Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 17:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 17:22 | SYDNEY

Consumerism: The universal value


Malcolm Cook

3 December 2007 14:04

Coming back from a two-week trip to China and Japan to discuss East Asian regionalism has left me with two strong, counterveiling feelings. On the one hand, the formal process of inter-state regionalism in East Asia is in trouble because of Japan’s unresolved relations with South Korea and China and Japan-China rivalry for regional leadership. China likes the ASEAN-3 grouping and distrusts the East Asia Summit that includes Australia, New Zealand and India. Japan’s order of preference is the exact opposite. 

On the other hand, while Northeast Asian rivalry and animosities may make light of Asian values, the economic rise of China underlines the universal value of brand-name consumerism and its ability to bring peoples and cultures together. The pedestrian shopping arcades of Beijing and Shanghai now look quite similar in signage to Ginza or Shinjuku in Tokyo, Myongdong or Apkujong in Seoul or even Collins Street and Pitt Street in Australia.

While shopping at The Gap (an iconic American brand) store in Shinjuku, I was taken aback as every second voice I heard was speaking not Japanese (or English), but rather Cantonese or Mandarin. And the owners of these voices had the largest number of branded shopping bags to boot. A quick trip to Ginza and to the electric town in Akihabara delivered similar linguistic results. Today, the main train stations in Tokyo have their station names written out in four languages – Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.

While grand strategy and history divides the great powers of Northeast Asia, consumerism is bringing them closer together. Here's to the power of shopping.