Japan: Special report

The world's second-biggest economy and third-mightiest purchasing power (after the US and China), Japan would appear an obvious magnet for Western agencies. So why is it that so few have gone the distance there, with Publicis Japan the most recent to shut up shop?

McCann WorldGroup's Kevin Ramsey, who heads Japan's biggest international agency and one that has stood firm on the country's volcanic terrain since the early 60s, delivers some fascinating insights into the workings of the market that has confounded many of McCann's international rivals. Read page 25 before you plan your disembarkation on the Japanese archipelago.

Part of the problem for foreign entrants is the tight relationship between the big three agencies - Dentsu, Hakuhodo and Asatsu-DK - and local business. Another factor is those agencies' control of media buying, too. A further issue still is the power of the Japanese mafia (the Yakuza), which controls much of the outdoor ad landscape. Those Japanese agencies with the clout to access the best out-of-home sites are generally creating innovative and striking executions, as judged against Western standards (page 29). Ultimately, then, it's surprising any foreign agencies have made it in Japan at all.

In more evidence of a cultural clash, it's a wonder how Western agencies could comfortably mesh with the advertising norms or, rather, extremes of Japan. Our two creative gurus attempt to distil the somewhat acquired taste of Japanese communications.

One way in which the Japanese ad industry is changing, however, is in its embrace of the ageing population (page 26). Growing old: now that's something we can all relate to.