Late last week, Wendy's announced it will be shutting down each of its 71 Japanese locations and effectively withdrawing from Japan by the end of the year.
Similar to the scenario in the states, Wendy's was being consistently beaten by the business that McDonald's generates, but unlike Japan, Wendy's has managed to hold its own against the Golden Arches in the good ol' U.S. of A.
The closure marks the end of a 29-year presence in Japan and is a testament to the differing tastes of Eastern and Western countries. But Wendy's is hardly the only -- or the most surprising -- well-known brand not to garner equal success in Japan.
A major reason, analysts say, for Google's struggle is Yahoo Japan's cultural history and local identity -- a problem Google has yet to overcome. Google is still seen as an American company which is a detriment compared to Yahoo Japan's familiarity with the country. Speaking with The New York Times, tech analyst Nobuyuki Hayashi described the dichotomy simply.
"Yahoo Japan is a Japanese company, and most of their employees are Japanese people who fluently understand how the Japanese mind-set and business work," he said. "But Google's still a foreigner who's learned how to speak some Japanese."
Nevertheless, true to the company's character, Google refuses to be daunted in light of any setbacks and continues to produce buzz-worthy stunts and marketing initiatives to sway local trends -- localized splash pages for the search engine, tailored branding ads for the country, and a publicity stunt involving 2,500 balloons and airborne passersby. As long as Google trails anyone in any country, it will expectantly fight the good fight to turn it all around.
Before the introduction of the iPhone 3GS, the device's sub par video and camera support were keeping it behind its Japanese competitors which developed those features early on. It wasn't until Apple released the advanced 3GS did locals finally warm up to the smartphone -- making its 8GB and 16GB the top two bestselling smartphones in July 2009. In short, Apple did what Nokia and Motorola failed to do -- succeed in Japan.
But when a sluggish economy can hinder high fashion outlets like Versace, Sephora, and French Connection -- and money laundering can close the private banking branches of Citigroup -- succeeding and prevailing in Japan is often an insurmountable hurdle for a global brand.
A combination of hyperbolic announcements before the site was ready, an Americanized service model, a 5% commission on auctions (Yahoo charged nothing), and a premature exit, eBay stumbled and bungled its Japanese experiment. That is, until it formed a joint venture with Yahoo.
The network operator hitched their wagon to local outfit J-phone, which had an inadequate 3G network compared to its competitors. That, coupled with inferior handsets with monochromatic displays, Vodafone Japan was eventually sold off to local provider SoftBank after grabbing a minuscule 6.3% of the 3G market.
Following a price war with McDonald's, Burger King was forced to withdraw from the Japanese market in 2001. However, it bounded back in 2007 and, thanks to the popular Windows 7 Whopper promotion, has found enough success to keep Japanese folks happy and full for the time being.
In February 2007, right before the release of the company's Theme Park simulator for the Nintendo DS, EA announced the slow-to-develop outfit would be dissolved, its staff would be reassigned to other company positions, and while Japanese publishing remained, development ceased.
Despite reporting 3.1 million unique visitors and 55 million page views monthly in April 2008, the site couldn't compete with diminishing ad sales and a botched investment in a poorly realized game -- if rumors are to be believed. Although Japan can't look toward Shockwave for a quick gaming fix, the country isn't exactly left wanting inthe video game department