Super Bowl and Yomiuri--together at last.

The Super Bowl, the biggest American football game of the year, might as well be called the Super Brand in honor of all the advertisers who try to get a piece of its huge U.S. audience. But even as I was being dazzled by the commercial hoopla watching the game in person this month in Miami, I was reminded that the brand getting the most attention in the United States these days is a Japanese one: Toyota.

An American television network contacted me for an interview about a sudden, late-night press conference held by Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, whose brand was taking a beating over massive global recalls. I watched the press conference with some dismay. From an American perspective, Toyoda looked blinkered and fuzzy, bowing halfheartedly and reading from a prepared statement before stumbling through some impromptu English comments, apparently in response to non-Japanese reporters, to reassure Toyota owners that their cars were safe. "Toyota's car is safety," he said. While I winced in sympathy, the solecism was far from soothing to American ears.

En route to the TV studios, the paradox was stark: All around me, America's domestic brands were swaggering as though they owned the world, while Japan's biggest global brand, in a moment of crisis, was playing strictly to the home crowd, regardless of its international reach.

The same holds true in spades for Japan's producers of popular culture, who are at far greater risk of implosion than Toyota.[more Here; and w/graphics @ 3:AM]

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