Skirting Ochobo: Big Business Finds a Way Around Local Customs

The "liberation wrapper," which was designed to shield mouths from public view while eating, has helped a Japanese chain increase sales by over 200 percent.
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Freshness Burger restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo. (Photo: Sushiya/Wikimedia Commons)

Freshness Burger restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo. (Photo: Sushiya/Wikimedia Commons)

Ten women marched in defiance of the stigma against women smoking cigarettes as part of the New York Easter Day Parade in 1929. The interesting thing, however, is that it was all a sham. The tobacco industry had set the whole thing up with the help of public relations mastermind Edward Bernays. American Tobacco Company President George Hill knew cigarette sales would skyrocket if more U.S. women smoked, a behavior reserved for men in the 1920s that had closed off the female market.

Within one year of Bernay’s stint, women were smoking.

Today, similarly, Japanese fast food has found a way to bypass the cultural stigmas that impede their profits. One food chain noticed many women would not buy their biggest-sized burgers. The culprit was ochobo, a Japanese custom that prevents women from opening their mouths widely in public. Small mouths are considered beautiful and opening them wide is considered “ugly” and “rude.” The restaurant concluded that it would get into the business of “freeing women from the spell of ‘ochobo.’”

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The burger chain invented a wrapper that would allow women to open their mouths larger, but not be seen: theliberation wrapper. It is a profitable tactic touted as a cultural solution.

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You can watch them introduce the wrapper in this short video:

The liberation wrapper was welcomed in Japanese media and on social networks, spreading its popularity. Similarly, Bernay’s public relation’s stint in 1929 garnered much of its success from the media hype that ensued then.

The approach has produced results. Sales of the Japanese chain’s biggest burgers jumped 213 percent after the wrappers were made because they allowed the burgers to become “socially available” to women.

Of course, the irony is that the burger chain’s “solution” isn’t actually liberating women. By hiding the deviation behind a paper mask, it is actually reinforcing ochobo. After all, the social reality remains—it is not acceptable for Japanese women to display an open mouth in public.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “Skirting Ochobo: Big Business Finds a Way Around Local Customs.”

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