Until very recently, “Nordic urban gardening” was virtually unheard of in Japan. Western style gardening in Japan was strongly associated with other styles of gardening—for example the English style. Indeed, Mr. Watatani was no exception. He only first learned about Nordic urban gardening in 2014, when he was a MBA student at Waseda Business School in Tokyo. This “encounter” took place through a close friend of Mr. Watatani; a young Swede named Mr. Ronnie Sandstrom.
Mr. Sandstrom’s knowledge of Nordic urban gardening came from his mother—a Swedish entrepreneur and founder of Wexthuset AB Ms. Lena Ljungquist. Established in Ms. Ljungquist’s backyard in 2003, Wexthuset had, over the years, successfully established its reputation as an online supplier of gardening equipment such as pots, planting lights, and hydroponic stations. These products are now popular, not only among Swedish gardening aficionados, but also among “homegrown” botanists in other neighboring Scandinavian and European countries.
(Photo of Mr. Hiroaki Watatani)
It did not take time for Mr. Watatani’s initial interest in Nordic urban gardening to grow into a sense of fascination. According to Mr. Watatani: “This style of gardening goes very well with many Japanese people’s lifestyles. Firstly, it is an indoor activity so you don’t need to have a garden. Secondly, it is very compact so it only takes up a small space of your house or apartment. Thirdly, it’s a relatively simple, easy, and time-efficient way of enriching your life”.
Mr. Watatani explains that another reason why he decided to embark on this business venture was the lack of competition: “This style of gardening is still virtually unknown in Japan. Based on our research and analysis, we discovered that the number of direct competitors were practically nil”.
In 2016 and 2017, Mr. Watatani visited Wexthuset’s office in Sweden and shared his business plan face-to-face with Ms. Ljungquist. Soon thereafter, at the beginning of 2018, with Ms. Ljungquist’s endorsement as a token, Mr. Watatani established the company’s Japan franchise in Asaka-city, Saitama Prefecture.
“The business model here in Japan is the same as the one in Sweden. Wexthuset’s products are only available for purchase online on Wexthuset Japan’s website. All of the gardening equipment showcased on our website are imported from Sweden. The only products we obtain locally here in Japan are the seeds, soil, fertilizers and some auxiliary materials. This is mainly due to restrictions put in place by the government” explained Mr. Watatani.
As their style of gardening has only recently started to see the day of light in Japan, at present, Mr. Watatani is allocating a lot of resources on various PR activities. Earlier in the year, he went on air at a major Japanese radio station to reach out and “enlighten” his potential customer base the benefits of Nordic urban gardening. The company also updates its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts regularly.
Mr. Watatani sees this lack of awareness more as an opportunity than an inconvenience. “I think there is a whole new market out there. This style of gardening is very different from other styles of gardening that have already put down their roots in Japan. So we are trying to get new people interested. I think our biggest customer base is people who have not yet taken up gardening as a recreational activity. Because Nordic urban gardening is really easy to start, very economical, very enriching, and doesn’t take up too much time, I think it has good potential for growth over the coming years” stated Mr. Watatani.
(Photo: J Tanikawa at Embassy of Sweden in Tokyo, recieving official visit by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and HM Queen Silvia)
In the future, Mr. Watatani is interested in promoting Wexthuset’s products at various foreign chamber of commerce organized events; this includes events organized by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan. His short term goal is to strengthen Wexthuset’s B-to-C arm; over the mid-to-long term, he plans to allocate more time and resource in developing its B-to-B arm, too.
Although Mr. Watatani only recently established Wexthuset’s business in Japan, the company he presides over—Asaka Shinkan—has been in operation since 1935. Originally founded as a producer of copper-zinc alloy seamless tube, it overhauled its business at around 2006 and has since shifted its primary business unit to real estate; its other business units are venture business investment and the importing of racing karts. Mr. Watatani is the fourth-generation president of his family’s business.
Mr. Watatani and his coworkers at Wexthuset Japan are very excited about joining SCCJ. They are looking forward to promoting the core values and benefits of Nordic style urban gardening as a SCCJ member.
We would like to extend a warm welcome to Wexthuset Japan as a new member of SCCJ. You can find out more about Wexthuset Japan at: https://www.wexthuset.jp/