusion there is evidence of a revival of interest in traditional Japanese lifestyles, art, clothing, and architecture (Kurita 1983, Burton 1985b).


Besides attending to the apparently cyclical nature of Americanization in Japan, it is also necessary to ask whether the adoption of Western goods, styles, and language goes deeper than this to alter the values and ideals of traditional Japan. It is clear that in the past for instance, Japan borrowed not only kanji from-China, but Buddhism and Confucianism as well. Replacing the native Shinto religion, they left a lasting residue on Japanese values and ethics (Christopher 1983). During the recent period of Westernization, however, there is some thought that the adoption of English language and American styles has. not extended to deeper cultural values, which remain distinctly Japanese (Fields 1983; Jameson 1984).

One value uniquely associated with the U.S. at least since DeToequeville's early eighteenth century observations, is its materialism (Belk and Pollay 1985). As defined by Belk (1983), materialism is the degree to which individuals believe that possessions or lack thereof provide satisfaction and dissatisfaction in life. Using a somewhat looser definition of materialism as interest in keeping economic growth high and prices low, Inglehart (1971, 1981) advanced the hypothesis that generations raised in increasing affluence should be decreasingly materialistic. Since both the U.S. and Japan have shown rapid economic growth since World War II (with Japan's growth in fact being nearly three times greater than that of the U.S.--Yoshino 1975), they provide parallel opportunities for examining this hypothesis and at the same time examining the possible convergence of Japanese and American values regarding materialism. Using Inglehart's definition of materialism, however, his thesis has fared better in America and Western Europe than in Japan. Both Ike (1973) and Flanagan (1979) concluded that in Japan affluence has failed to make people less acquisitive, although Inglehart (1981) attempts to interpret their data to the contrary.

Perhaps part of the difficulty invalidating Inglehart's thesis in Japan is that it is based on Maslow's (1954) need hierarchy. In this hierarchy after one has satisfied lower order needs (physiological, safety, social) less material higher order needs (self-esteem, self -actualization) are pursued. However, due to the less individualistic more social or collective cultures typical of the East (Barnlund 1975; Tan and McCullough 1985), Nevis (1983) suggests that an alternate hierarchy applies beginning with social needs and advancing with satiation to physiological, safety, and "self -actualization in the service of society" needs. If so, this could explain Ike's (1973) and Flanagan's (1979) findings, although both studies also suggest that Japan is moving toward a more individualistic set of values.

The less individualistic orientation of the Japanese should not be taken to mean a lesser emphasis of status symbols, however, Status is such a concern in Japan and so effects behavior that establishing one's status relative to another is a first item of business, seen to by the ubiquitous exchange of business cards from which status may be inferred both from one's position and the status of one's organization. Clothing, cars, and other accouterments of daily life are all expected to be consistent with one's place in society (Lebra 1976). Recent observations suggest that the emphasis on status symbols is increasing rather than decreasing in Japanese society (Beauchamp 1985; Burton 1985a; Casassus 1985; Fujiwara 1985). This is expected to be opposite the trend in the U.S. where status symbols appeared to peak in the 1930's (Belk and Pollay 1985).

A related value dimension which may be examined for convergence of American and Japanese culture is mode of control. The traditional U.S. mode of control is an active form called "primary control" (Rothbaum, Weisz, and Snyder 1982; Weisz, Rothbaum, and Blackburn 1984) in which the individual attempts to change other people, events, and circumstances in order to bring about a desired outcome. The form of control thought to be more typical of the Japanese is "secondary control" in which the individual adapts to the environment, other people, and circumstances rather than attempting to actively change them. If Japan has increasingly adopted Western values, we would expect to see a shift toward primary control as well.


In light of the recent attention to Americanization in Japan and the suggestions that these changes have not affected Japanese core values, the objectives of this study were two. The first concern was to examine the patterns of Americanization in Japanese print advertising since 1945 in order to determine when and how this most recent trend to Americanize emerged and whether it has begun to decline. The second objective was to compare several key values expressed in Japanese and U.S. print advertising during this period in order to see whether there has also been any tendency to shift toward American values in the context of Japanese advertising.



The U.S. sample of print ads was randomly drawn from the ten largest circulation U.S. magazines, producing the following distribution of ads featuring the interior of a home:


The home setting restriction was to assure a consistent setting for observing the values of interest. The apparent decrease in the number of ads featuring the home in each successive decade was instead due to an increasing number of ads featuring the advertised item by itself with no background setting (see Belk and Pollay 1985 for details).

The Japanese sampling plan also selected ads depicting the home and was applied to the three largest circulation consumer magazines for the period 1953 to 1983. These magazines were Bungi Shunju, Chuo Koron, and Shukan Asahi. Using each issue of these magazines at five year intervals produced the following sample:



The set of U.S. ads was coded by three graduate students who were first trained to code a set of sample ads to the specifications they were selected to represent. Of greatest interest to the present investigation were three codes representing materialistic themes and alternatives (luxury/ pleasure, status/ prestige, practical/ functional) and one code involving primary rather than secondary control (Doing) . These categories were defined for coders as follows:

Luxury/ Pleasure--Explicitly mentions luxury (or related terms such as leisure, pleasure, regal, or pampered) or else depicts such pleasures visually.

