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Exploring Brand Naming Tendency of Rice in Japan

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International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development
Volume 8, Issue 6, February 2023, Pages 41-49

Exploring Brand Naming Tendency of Rice in Japan

DOI: 10.18775/ijied.1849-7551-7020.2015.86.2004
URL: https://doi.org/10.18775/ijied.1849-7551-7020.2015.86.2004

Kanako Negishi

1 Business Administration, National Institute of Technology, Ube College, Ube city, Japan

 Abstract:  In Japan, the declining birth rate, aging population, and shrinking domestic market pose challenges for local economies, especially the agricultural economy. Therefore, branding is essential for agricultural and industrial products to remain sustainable in local areas. This study focuses on the brand name, an element that forms a brand. As previous studies have not sufficiently examined the brand names of Japanese agricultural products, this study examines Japanese staple food, rice. Three hundred and fourteen brand names were surveyed to determine whether they are suggestive or nonsuggestive and contain words describing the properties of rice or related to production. The study analyzed the names through unique Japanese letters, such as Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, and English. The results found that most Japanese rice brand names are nonsuggestive, and 141 brands are named in combinations of letters that do not follow conventional rules. Furthermore, as the domestic market situation necessitates devising export methods, more unique names and marketing promotions are required. If rice is shipped to the overseas market using a nonsuggestive name, as in Japan, it would be difficult as Japanese words may not convey the product’s image. Local consumers require words that are easily understood while retaining the Japanese notation and packaging. This study contributes to the field of brand naming, particularly for Japanese agricultural products.

Keywords: Brand name, Rice, Agricultural products, Export, Japan

1. Introduction

In Japan, depopulation and an aging population have presented a distinct challenge for rural areas, while urban areas face issues of population concentration. To address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 11 set by the United Nations for urban and rural sustainability, promoting regional brand development and exporting original agricultural products overseas, even in rural areas, is necessary.

Although naming is a crucial factor in branding (Aaker, 1991; Keller et al., 1998), only a few studies have discussed the naming of Japanese agricultural products (Hangui, 2012). Additionally, unique aspects of the Japanese language, such as using four types of letters (Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, and alphabets) to sell products to non-Japanese consumers overseas, must be considered.

However, in a shrinking domestic market, how do consumers choose products? Effective brand naming that evokes a favorable image to consumers plays a significant role in the revitalization of production areas and the branding of agricultural products. Before examining what kind of name change is necessary for exporting overseas, this study extracted naming trends as a prerequisite for such a change. The subject of this study is rice, the staple food in Japan, and its naming trends are analyzed.

2. Literature Review

Brands are now positioned as critical intangible assets. Every year, Interbrand presents Best Brands and announces the average brand value. The Best Global Brand reached over US$3 trillion for the first time in 2022, which was the fastest brand value growth rate ever recorded till that year, demonstrating the growing contribution of a company’s brand in driving its economic success (Interbrand, 2022).

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as follows: “A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association [AMA], n.d.). A brand name is a fundamental core brand indicator and the basis for recognition and communication (Aaker, 1991).

In a series of studies, Keller (1987, 1998) distinguishes between two broad brand categories: suggestive and nonsuggestive brand names. A suggestive brand name conveys relevant attributes or benefits information in a particular product context. Therefore, it is more effective in facilitating and recalling advertised benefits than a brand name without product meaning. Nonsuggestive brand names contain no product meaning and often serve as poor reminders of communication efforts stored in memory.

Saito (2005) categorizes Japanese brand names into image-based and explanation-based names. An image-based name expresses the product’s image, the pleasure the consumer gets from using the product, and the impressions the consumer is likely to deliver. Meanwhile, an explanation-based name provides the “selling point” or “ingenuity” of the product, expressing the difference from conventional or other products.

When naming Japanese products, some considerations are based on the language. Four unique characters are used for naming: Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, and alphabets. Furthermore, if the product is to be sold in overseas markets, reconsidering a name change is necessary.

Japanese brand naming is examined for products such as perfume (Arimitsu, 2012), food (Tamori, 2008; Kiyomi, 2017), and beverages (Nishioka, 2011; Minokawa, 2010). As for agricultural products, an analysis regarding naming strawberries examines the naming characteristics, various intentions, suggestive images, and word sense of the breeder that are communicated to the consumer (Hangui, 2012). However, no studies have yet been performed on rice. Rice has been a staple food for a long time and has not required large-scale marketing activities in Japan. However, its consumption has gradually declined, as noted in the next section. Although the exports of agricultural goods are on the rise, they are lagging behind those of industrial goods in recent years.

