The distinctively modern Singapore skyline meets traditional places of worship in a photobook launched this month for the 2018 spring/summer mens’ collection by acclaimed Japanese high fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.
Bento boxes of Singaporean dishes including chicken rice, chicken curry and laksa in supermarket chain Seijo Ishii, with fried beehoon now outselling even Japanese dishes after it recently won a bento award.
These are among the partnerships led by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in Japan as part of a marketing strategy with local brands to sell Singapore as a “destination story”.
It is also working with award-winning actor and director Takumi Saito as its first Japanese tourism ambassador to Singapore.
The numbers of Japanese visitors to Singapore have been relatively tepid. Latest available figures from the STB for January to October last year show 653,967 Japanese arrivals in Singapore, down 0.4 per cent over the same period in 2016, though STB said it is “cautiously optimistic” due to the Nov-Dec peak travel period for the Japanese.
Yet the number of Japanese who went overseas in the first 10 months last year rose nearly 5 per cent over the same period in 2016, according to Japan National Tourism Organisation.
This could have prompted a change in tack by STB towards more experiential marketing.
“We have observed through qualitative research and marketing campaigns that Japanese audiences respond better to communications with a strong native voice,” STB’s regional director for North Asia Markus Tan told The Straits Times.
“By collaborating with brands that Japanese consumers are familiar with, we believe we can increase the talkability of Singapore in their daily lives and build affinity and affiliation with them.
Several partnerships have been rolled out since 2016, when Singapore and Japan marked 50 years of bilateral ties. These include Katong laksa-flavoured cup noodles by Myojo and Singapore Seafood Republic restaurant, as well as collaborations with brands such as ramen chain Ippudo and chicken rice restaurant Chatterbox.
The latest project is an exclusive photobook titled Singapura, which features well-known personalities donned in Yamamoto’s 2018 spring-summer collection for men, and photographed at various landmarks in Singapore.
It was produced by Singapore director Eric Khoo’s studio Zhao Wei films and shot by Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee during the National Day period in August last year.
The models are of different races and include Mr Hikaru Ota of Japanese Netflix reality show Terrace House: Boys & Girls In The City, and Mr Takayuki Suzuki, who was crowned Mr Japan 2013.
Backdrops include the Merlion Park and Marina Bay Sands, as well as places of worship such as the Thian Hock Keng Temple, Sultan Mosque, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and the St Andrew’s Cathedral.
One image shows the interlocking arms of the models and these words from Singapore’s national creed – “pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language and religion” – as the creative team conveyed the messages of assimilation, harmony and rebirth.
The 96-page photobook has been made available to shoppers at Yohji Yamamoto boutiques since Jan 10 . The Tokyo-based Mr Kee, 46, has worked with Yohji Yamamoto since 2011.
He told The Straits Times from Paris where he was photographing a fashion show for Yamamoto’s autumn-winter collection: “Inspired by the different paintings and calligraphy for this collection, but with the theme of ‘reincarnation’ I suggested the idea of shooting in Singapore to show its transformation from old to modern.”
He added that Singapore was also the best place to showcase “the spirit of the collection, with its multiethnic and multi-religious background.”
Many of the collaborations were for a limited period only, but the bento box tie-up with Seijo Ishii extended beyond the one-month campaign in 2016.
A spokesman told The Straits Times that the “overwhelming popularity” and “expected sales growth” of its ethnic South-east Asian dishes has led the supermarket chain to continue selling these bento sets, which were developed by chefs who visited Singapore.
“We want to introduce a new food culture to our customers by developing specialty foods that would otherwise be difficult to cook at home as unique seasonings are required,” the spokesman said.
“We hope our Japanese customers who are newly-introduced to the charm of ethnic Singapore food will in turn be inspired to visit Singapore for an authentic experience.”
All these efforts, said Mr Tan from the STB, will ultimately help raise consumer awareness and “position Singapore positively in their minds, so that they may be more inclined to choose Singapore as a destination to visit or opt to spend a longer time on the island”.
Calligrapher Kana Oishi, 38, said she is a huge fan of the bento meals, which she eats every other month.