Norio Tadakawa, Shiseido production manager, has a different explanation. “There are six sake breweries” around Otawara, he says. This is due to the high-quality water around the region — also a fundamental component in making cosmetics.
The three new Shiseido factories in Japan will feature the latest in Japanese tech — from advanced robotics to artificial intelligence — but will also rely heavily on human intervention, especially for the highest-range products.
“Where it’s possible we are introducing robots, AI, and digital production capacities. But we still need people, employees that have high craftmanship and skills,” said Uotani.
In Otawara for example, while machines fill the bottles, lines of employees in white, blue or pink overalls fix the tops — there are too many different types of container to automate this process.
Despite the highest labour costs, Shiseido is not the only company to bring back production to its home base. In 2017, Kose Corporation sold its factory in China to boost its presence in Japan.
The gamble on high-cost, high-quality domestically produced goods appears to be working, said Mitsue Konishi, senior innovation analyst at GlobalData.
“With quality ingredients, luxurious formulations, elegant packaging, and craftsmanship, cosmetics with the ‘Made in Japan’ tag are gaining appeal in Asian and Western markets,” she told AFP.
But the flip side of Japanese attention to detail means development times and quality checks take longer, pointed out Shima Yamanaka, analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.
“The product timeline of Japanese companies is very long. Safety and quality are high but the product checking takes a long time,” she told AFP.
For example, Japanese firm Kao on Wednesday unveiled a “spray-on skin” they claim is the world’s first but that took 10 years to bring to market.
Even Shiseido’s Uotani admits that the nimble South Koreans have the advantage on this front.
“They are good competitors… They are quite efficient, their development time is quite short, which allows them to be very reactive to the market,” he said.
by Etienne BALMER / Natsuko FUKUE