Branding is needed to support production areas and prevent depopulation. Therefore, naming is one of the essential elements of branding. Initially, general rules were followed to name rice. One of the rules stated that the varieties produced at national research institutes should be written in Katakana, while those produced at prefectural research institutes should be written in Hiragana. Recently, this rule has been eliminated to devise new uncomplicated rules. In addition, the following trends in naming are noted: First, naming is done after the experimental station (AES) or production area where the variety was bred. Secondly, the nature of rice determines its naming. For example, “Wase” means an early ripening variety (Yamagata Agrinet, 2022). Therefore, this study examines how rice is named to be chosen by consumers and support rural development. Changing brand names is essential to export effortlessly.

3. Current Status of Rice in Japan

Rice is a staple food in Japan. However, with the declining population, the demand for rice is on a downward trend, decreasing by about 80,000 tons annually. Sales prices have also been on a long-term downtrend, with prices in 2021 and 2022 falling below the previous year’s average. The number of paddy rice farmers has decreased by 20% in the five years since 2010. Farmers are also aging, with the average age of farmers now at 66.8 years (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 2017).

Therefore, branding is one of the solutions to survive in the market and sustain rural areas. Currently, Koshihikari (コシヒカリ) is the most significant rice brand, with the largest acreage planted since 1979 (稲作の現状). Applications for new brand registration to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) have been increasing since 2009 (nikkei4946, 2017).

While the domestic market is shrinking, rice exports have begun and grown since 2012, reaching 5.93 billion yen (22,833 tons) in 2021. However, in the grain category, wheat was 8.3 billion yen in 2020 and 10 billion yen in 2021, a 20.3% increase over the previous year, while rice only increased by 11.6%. This data reveals that agricultural products are underperforming. The export value of vegetables, fruits, etc., is at 28.3% of the previous year’s level. Strawberries, which appeared in the former study, recorded a record high of 4.1 billion yen in 2021, an increase of 54% over the previous year (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 2021). Gaining a competitive advantage domestically and exporting abroad to increase profits and revitalize local economies has become a significant issue in Japan.

4. Research Methodology

The data was retrieved from the list of the Status of the old Establishment of Brand Name of Producing Area for 2022 Agricultural Produce by MAFF. This study focused on wetland rice in the list, which included 923 brands by prefecture. Of these, 314 brands were extracted, excluding duplicate brands.

First, we determined suggestive or nonsuggestive names for all brands noted in the next section. We specifically focused on the presence or absence of the word “rice,” words related to its taste, and words that indicate convenience, such as “ready-to-cook,” as clues. In addition, we examined words describing the properties of rice. For example, “Chikara” means varieties that can be harvested in large quantities, “Wase” means early fruiting varieties, “Nishiki” are sake brewing variety, and “Masari,” “Kogane,” and “Honami” indicate the condition of the rice paddies and the quality of the rice.

Second, we surveyed the brand names to determine whether they included the name of the test station where the variety was bred or the place of origin containing the expression of the place (old place) where the variety was previously produced. Finally, we classified the brand names by letters.

5. Results and Findings

Brand names that describe the nature of rice include “Akita Parari” (onomatopoeia indicating texture), “Sanuki Yomai” (good rice), “Manpuku Surari” (whole rice), “Tsubuzorai” (consistent excellence), and 11 brands with words such as “Masari,” “Kogane,” and “Honami,” indirectly indicating the condition and quality of the rice fields (Table 1). The results suggest that brand names with suggestive connotations were underrepresented in the total.

Products such as food and beverages, which are easily visible and recognizable, are not much different from other products, and consumers are generally aware of them. Therefore, customers are unlikely to actively seek out information (Nishioka, 2011). Additionally, when products are similar to other products, it is not necessary to indicate their characteristics. For these kinds of products, it is becoming a trend to adopt nonsuggestive and image-based names.

Although these names do not directly evoke rice, many of them are positive words that conjure up a good image, such as “Yume” (dream), “Hikari” (light), and “Kokoro” (heart). The name “Yuki” (snow) is also expected due to the characteristics of the producing region but does not directly suggest the place of production.