Status /Prestige--Shows or discusses prestige or social standing relative to others or uses high prestige source or association.

Practical/Functional--Shows or discusses pragmatic product or service benefits such as practicality, efficiency, cleanliness, or hygiene.

Doing--Shows or discusses a reader activity that is aided or provided by the product or service.

Interjudge reliabilities for these items (percent in agreement, Kassarjian 1977) averaged .87 Inconsistencies were able to be resolved by majority coding since there were three judges and each of  the above codes was a dichotomous yes/no decision.

Coders for the Japanese ads were three different  graduate students who were fluent in Japanese and had spent a minimum of five of the past ten years in Japan. Two were U.S. citizens and one was a Japanese citizen. Using codes defined as above as well as somewhat more. mechanistic counts of Americanizations in these ads, interjudge reliability was .88 after  training. In addition, the Japanese ad coders coded a sample of 10 U.S. ads using the same codings as the coders for the U.S. ads. This produced an average interjudge agreement of .85 between the Japanese ad coders and the U.S. ad coders. These reliabilities are quite acceptable (Nunnally 1967). Value Changes



The Japanese ads were coded for the presence of versus Western furnishings, Western clothing, U.S. products being advertised, and both untranslated (English) and translated (katana or hiranga--two similar phonetic alphabets) English copy use in headlines. These indices of Westernization are shown for the years investigated in Figures 1 and 2. It can be seen that there are many evidences of Americanization in these various indices - The indices in Figure 1 indicate that Western clothing was featured the most in the 1960's and that the use of Western furnishings and ads for U.S. products seem to have peaked in 1978. Figure 2 also shows evidence of a recent decline in Americanizations in the use of translated and untranslated English words. Both of these Americanizations appear to have peaked a decade before the most recent (1983) data, although they are still both quite prevalent.





Value Changes

The degree of materialism manifest in U.S. and Japanese advertising might be judged by comparing the incidence of more materialistic appeals how practical or functional the advertised item is versus the incidence of more materialistic appeals to luxury/pleasure or status/prestige. These value themes are shown in Figures 3, 4, and 5. While both countries show a rise in the frequency of appeals to luxury or pleasure, only Japan shows the sharp increase in the frequency of status or prestige appeals. Figure 5 indicates that the use of practical and functional appeals has decreased in both countries over the period studied. Together with the evidence from Figures 3 and 4, this suggests that materialistic appeals have gained in relative frequency, especially in Japan.







Figure 6 shows one final value comparison between the two sets of ads. There is a striking difference between the high frequency of U.S. advertisements with doing themes and the low frequency of such ads in the Japanese ad sample.




There is clearly evidence of Westernization and Americanization in post-World War Il Japanese print advertising. The interpretation of such advertising as borrowing a Western flavor to lend status (Lebra 1976) may be supported by the somewhat parallel rise of appeals to status and prestige found in the Japanese advertising. However, status appeals and the Americanizations investigated, have declined in the past decade. This tends to support Kinmonth's (1981) observation that the Japanese fascination with things Western has always been temporary and cyclical, and suggests that Japan is now moving away from such borrowings.

The question of whether Japanese advertising also seems to have been influenced by American values over the period studied was investigated first through a comparison of the use of materialistic appeals (luxury/ pleasure, status/ prestige) versus nonmaterialistic appeals (practical/functional) in the two countries. Both countries show an ascendancy of materialistic appeals over nonmaterialistic appeals. Appeals to luxury and pleasure are no more frequent in Japan than the U.S., but they grew from a base of almost no such advertisements in the 1950's when one-fifth of U.S. ads were already employing such appeals. In the case of appeals to status and prestige, Japanese ads grew from a similar base of almost no such appeals in the 1950's to the current situation in which approximately 40% of Japanese print ads (5 times as many as U.S. ads) use such an appeal. These findings suggest that the affluence produced in the two countries by post-war economic growth may have encouraged the use of materialistic appeals in both. The greater rise in the use of such appeals in Japan might be accounted for by the greater war-related industrial destruction in Japan.

The persistence of value differences between the two countries is also suggested by the much greater frequency of "doing" themes in U.S. advertising. Such advertising themes likely reflect the western bias in favor of "primary control" over "secondary control." While it has been suggested that Japan is becoming more like the U.S. in beginning to stress individualism over a collective spirit (Ike 1973; Barnlund 1975; Flanagan 1979), no such trend is evident in advertising appeals to act upon others and one's environment in a purposive and individualistic manner.

Thus while much attention has recently been paid to the Americanization or Westernization of Japan, it appears to be neither a recent nor lasting phenomenon. It also does not appear from the values investigated that Japan has also adopted Western values over its own traditional values.


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Russell W. Belk, University of Utah
Richard W. Pollay, University of British Columbia


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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