Nissan Seminar: Title: Democratizing Luxury: Name Brands, Advertising, and Consumption in Modern Japan

Convener(s): Professor Takehiko Kariya and Dr. Natalia Doan

Speaker(s): Professor Annika A. Culver, Associate Professor of East Asian History at Florida State University

These seminars will occur live and will not be recorded. Unauthorized recording is strictly prohibited.

Please click on the seminar title to register in advance and receive the meeting details.

Democratizing Luxury: Name Brands, Advertising, and Consumption in Modern Japan


Democratizing Luxury explores the interplay between advertising and consumption in modern Japan by investigating how Japanese companies at key historical moments assigned value, or "luxury," to mass-produced products as an important business model.  Japanese name brand luxury evolved alongside a consumer society emerging in the late nineteenth century with iconic Japanese companies whose names became associated with quality and style, while Western ideas of modernity merged with earlier artisanal ideals to create Japanese connotations of luxury for readily accessible products: high-quality artisanality assigned to industrial commodities, along with "place" connoting region or nation, despite alienation from interpersonal relationships of producers with their materials. Companies created products at all price points to increase consumer accessibility, while starkly curtailing production for limited editions to augment desirability. Tokugawa Era (1603-1868) artisanal traditions merged with the nascence of brand names, while consumer-based businesses developed in parallel to Japan’s late nineteenth century imperial expansion, and later adapted to transwar conditions. The book examines affordable luxury consumer items often advertised to women, including drinks, beauty products, fashion, and timepieces, in studies featuring Shiseidō, Suntory, Seikō, Casio, Sanrio, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Bathing Ape. The first comprehensive 150-year history of iconic Japanese name brands and their unique connotations of luxury and accessibility in modern Japan and elsewhere, Democratizing Luxury explores company histories and strategies leading domestic and global customers to consume commodities conferring affordable status.   

Speaker Bio:

Professor Annika A. Culver is Associate Professor of East Asian History at Florida State University, where she specializes in Japan and Northeast Asia.  She received her doctorate from the University of Chicago and holds an A.M. degree in Regional Studies East Asia from Harvard University and a history degree from Vassar College. Since 2012,

Professor Culver serves as a scholar in the US-Japan Network for the Future, a group initiated by the late Ezra Vogel which connects academics to foreign policy communities; she is also an Editorial Board Member of the Texas National Security Review.  Her research and publications feature propaganda and advertising, cultural production in Manchuria/Manchukuo and Japan’s empire, history of science in Japan, and Japanese consumer capitalism, with funding from the Japan Foundation, Association for Asian Studies, D. Kim Foundation for Science and Technology, USIIE (Fulbright), and other grants. Professor Culver’s publications include Glorify the Empire:  Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo (2013), which won the Southeast Conference for the Association for Asian Studies 2015 Book Prize, the co-edited volume Manchukuo Perspectives: Transnational Approaches to Literary Production (2019), and Japan's Empire of Birds:  Aristocrats, Anglo-Americans, and Transwar Ornithology (2022).