Table 1: Names containing words that describe the properties of rice

Japanese name Alphabetical notation Japanese name Alphabetical notation
1 くまさんの力 Kumasannochikara
2 越路早生 Kosijiwase 3 トドロキワセ Todorokiwase
4 うこん錦 Ukonnishiki 5 土佐錦 Tosanishiki
6 黄金錦 Koganenishiki 7 みのにしき Minonishiki
8 コシヒカリ環1号 Kosihikarikan1go 9 朝の光 Asanohikari
10 ちゅらひかり Churahikari 11 ささひかり Sasahikari
12 ゆきひかり Yukihikari 13 なすひかり Nasuhikari
14 みつひかり Mitsuhikari 15 ヒカリ新世紀 Hikarishinseiki
16 能登ひかり Notohikari 17 まいひかり Maihikari
18 あきまさり Akimasari 19 たからまさり Tkaramasari
20 黄金晴 Koganebare 21 黄金錦 Koganenishiki
22 瑞穂黄金 Mizuhokogane 23 ふさこがね Fusakogane
24 あきほなみ Akihonami

Source: https://www.maff.go.jp/j/seisan/syoryu/kensa/sentaku/

Table 2 shows the names, including the place name of the test station or place of origin. Only 39 of the 314 types utilize the imagery evoked by the name of that place.

Table 2: The name of the test station or the name of the place of origin, including the name of the old place

Japanese name Alphabetical notation Japanese name Alphabetical notation
1 とねのめぐみ Tonenomegumi 21 北陸193号 Hokuriku193go
2 あきたさらり Akitasarari 22 つがるロマン Tsugaruroman
3 つくばSD2号 Tsukuba SD2gou 23 いわてっこ Iwatekko
4 出羽きらり Dewakirari 24 ハナエチゼン Hanaechizen
5 せとのにじ Setononiji 25 あいちのかおり Aichinokaori
6 宮崎52号 Miyazaki52go 26 みえのゆめ Mienoyume
7 豊橋1号 Toyohasi1go 27 越路早生 Kosijiwase
8 みえのゆめ Mienoyume 28 京式部 Kyoshikibu
9 京の輝き Kyounokagayaki 29 清水1号 Shimizu1go
10 吉備の華 Kibinohana 30 さがびより Sagabiyori
11 汢ノ川1号 Nutanokawaichigo 31 松山三井 Matsuyamamitsui
12 南国そだち Nanngokusodachi 32 とちぎの星 Tochiginohoshi
13 能登ひかり Notohikari 33 たかたのゆめ Takatanoyume
14 はぎのかおり Haginokaori 34 あきたぱらり Akitaparari
15 さぬきよいまい Sanukiyoimai 35 つくばSD1号 TsukubaSD1go
16 あいちのこころ Aichinokokoro 36 三重23号 Mie23go
17 ムツニシキ Mutsunishiki 37 山形95号 Yamagata95go
18 兵庫ゆめおとめ Hyougoyumeotome 38 むつほまれ Mutsuhomare
19 五百川 Gohyakugawa 39 東北194号 Tohoku194go
20 みのにしき Minonishiki

Source: https://www.maff.go.jp/j/seisan/syoryu/kensa/sentaku/

Tables 3 and 4 show the names by letters (Hiragana and Katakana). Hiragana is a cursive Japanese syllabary used primarily for natives. Katakana is mainly used to indicate a foreign word.

Following the previous rule, 138 issues were written in Hiragana, and 35 brands were in Katakana. Some are in English and easily understood (Snow pearl, Milky princess, Milky Queen, Milky summer). One hundred forty-one brands are named in a combination of Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, alphabets, or numbers, accounting for nearly half the total.

