-We’ve received numbers that the TENGA brand products are sold to over 40 countries worldwide, with over 12 million pieces shipped! Please tell us – how did it all begin? Where did the idea for TENGA come from?
Matsumoto: I graduated from a mechanics college when I was 20 years old, at this time Japan’s economy was booming. My original career started out tuning what you might call “super cars” like Lamborghini and Ferrari – it was kind-of the “thing” at the time. I also did some work with vintage cars, import them, completely disassemble them and put them back together according to how the new owner would like it. The pay for the job itself was terrible, and after a while, the company started to have a number of problems of its own. At the lowest point I remember not getting paid for nearly half a year, living in my car or on the floor of a friend’s factory.
-That sounds rough!
Matsumoto: Having said that, you might not believe me but the job in itself was great fun, the pay didn’t really matter to me. I mean, my job was creating cars, not one was alike – I made them as neat as possible and that made the new owner happy. Making others happy was enough of a reward for me. I also had a lot of pride in what I was doing, but I had to face the facts; there was no way I could continue that kind of lifestyle. At that time, my job was in the Aichi prefecture of mid-west Japan, but I decided to move back to my home of Shizuoka, where I switched jobs to a salesperson of used cars. Up until that time I had to do everything – mechanics, engineering, sales and directing – but this time my main focus was sales. I used the same sales technique as when I was selling vintage cars, taking care to explain each car, the makings and workings of the vehicle, the pros and cons – I was clear and honest with the customers, and I believe this is why, in return, I became the top salesman at that dealership.
Matsumoto: The point where I started selling cars was when I first started to receive a decent salary. *Laughing* An entire 180 flip from the time I couldn’t even pay my own rent! While my life was returning to normal – what with a great salary, commission bonuses and perks – something was bubbling up inside me, the will to create, to invent, something new was increasing at the same rate.
My heart was saying “I want to create something that doesn’t exist, that needs to exist, that people will enjoy.” During my time as a mechanic, I was making cars one by one so that the new owner would enjoy it, and in that I found the joy of creating. It wasn’t anything rational, just something that came from within. At that point I didn’t have any idea of what business I wanted to be in, I just wanted to create something.
-I expect you were pretty good in art and design classes at school?
Matsumoto: Definitely, I was the best! I'd be drawing the whole day, disassembling every object around me... *Laughing* At school, my grades in art and design were always the highest!
-Would you say then, that something reignited your passion for creation?
Matsumoto: I wouldn't say "reignited", it was always there, I was just oppressing those feelings when I was a salesman. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I hated selling these cars; it's a great job and I was able to make many people happy through sales. It's just that in all honesty "Selling" and "Creating" are two completely different things. As I said, it's a feeling from within, and it can't be stopped – I don’t really know how to explain it any better!
-Did you have a plan or a vision in mind of what you were going to make?
Matsumoto: No, not at all, I had no idea what I wanted to make. Then I thought: “I need to get to know and research what is out there on the market right now.” Since that day, I headed to electronic stores, DIY stores, car-accessories stores, all the stores you can imagine in Japan and researched for all kinds of goods that had the label of “Made in Japan” on it.
If there was anything I learned from these products, they all had at least one piece of innovative technology or a breakthrough function, a talking point of design that makes it that extra bit special. Most stores carried proper specifications and info of what and why it was special (PoS, if you will); take TVs for example, the info would read “LED incorporated, so it projects the color black beautifully.” It clearly states the reason for the outcome – it wouldn’t have the same impact if it were just “This TV projects the color black beautifully.”
Then on the flip-side, at a DIY store things were completely opposite. So here are a bunch of clothes hangers, just stacked and ranked according to their prices, so it’s clear to the customer which product is the best, and what you’re getting for what you pay. All products have some kind of character, a benefit to the buyer and a rank in its market. Almost all products sold in Japan carry a brand/company name and the customer care and post-purchase service is fantastic, this is why people buy the products without worry. That feeling of “safety” is what I believe is what makes products Made in Japan, great.
-That’s very insightful!
Matsumoto: So that was my day-to-day activity besides work, I’d spend my time walking around stores, researching all sorts of products. One day I decided to take a look at a store with more “adult-oriented” products – I hadn’t been into one of these stores in years! I had always found sex toys to be funny so I thought I’d take a closer look. As I walked into the sex toy area though, I felt somewhat uncomfortable; “There’s something wrong here...” I knew immediately where this feeling came from. (Article Continued on Page 2)