Marketing Lessons From My Visit To Japan: Part 6

What Japanese Ritual and Culture Teaches Us About UX Design

Your Customer Judges A Book By Its Cover

Making our way through various cities in Japan brought many delights. But one I have yet to cover in my ongoing series about our trip, and the marketing lessons I gleaned from this amazing country, is how everything we bought was presented. If you know anything about Japanese culture at all, then you know it is a society governed by ritual, and that ritual is not confined to temples or shrines as we are used to in the West. Actually there are ritualized behaviors and patterns in almost every single aspect of Japanese life. 

As tourists in the country we were not privy to the more private, homebound rituals of daily life. But we had many interactions with how ritual governed commercial life, both in the human interactions with sales people, and in the physical presentation of virtually everything involved in the world of commerce.

Bento Boxes

If you’ve never ordered a bento box in Japan, chances are you don’t have an accurate picture in your mind. Even the bento boxes sold at the corner 7-11 were intricately packed with tiny sides and perfectly arrayed fish, rice and vegetables. But we found the most amazing display of detail in the $10-$20 Ekiben. These are bento boxes sold at every major train station featuring inspiring delicacies and regional favorites. Every part of these boxes were presented with the utmost care. Tiny seaweed bows tied around the raw fish, radish flowers, fruits displaying their natural geometry laid out with another tiny food for accent color. Foods packed together carefully so that each item shone individually, but together could almost tell a story in their thoughtful presentation.

And did you catch… we bought these at the train stations?! Even the containers were attractive, each one different from the next depending on what was contained inside. Everything folded up with precision and care. Unwrapping one of these boxes almost required us Americans to develop our own rituals, characterized by carefulness and awe.


This precision and beauty translated into every item we purchased while in Japan. Many items came gift wrapped without us even asking. But short of complete gift wrapping, many of our souvenirs were wrapped with a tiny band of beautiful paper around each item. Most stores used decorated paper bags to hold our items, often closed with a tiny sticker. Even the receipts in Japan are attractive with full saturation ink and thick glossy paper. Again, a simple transaction at the corner store was not exempt from the ritual of the two handed presentation of the receipt and a very small bow from the cashier. For expensive purchases, like when my son bought a nice watch or my daughter and I bought perfume at the Gucci store in the Kyoto train station, the clerk came out from behind the counter to present the item after everything had been completed, accompanied by a slightly deeper bow.

The Lesson Of Japanese Presentation

American companies, led by Apple and followed largely by the entire DTC industry, have caught on to the importance of presentation. Some items are so carefully packaged as to inspire an entire genre of unboxing videos on YouTube. Receiving and unboxing a product from Apple is a type of ritual that can’t be rushed and you can help but enjoy. Another industry that has always understood the power of presentation is fine dining. Certain food presentations are almost synonymous with ideas of luxury and high-end experience. 

What Japanese food and gift presentation does even better though, is that every aspect of commercial life is given this same care and attention, so that even everyday experiences feel elevated. The materials used in Japan are not simply the cheapest option available, but rather the best available material for their purpose. If something is disposable, it will still be sure to last at least as long as it is in use. Take out containers didn’t crack as easily, and paper bags do a better job of projecting the delicate goods we bought to take home with us. Since each element was given attention to the presentation, we ended up feeling that the contents must be somehow more valuable and special.

If marketers give this same attention, and not necessarily added expense, but rather sincere attention to the presentation of our products or services, we can offer our customers this same sense of luxury, even if the item is simple and meant for everyday use. The fact is, people do judge a book by its cover. In fact everything we encounter is judged first by its appearance. That’s why it’s helpful to give special attention to the presentation and include small, but noticeable little steps to the process of presentation, in order to entice the buyer to better trust and more fully enjoy what we are offering to them.

Why Your Packaging Must Match The Content

I began this series on marketing lessons I learned from my visit to Japan, with an entire post focused on the importance of quality. And I circle back to that same idea here, because the two ideas, presentation and quality, certainly go hand in hand.

As marketers we understand that no amount of savvy marketing can rescue the ills of a bad offer. What this really means is that if you dress up your packaging, create a super catchy ad campaign, and overspend your competitors on advertising, you will most certainly make sales. But there is no way to build a lasting successful brand or customer base for a sub-par product that doesn’t deliver on the promise of its marketing. 

Even though I think presentation is incredibly important, and my visit to Japan taught me just how simple it can be to elevate the experience of presentation with small, thoughtful additions to the packaging and the process, I still know that at the core of good marketing, there must be a solid, quality product.


For ideas of how to simply, yet powerfully, elevate the presentation of your product (even if it’s a digital product) I suggest you do a google image search on Japanese food, or Japanese gift wrapping, or Japanese packaging for ideas of how to create a harmonious, aesthetically pleasing visual experience in your presentation. I would not look at Japanese websites however for inspiration, because for a variety of reasons they do not follow this same approach as the physical presentation of things in Japanese culture. But you can incorporate the design elements of simplicity, careful attention to detail, and offering special little surprises, into the flow and feel of  your online experience. The other part of presentation is how the humans act around the delivery experience and this can also be elevated with extra care and attention to detail. You can also incorporate ritual so that you the provider (or marketing consultant to the sales team) develops a sense of awe and sacredness for the act of giving away your product to the new owner or user. 

While I can’t hope to cover all the ways you might interpret this advice in your own marketing, what I do know is that even giving attention to your presentation will serve to elevate the experience and help your marketing efforts overall. Our customers like to be treated as if they are special, and data based, individualized marketing is designed to deliver a customized or “special” experience. But we can also make our customers feel special by making the experience of buying from us special and that’s something that will set you apart from the mundane normalcy of your competitors. 

Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website,, or shoot me an email at

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