‘Jack in the Bokksu’: Globalization’s fostering of armchair tourism

‘While flitting through my Instagram feed, I linger on an advertisement for what seems like a box of oddly shaped snackable. Across the image reads-’Delivering Japan to your doorstep: Bokksu.’ 

In our flashy world of consumerism, providing a desirable experience along with a product or a service is the new normal. This new economy that I just virtually stumbled into is the experience economy. Fueled by the value added by experiences to any good or service, it is seen as the next progression of economic advancement.[1] Under this economy, companies attempt to commodify culture providing a globalized experience within the four walls of a home. This growing trend of armchair tourism is a defining aspect of today’s globalization in that it seeks to actively preserve cultures.

What is Bokksu?

Bokksu is a monthly premium Japanese snack subscription service. They boast of directly sourcing their artisanal snacks from local snack makers in Japan (some of whom have been around for over 200 years). The subscription plans customers can avail are of two types- the taster bokksu which comes with 10-14 different kinds of snacks priced at $24.99(around Rs 1800) per month and the Classic bokksu with 20-25 authentic snacks and tea pairings for $36.99 a month( around Rs. 2600). They have sold half a million snacks to customers in over 75 countries.

What makes them the creme de la creme of the snacking culture is the experiential consumption that they offer.[2]Bokksu, unlike other Japanese snacks sold online, is not just a product in that it is materially sold to the consumer but is instead, an authentic Japanese experience that chances are you won’t find even in Japan. Each Bokksu shipment comes with an unboxing video and a “Culture Guide magazine” brochure which describes the story and flavors of each item in the box. It also includes instructions on how to eat an unusual delicacy.[4] It sells you a culture that is accessible and more importantly decipherable thus transcending boundaries to give the customer a literally palatable Japanese experience.

In the words of Van Boven and Gilovich this is what one would call an experiential purchase. Unlike material purchases as those made with the primary intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept in one’s possession, it is made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience. Purchases like processed foods, snacks, furniture, clothing, jewelry,and gadgets are consensually assigned to the category of material purchases, and vacations, concert tickets, park passes, and meals at restaurants are consistently identified as experiential purchases. The Bokksu Subscription Box while being a material purchase offers an experience thus juxtaposing the two kinds and is bracketed as an element of the emerging economy. 

What is crucial to note is that Bokksu retains its authenticity which is key to the experience economy. To put things in perspective, an intricately designed fan from Spain would loses a certain amount of charm when you realize it was actually made in China, and that you can buy an identical version in four different stores, all a half block from each other. Product mixes under the experience economy overcome such hurdles as we see in the case of Bokksu.

Bon Bon, a Swedish candy store set up in New York uses culture to subvert the social norm. Nordic communities consume vastly more candy than the rest of the world and this is largely because of their target market. While candy is regarded as a commodity for children and adult eating, hoarding and midnight candy binges is socially looked down upon by the West, the Swedes conceptualize it differently. Both Bon Bon and Sockerbit(another Swedish candy company) seem designed to appeal as much to adults as to kids. Sockerbit’s Web site makes eating candy sound like an essential element of what is referred to as a “self-care.”[5] 

What is common to Bokksu and Bon Bon is the Cultural commodification. In this sense, the makers have normalized certain behaviour under the pretense of cultural immersion thus, opening untapped markets. Consumer culture theory is one domain that explains how we’ve brought about such a cultural commodification. To put it shortly, there is increasing tendency among consumers to actively rework and transform symbolic meanings encoded in advertisements, brands, retail settings, or material goods to manifest their particular personal and social circumstances and further their identity and lifestyle goals [6].

This emerging trend of being more pluralistic in the palate, if no other way- stems from the globalization of flavour that is revolutionizing the food industry along with the rapid spread of food-specific content through social media channels that give bite-sized glimpses into different cultural practices and spring a yearning for the same. Cross-cultural consumption has been very class-specific in the past. With the advent of the internet, emulating and incorporating food from different cultures has become an expression of social mobility and recognition. What companies like Bokksu and Bonbon represent on a larger scale are avenues for underrepresented communities. For diasporas that are losing their cultural foothold to contribute in propagating their culture through global audiences looking for the “shock value” in cultural exploration. Globalization, therefore, facilitates this transmission of authentic cultural experiences that keep the identity of indigenous communities alive, contrary to the widely held fear of cultural homogenization.

Sources-
[1] https://harvardpolitics.com/culture/cultural-essentialism/
[2] https://www.bokksu.com/pages/about
[3]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5394dfa6e4b0d7fc44700a04/t/547d571fe4b094d782c0e634/1417500738967/Gilovich+Kumar+%28in+press%29+Always+Have+Paris+Advances.pdf
[4]https://qz.com/quartzy/1321769/the-subscription-service-bokksu-brings-japans-esoteric-snack-culture-to-the-world/)
[5]https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-gastronomy/how-to-eat-candy-like-a-swedish-person
[6]https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article/31/4/868/1812998

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