April 12, 2017

Student Overcomes Obstacles to Land Coveted Spot at National Conference


By Alisha Pillay

Misato Matsutani, a Communication student, recently attended the Quebec Universities English Undergraduate Conference (QUEUC) with support from the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. The conference took place at Bishop’s University in Quebec this past March. Misato presented her paper entitled “Muji: A Non-Brand Brand in the Life World of Consumers” – an essay she had previously written as an assignment for a Communication course: CMNS 323W, Cultural Dimensions in Advertising.

QUEUC is a unique research conference that allows undergraduate scholars an opportunity to present work on critical and literary theory. Misato was initially worried that as a Communication student she would not qualify for the primarily Humanities based conference. However, after learning about the diverse scope of work presented at the conference in previous years she decided to take a leap of faith:

“I had a great time at QUEUC. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my academic career. QUEUC provided a friendly and collaborative environment that allowed me to connect with other undergraduate scholars. There was more than just presentations but several social events and opportunities to network. Participants had come from universities across Canada, and talking with them was intriguing.”

Misato’s paper is about a Japanese retail store called Muji that sells everything from stationary to clothing to furniture and even food. In the Japanese language, the word ‘muji’ means ‘no brand’. Ironically, although the company is indeed a brand, they refuse to acknowledge themselves as such. Misato argues that Muji’s rejection of being classified as a brand is actually their brand strategy. She states that this stems from a response to consumer alienation – a sense of tiredness or indifference that results from the ubiquity of promotion. Building on this idea, Misato examines the way Muji manufactures authenticity around their brand in attempt to resolve the social and ideological contradictions that affect their consumers. Misato explains further:

“The defining feature of Muji’s products is simplicity. Simplicity creates space for consumers to give individual meaning to a brand which makes it adaptable to a variety of lifestyles. A personal and individual choice feels authentic and individualism is incredibly important to neoliberal culture. Muji leverages this idea to ‘manufacture’ authenticity.”

Initially, Misato was surprised that QUEUC showed interest in a paper that analyzed a brand so relatively unknown in North America. However, conference panelists were keen to express their enthusiasm for the originality of Misato’s paper and her strongly developed arguments.

Having grown up in a small town in rural Japan, English is Misato’s second-language. Upon moving to Canada to study at SFU, Misato found her self-confidence severely impacted by her struggle to learn a new language. Over time, she has worked hard to improve her writing and communication skills and is proud of her continued growth.

“I want to keep writing so that I can get better and share my ideas with more people. I don’t know whether I can say I am a ‘good’ writer yet. But I definitely have more confidence in myself now. It is so encouraging when someone acknowledges your hard work. This is perhaps the most important thing I have gained from the experience at QUEUC.”

Misato’s victory is an inspiring story that reminds us to stay open to opportunities regardless of how impossible they may seem at first.