Table 3: Names that were written entirely in Hiragana

Japanese name Alphabetical notation Japanese name Alphabetical notation
1 ななつぼし Nanatsuboshi 70 ほしじるし Hoshijirushi
2 ゆめぴりか Yumepirika 71 おいでまい Oidemai
3 あきたこまち Akitakomachi 72 おぼろづき Oboroduki
4 とねのめぐみ Tonenomegumi 73 ほしのゆめ Hoshinoyume
5 ゆめひたち Yumehitachi 74 まっしぐら Massigura
6 さわぴかり Sawapirika 75 さとじまん Satojiman
7 やまのしずく Yamanoshizuku 76 てんたか Tentaka
8 あきたさらり Akitasarari 77 ぎんさん Ginsan
9 まんぷくすらり Manpukusurari 78 しふくのみのり Shihukunominori
10 さわのはな Sawanohana 79 みずかがみ Mizukagami
11 せとのにじ Setononiji 80 ふくひびき Fukuhibiki
12 たからまさり Takaramasari 81 ゆめおばこ Yumeobako
13 あやひめ Ayahime 82 ゆめさやか Yumesayaka
14 ふっくりんこ Fukkurinko 83 やまだわら Yamadawara
15 いわてっこ Iwatekko 84 あきだわら Akidawara
16 ゆめかなえ Yumekanae 85 つやひかり Tsuyahikari
17 ゆめみづほ Yumemizuho 86 きらりん Kirarin
18 あいちのかおり Aichinokaori 87 ほしまる Hoshimaru
19 みえのゆめ Mienoyume 88 どんぴしゃり Donpisyari
20 まいひめ Maihime 89 ふさおとめ Husaotome
21 とがおとめ Togaotome 90 きぬむすめ Kinumusume
22 こいもみじ Koimomiji 91 さいこうち Saikouchi
23 あきろまん Akiroman 92 はいごころ Haigokoro
24 ふくまる Fukumaru 93 にこまる Nikomaru
25 はいほう Haihou 94 さがびより Sagabiyori
26 なつほのか Natsuhonoka 95 ゆきひかり Yukihikari
27 みえのえみ Mienoemi 96 なすひかり Nasuhikari
28 いなほっこり Inahokkori 97 あわみのり Awaminori
29 さわかおり Sawakaori 98 つくしろまん Tsukushiroman
30 たちはるか Tachiharuka 99 ゆめみしま Yumemishima
31 とくだわら Tokudawara 100 いただき Itadaki
32 えみまる Emimaru 101 あさゆき Asayuki
33 はれわたり Harewatari 102 かけはし Kakehashi
34 ふさこがね Fusakogane 103 とよめき Toyomeki
35 ゆめおうみ Yumeoumi 104 てんこもり Tenkomori
36 あきまさり Akimasari 105 ちゅらひかり Churahikari
37 さきひかり Sakihikari 106 あきげしき Akigeshiki
38 ふくのこ Fukunoko 107 ゆめしなの Yumeshinano
39 にじのきらめき Nijinokirameki 108 おてんとそだち Otentosodachi
40 あきのそら Akinosora 109 きたくりん Kitakurin
41 ゆきさやか Yukisayaka 110 まなむすめ Manamusume
42 きらほ Kiraho 111 ちほみのり Chihominori
43 げんきまる Genkimaru 112 はなさつま Hanasatsuma
44 はぎのかおり Haginokaori 113 ゆきむすび Yukimusubi
45 あきたぱらり Akitaparari 114 たかねみのり Takaneminori
46 つぶぞろい Tsubuzoroi 115 いちほまれ Ichihomare
47 みねはるか Mineharuka 116 はるみ Harumi
48 どんとこい Dontokoi 117 なつきらり Natsukirari
49 ふくのいち Fukunoichi 118 あきまつり Akimatsuri
50 さぬきよいまい Sanukiyoimai 119 ほっかりん Hokkarin
51 ひとめぼれ Hitomebore 120 ゆきおとめ Yukiotome
52 おきにいり Okiniiri 121 こころまち Kokoromachi
53 どまんなか Domannaka 122 あきだわら Akidawara
54 あいちのこころ Aichinokokoro 123 ゆめまつり Yumematsuri
55 あきさかり Akisakari 124 こなゆきひめ Konayukihime
56 はたはったん Hatahattan 125 えみだわら Emidawara
57 なついろ Natsuiro 126 さんさんまる Sansanmaru
58 ゆきのめぐみ Yukinomegumi 127 はれわたり Harewatari
59 つきあかり Tsukiakari 128 めんこいな Menkoina
60 ゆみあずさ Yumeazusa 129 たきたて Takitate
61 まいひかり Maihikari 130 きんのめぐみ Kinnomegumi
62 いただき Itadaki 131 なごりゆき Nagoriyuki
63 えみのあき Eminoaki 132 なつしずか Natsushizuka
64 そらゆき Sorayuki 133 ゆきむつみ Yukimutsumi
65 むつほまれ Mutsuhomare 134 つぶゆき Tsubuyuki
66 ゆきのはな Yukinohana 135 こしいぶき Koshiibuki
67 はえぬき Haenuki 136 ふくのさち Fukunosachi
68 みつひかり Mitsuhikari 137 にじのきらめき Nijinokirameki
69 ふくむすめ Fukumusume 138 みのにしき Minonishiki

