Shop elevates excrement theme from filthy to funny

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Unco Inc. President Akihiko Nobata speaks in front of poop-themed goods in Yokohama.

YOKOHAMA — There is a variety goods store in Yokohama that specializes in items inspired by a subject usually avoided in polite company. The Unco Shop, located in an industrial district of the port city’s Seya Ward, sells apparel like T-shirts and sneakers, jewelry, accessories and more, all with the common theme of “unko,” the Japanese word for poop.

“I wanted to make poop something funny, not dirty,” the shop’s owner Akihiko Nobata said with an earnest look.

Hailing from Yokohama, Nobata had been running an apparel company for high-end men’s clothes in the ward. But he was also making poop-themed T-shirts on the side for fun and giving them away to his friends.

He applied for a trademark registration of an image of a coiled-up poop — still, for fun — which was unexpectedly granted in 2014. With this as an opportunity, Nobata became serious about starting the business.

Once the design was trademarked, Nobata put up several kinds of poop-themed T-shirts on a major online shop. After a while, he received an enthusiastic phone call from a young man from Osaka Prefecture who bought one of the shirts, “It’s very funny,” the customer said. “Do you have any T-shirts in a different color?”

Nobata got excited that “someone is that interested in my idea,” and gathered up all the T-shirts he had on hand to send them to the man for free. A few days later, he even visited an izakaya bar where the man works.

As soon as he entered the bar, which was packed with young customers, Nobata was surrounded by regular customers who had heard that “President Poop” would be coming. Some of them were wearing the T-shirts he had sent. That’s when Nobata realized, “If I get serious about it, this just might take off.”

In January 2017, Nobata took the plunge and changed his company’s name to Unco Inc., dumping his previous business strategy in order to start selling doo-doo-inspired goods. Three months later, he began selling other poop items online. He used ideas from his staff to launch various kinds of goods, including watches, necklaces and other jewelry, one after another. The company now sells about 400 poop products.

They have become gradually popular. Professional baseball’s Yokohama DeNA BayStars manager Daisuke Miura bought poop sandals as gifts for his teammates, while voice actor Toru Furuya and TV personality Akemi Darenogare introduced some items on their social media accounts. In July last year, the company opened a brick-and-mortar store in Yokohama.

Recently, Unco has been able to promote its products at limited-time pop-up shops in various cities including Saitama, Nagoya and Kobe. They display even a car adorned with a pink turd on top to attract shoppers. “It’s a strange sight to see our products in a major shopping mall,” Nobata said. “But it’s a sign that more and more people find our products interesting.”

At the Unco Shop, there is a guest book filled with drawings of funny feces by foreigners whom Nobata has met in Japan and abroad.

“People from every country draw coiled up poops and giggle when drawing them,” he said. “It transcends language and culture and creates universal laughter.”

With this philosophy in mind, Nobata is staying busy squeezing out more poop goods.