July 21st, 2011
05:52 AM GMT
(CNN) – Japan’s businessmen now have a new way to navigate the country’s rigorous and sleep-deprived work environment: a necktie with an inflatable pillow.
Dubbed as the “Nemuri Tie,” or “sleep tie” in Japanese, the garment’s hidden secret is an inflatable bladder sewn into the back. Able to support up to 25 pounds, the silk and microfiber ties are inflated by blowing on a hidden nozzle.
In a country where “death from overwork” is common enough to have its own word, karoshi, the Nemuri Tie is among the latest unorthodox sleep-aids – such as the “lap pillow,” a pillow shaped like a women’s lap, and an umbrella with a built-in pillow – now being marketed to Japanese salariman.
KTM Co., a Tokyo company, began distributing the tie to Japanese consumers in April, said Kazuhiro Sugihara, company owner. The tie is a good fit for Japan, Sugihara said, because long workdays mean many office workers nap during lunchtimes. “It’s very comfortable,” Sugihara said.
But what is considered a functional way to sneak some shut-eye in Japan actually originated as a gag gift idea in the United States, said Tom Bowen, creator of the Pillow Tie.
Bowen originally proposed the idea for an entrepreneurial course at Brigham Young University in Utah. While his professor was skeptical, Bowen built the product – and it sold.
“In the U.S., we sell the product as humor,” Bowen said. “But in Japan… it’s not humorous. It’s marketed as a very practical product.”
Bowen said his company has more than 500 different tie patterns in the U.S.
But in Japan, only the brand’s three most formal incarnations are being sold: a black stripe, blue stripe and a solid maroon tie.
“Things are very practical in Japan. There aren’t a lot of frills.” Bowen said.
Bowen first got the idea of marketing the item in Japan last year after spending a two-day layover in Tokyo, where he saw scores of suit-clad Japanese waiting for the subway. “In Tokyo, there are quarter mile long platforms completely covered by men in suits,” he said. “That’s a lot of ties.”
The tie and inflatable pillow are manufactured in Shengzhou and Foshan, China, respectively, Bowen said. “On the one hand, it’s this really random product that everyone kind of makes fun of. Even I do,” Bowen said. “But on the other hand, it’s high-end novelty. It’s stylish, practical and funny.”
For Japanese consumers, however, the Pillow Tie is serious business. “Shipments to Japan make up about 50% of our volume,” said Shawn Baxter of Pillow Tie.
Baxter said KTM committed to 4,000 ties in the next few months, and that the number could increase to 20,000 before the holidays. The tie sells for 2,500 yen, or just over $31.
So far, Japan is the only Asian market Bowen and his team have tapped. But Bowen said the company plans to distribute the Pillow Tie in South Korea by the end of this year.
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