A Post-War History of the Razor, Part 1: The Transition of the Shaving Market in Japan

Yasuoki Takeuchi, President of the Kamisori Club

Japan’s razor market was domestically produced until the liberalization of trade in 1960, 15 years after the end of World War II, when only safety razors, mainly made in Japan, were distributed. Among them, Feather (renamed in 1953) was the largest in Japan, accounting for 80% of the market share, far ahead of other Japanese manufacturers. After World War II, Japan’s economy underwent a remarkable recovery and development, and with pressure from foreign manufacturers, import liberalization was finally implemented in 1960, setting the stage for a full-fledged era of razor wars in which all the world’s razor manufacturers gathered in the Japanese market. As the first liberalized item, the razor holder (handle part) was opened to the public in April 1960, and then two years later, in November 1962, it was completely liberalized, including the replacement blade.

Since then, each manufacturer has had a series of strategic successes and failures, but as a brand, American chic still reigns as the top brand. In the 40 years after liberalization, from 1960 to 2000, the razor business was in the midst of a fierce battle with my father and I. I have a huge amount of photos and newspaper articles from my experiences. Based on this valuable data, I would like to provide a general overview of the evolution of the razor market in Japan, with reference to trends and changes in market share by manufacturer. In particular, I would like to tell the story of the success of the schick razor and the extraordinary efforts and perseverance of my father, Kinzo Takeuchi, as the person who dug the well. As my own son, I am proud of that and proud of myself for having witnessed it by my side. In the midst of such a whirlwind, the leading razor manufacturers, including schick, were doing huge deals, so I learned a lot and gained a lot of knowledge.

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Before the liberalization of trade in Japan (1960), Peter Oliver, center, and his father, Kinzo Takeuchi, far left, visited Japan for the first time when he was working at Gillette, April 1957

The following table shows the changes in the market share of each razor manufacturer by age group

annual1965197019711975197619802000
 presumption
SCHICK4.7%25%37.6%59.1%63.6%69.8%60%
GILLETTE9.4%8.1%17.4%13.1%12.9%10.2%20%
FEATHER72.7%42.7%19.0%12.7%11.1%9.4%6%
WILKINSON2.2%11.9%12.3%7.8%6.4%4.5%0%
etc…11.4%12.3%13.7%7.1%6.0%6.3%14%

The success of the chick razor in Japan began with an encounter between Peter Oliver, an Englishman who worked for a razor manufacturer, and his father, Kinzo Takeuchi. Peter Oliver had known my father since he worked at Gillette, and when he first came to Japan in 1957, he told me about the impending liberalization of the razor about six months earlier. Later, around 1967, he moved to the same company in the United States, Eversharp Schick, where he worked as a Far East manager at the Brussels headquarters in Belgium. Whenever he came to Japan, he deepened his friendship with his father, who was a practitioner. He used to say that the Japanese market was to be left to the Japanese and that he was responsible for the product power and promotional budget.

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Mr. Peter Oliver, who left Gillette and came back to Japan after becoming the manager of Sick Far East, in front right, Kanazo Takeuchi, far left, Yasuki Takeuchi, author, center, February 1968

In any case, the success of Schick razors in the Japanese market continued to attract the attention of many people involved, and each time I explained the circumstances of the success from an independent standpoint. He has been interviewed by a number of domestic and international media such as the Washington Post and Nihon Keizai newspaper. Gillette, which has a 65% market share in the mainland U.S., slumped to just under 18% in Japan, while Schick won more than 65% of the market, a rare case even by the standards of the world. Certainly, the success of this exceptional example in the Japanese market is a valuable story, and it was a very interesting learning experience for those who aspire to become marketing professionals. Later, his father, Kinzo, casually recounted that Schick’s success was a matter of persistence and persistence in surviving. My father seemed to be satisfied with the fact that he did so as a result, even if he couldn’t prove it theoretically.

There must be a lot of people in the world who can’t explain their skills to others, even if they have a job like a craftsman. No matter how well educated you are or how well armed you are with theory, you can’t do it. I’ve heard that it takes 20-30 years to become as skilled as a person to finish a single kitchen knife. It used to be the same with razors. In 1904, King C. Gillette of the U.S. painstakingly invented the prototype of a safety razor with a changeable blade, and later succeeded in automating the mass production system. Then, in the 1960s, the stainless steel razor blades were released by Wilkinson in the United Kingdom, which created a big buzz. At present, stainless steel blades have already become the mainstream in developed countries including Europe and the United States. Then, around 1962, we entered the era of single-blade schick injectors instead of the conventional double-blade type. Since then, since the 1970s, the heyday of schick razors has come and gone, and the company now reigns as the top brand, far ahead of its competitors.

This is the first time that a razor blade has been used in the U.S., and the first time that a razor blade has been used in the U.S. With the advent of the two-blade era, Gillette’s new product sensor in 1989, and the development of unique products by each manufacturer since then, the compatibility with replacement blades, which had been common for a long time, has almost disappeared, causing confusion among consumers, and I am concerned that this has caused a negative impact on the wet razor market as a whole. And if this situation continues, the disparity between manufacturers is bound to widen further and become an oligopolistic market dominated by U.S. capital.

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Japan’s first poster of a thick-injector razor, a gift from Peter Oliver to his father, Kanakura, in the 1960s (photo of a smiling parent and child shaving)

At any rate, shaving is a privilege for men, but it can also be a hassle. Using an electric razor is not a bad idea, but when it comes to full-fledged shaving, the only way to do it is to wash it in water and use the wet method. The electric razor is highly safe because it is protected by the outer blade to remove the beard on the face and is cut by the rotating inner blade, but it is somewhat unsatisfactory when it comes to deep shaving and refreshment. On the other hand, wet shaving allows for a deep shave without leaving any residue on the face because the tip of the blade hits the face directly. Plus, the exhilarating feeling of lotion after shaving is truly a man’s ritual at its best. It’s hard to say because both electric and rinsing methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, but even so, there are quite a few people who use them both well and use them at the same time. The market value comparison is said to be 50:50 between them.

Recently, many fashionable razors for women have been seen in stores. There’s a lot of safety and design that’s colorful and great that men don’t have. It’s a great razor for a single woman. However, if you look closely, many of them are still using men’s replacement blades. Because, essentially, there is no need to change it. As the degree of skin exposure increases in the fashion world, more and more women are concerned about the treatment of unwanted hair and shaved hair. Flicker, a women’s only razor with a safety guard, was introduced in the U.S. in 1970 and was introduced in Japan two years later. This type of razor is the starting point for the guarded safety razors that are now the mainstream, but the flicker was originally a product of the American company ASR, imported by Mitsui & Co. This manufacturer was founded in 1873 and is the oldest of the three major American razor manufacturers, and in the mid-1960s, Kao sold a double-bladed razor under the name Kao Persona to compete with Wilkinson the Lion, but the results were unsuccessful.

razor1_04
While in college, he accompanied his father to visit Ever Sharp Sick for the first time. Robert Alfredson, vice president of the Sick Razor Division at the time; Kinzo Takeuchi, left and right; and Yasuoki, left and right, Milford, Connecticut, USA, January 1964.

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