Source: https://www.maff.go.jp/j/seisan/syoryu/kensa/sentaku/

Table 4: Names that were written entirely in Katakana

Japanese name Alphabetical notation Japanese name Alphabetical notation
1 スノーパール Snow peal 19 ゴロピカリ Goropikari
2 ヒエリ Hieri 20 ホウレイ Hourei
3 イクヒカリ Ikuhikari 21 レイホウ Reihou
4 ハナエチゼン Hanaechizen 22 ミルキークイーン Milky Queen
5 トドロキワセ Todorokiwase 23 ササシグレ Sasashigure
6 アケボノ Akebono 24 ミルキーサマー Milky summer
7 アキヒカリ Akihikari 25 アキツホ Akitsuho
8 ササニシキ Sasanishiki 26 ツクシホマレ Tsukushihomare
9 フクヒカリ Fukuhikari 27 コシヒカリ Koshihikari
10 ヤマヒカリ Yamahikari 28 キヨニシキ Kiyonishiki
11 ヒカリッコ Hikarikko 29 サキホコレ Sakihokore
12 ハツシモ Hatsushimo 30 ホシユタカ Hoshiyutaka
13 ミルキープリンセス Milky princess 31 ムツニシキ Mutsunishiki
14 チヨニシキ Chiyonishiki 32 トヨニシキ Toyonishiki
15 ミズホチカラ Mizuhochikara 33 ナツヒカリ Natsuhikari
16 キヌヒカリ Kinuhikari 34 ミネアサヒ Mineasahi
17 ピカツンタ Pikatsunta 35 ヒノヒカリ Hinohikari
18 オオセト Ooseto

6. Conclusion and Recommendations

This study analyzed the trend of rice branding in Japan, especially regarding its brand names, against the backdrop of a shrinking domestic market and local economic challenges. The results showed that most rice brand names are nonsuggestive. Additionally, presently, many words are not bound by conventional rules. In many cases, a suggestive name may be more appropriate for a new electrical appliance, as its performance cannot be judged by appearance. However, rice is easily recognizable, and consumers are generally aware of these products, so rice brand names are typically nonsuggestive, as with other food products.

As the domestic market for rice saturates and consumption of staple foods by younger generations declines, new ways of marketing must be devised. While there is limited need to change to nonsuggestive names in the domestic market, more unique characters and marketing promotions are required. However, exporting rice using a nonsuggestive name, as in Japan, may be difficult, as it would not convey the product’s image. To showcase Japaneseness, a name that local consumers can understand while retaining Japanese notation and packaging is necessary.

For active overseas exports of rice-based sakes, some have succeeded by changing their names and developing brands that differ from their domestic counterparts. The RIHAKU Sake Brewing Company has given each of its Japanese-language brands a nickname. For example, “Rihaku Special Junmai Nigori Sake” (李白特別純米にごり酒) is named “Dreamy Clouds,” and in Australia, it is called “Blue Purely” to create a positive image (Nikkei Style, 2020).

Asahi Shuzo, one of the famous Japanese breweries, will begin local production in the United States. The products manufactured will be branded differently from those sold in Japan. The name “Dassai Blue” is derived from the Japanese saying, “Blue comes from indigo and is bluer than indigo,” with the hope that the brand will surpass “Dassai,” which is already sold in Japan (Yokoyama and Onomitsu, 2022).

In the next stage, this study does not conduct a questionnaire survey to determine what images consumers conjure up from each brand name and whether these images lead to purchasing behavior. Additionally, it does not analyze the image that foreign consumers obtain from the characters. Translating a Japanese brand name into the local language in a similar manner to the alcoholic beverages mentioned above is challenging. The difference between the image held by the Japanese and that held by local consumers must be considered. Therefore, a questionnaire survey must be conducted, and a comparative analysis of the Japanese brand names and the translated brand names should be performed based on the study results.


This study was supported by “GEAR 5.0,” a research project of the National Institute of Technology (KOSEN), which focuses on enhancing the social implementation education of future technology.


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