When culture means business: An ethnographic study of the Japanese market for Danish design and furniture

Aya Okamura & Jakob Heiberg

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this research is to add new insights to the field of study concerning culture and consumption, through a qualitative analysis of the Japanese market for Danish design and furniture. The research takes point of departure in two contradicting epistemological approaches towards the influence of culture in human behaviour. We have studied the Japanese market from a structuralistic perspective in order to analyse whether the Japanese consumer behaviour is determined by its cultural and social context. Quantitative data presents the Japanese market as characterised by a broad middle class and a high degree of purchasing power, which creates potential for Danish luxury products. However, from a social constructivist perspective cultural background does not determine consumption; instead individuals are influenced by the process of interaction and base their decisions on enactment. Hence, the study has analysed the impact of associations and cultural meaning for Japanese consumption of Danish design and furniture products. The fieldwork research has enabled us to provide empirical evidence of whether culture matters for consumption of Danish design in Japan. The results of the analysis illustrate new insights on the impact of being ‘Danish’ in Japan, and describe cultural similarities and differences between the Japanese and the Danish culture. We have taken these findings one step further investigating which strategies Danish design companies should pursue on the Japanese market. An in-depth analysis of the Japanese culture and market has explored the ‘unique’ cultural aspects of the market, which Danish companies should be attentive towards. As a part of the preparatory phase for our field research, we interviewed Danish companies and organisations for Danish design and furniture. From these conversations we saw a general concern about whether it means anything to be ‘Danish’. The global tendency of an increasingly integrated international market, make the Danish companies and organisations wonder whether they should focus on being more ‘international’ and ‘universal’ when approaching the Japanese consumer. This research illustrates the importance of increased awareness for the inherent cultural value of being ‘made in Denmark,’ among Danish companies exporting to Japan.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2008
Number of pages97