Regain, Chibi Maruko-chan & (in retrospect) Simpler Times.

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Update:  August 16, 2010. News Flash:  China’s just pulled ahead of Japan as the World’s No. 2 Economy.  Eh, whatever.  But all the more reason to reflect back to  . . . “the salad days“.

Remember when the World straddled the Epochs of Early Gorbechev years and Post-Cold War?  When Japan was riding Sky High (compared to most of the world’s economies, Japan’s remains pretty damn solid, and has even throughout its “doldrums”) and how it never really occurred to Ford that putting the steering wheels on the right side of the its cars might help its sales there?  When Bart Simpson’s marketing omnipresence across North America was match — if not exceeded — only by Chibi Maruko-chan’s in Japan?  Pebble Beach?  Before “9.11”?  It seems almost amazing how, comparatively speaking, those times were so much simpler than now, notwithstanding all the flux in which the world was then engulfed.  Whenever a New Year begins, I can get to feeling quite  なつかしい   (a word that goes much deeper than mere “nostalgia”) about years and times and things gone by.  Right now I’m kind of feeling that way about Regain, which sort of encapsulates those days from a Japanese (or expat living in Japan) perspective as well or better than anything.

It was 1990-91 and I was living in Japan for the second time.  A then-new(ish) product was wowing the consumer-at-large:  Regain.  This was the first (to my knowledge) mass-marketed “energy drink”.  So there have been others, but Regain was the first huge one, really, really huge and it started in the late 1980s, easily 10 years before American companies got in on the act.

A wide variety of Regains (and their knock-offs) rake in billions in the Japanese market.  “Regain J” contains 1500 mg of Taurine, now present in many “energy drinks”.  Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., of the Mayo Clinic says, “[s]ome studies suggest that taurine supplementation may improve athletic performance, which may explain why taurine is used in many energy drinks. Other studies suggest that taurine and caffeine act together to improve athletic and perhaps even mental performance, although this finding remains controversial.” (source).  “Regain 3000” contains Liverall.   And there are Regains that come complete with video game-themed novelty items:

But what I and so many other foreigners love about Regain (I may have tried one and it tasted on mediciny) have been the commercials.  THE hit commercial from 1989-90 was the one atop this post from Regain — set to rather catchy but creepy self-parodying (or serious???) martial music — during the last couple years of the Japanese Bubble Economy when Japanese corporate hubris was at its peak, just before it’s implosion, with the signature song even becoming a tongue-in-cheek nationalistic pop hit “A Sign of Courage” in its own right.  Followed-up by this one (yes, I’m re-posting), which I remember well from back in the day:

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Ah, who remembers those last couple of years before India began to overhaul its economy and the global economic powerhouse that China would become remained but a matter for debate and speculation around university seminar tables?  These were the days of Japanese corporate elites buying-up Pebble Beach and Rockefeller Center and famed nationalist crank (and current Mayor/Governor of Tokyo) Shintaro Ishihara  and his _The Japan that Can Say “No”_  (if you really want to delve deep into this, read these remarks by Representative Sander Levin, delivered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1989) .  Yes, I was living in Japan when the hilarious, stupid, paranoid, hyperventilating 1991 book, _The Coming War With Japan_, came out, described by Foreign Affairs (journal) thusly:

This one-sided, sensational book contends that a military confrontation between the United States and Japan is likely within the next 20 years. According to the authors, the issues are the same as they were in 1941: Japan needs to control access to its mineral supplies in Southeast Asia and to have an export market it can dominate. In order to do this, Japan must force the United States out of the western Pacific. There is little effort to explore the substantial differences between the 1940s and the 1990s. One of the authors has published several works of fiction and the other is a national security expert at the Heritage Foundation

Anyway, I mention this late-’80s-through 1991 history only to highlight the context of the over-the-top Regain commercials, which in retrospect seem almost sad in their naivete.

Here’s a more recent Regain commercial, with all of the cleverness, but none of the nationalism of the first ones.  I should note again, though, that the “nationalism” in the Regain commercials was — to this American — always done “tongue in cheek” (I mean, hell, they used funny, self-parodying puppets in that one commercial) and bespoke a new self-confidence — and,  sure, pride — which had been earned through hard work and business smarts, not through military conquest.  The down-side, of course, was the chronic ennui and even sickness (and even, occasionally, suicide) that developed among the ranks of Salarymen pressured to always put in more and more and more hours for their respective companies and “Japan, Inc.”:

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Here’s a collection of commercials from Memory Lane ’90-91:


  1. This is the kind of “Japanese history” you won’t find in textbooks or Wikipedia. 面白い!

      • letsjapan
      • January 10th, 2010

      ありがとう.

      “Interesting” and “thought/memory provoking” are my goals. I’m glad when, if only for a few people, I attain them.

      Regards,

      R Newton

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