The exponential growth in tourists to Japan, now over 31 million/y, has been manna from heaven for many, especially drug stores.

In bound tourists spend on average $50/person on Japanese medicines which has resulted in the creation of new markets when visitors return home.

150 year old Ryukakusan, a maker of Rx and OTC products, as well as a popular line of throat candies, has seen its overseas sales jump 6 fold in the last 4 years thanks to distribution tie ups in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and America.

Ryukakusan advert: “Your throat’s body guard”

The Ryukakusan brand has a strong ‘Kampo’ image, medicines made from a concoction of plants. Kampo originated from China and is holistic in ethos. There are over 140 Kampo Rx products in Japan and over 90% of Japanese doctors have at some point prescribed them. Most drug stores devote shelf space to Kampo products in addition to traditional western OTC products.

Ryukakusan’s packaging is premium, distinctive and its handwritten kanji logo make it unmistakably Japanese. According to Japanese drug store trade reports, Ryukakusan has consistently been one of the most popular products purchased by tourists.

Fake on the left, genuine product on the right

However can you tell the difference between these two designs? It’s very hard. Only someone who reads Japanese might notice the middle character on the LHS pack has changed.

Where these fakes have come from has not been stated, though doubtless Ryukakusan have their suspicions.

Safe guarding your brand’s intellectual property is key for long term export success. Looking at the Ryukakusan packs it seems they haven’t paid due diligence to IP protection. I suspect that Ryukakusan have naively assumed that no one would deliberately copy their work.

Now they have their work cut out chasing down fakes, instead of brand building.

The 5 secrets of trademark protection are laid out in Export and Expand.