The unique Japanese
By STAFF Frederick Hiroshi Katayama, David Kirkpatrick, Michael Rogers, Patricia Sellers, H. John SSteinbreder, Daniel P. Wiener

(FORTUNE Magazine) – One of the cleverest ways the Japanese have found to keep foreign manufacturers out of their domestic market is to plead ''uniqueness.'' Japanese skin is different, the government argues, so foreign cosmetics companies must test their products in Japan before selling there. The Japanese say their stomachs are small and have room for only the mikan, the local tangerine, so imports of U.S. oranges are limited. Now the Japanese have come up with what may be the flakiest argument yet: Their snow is different, so ski equipment should be too. The Japanese argue that their snow is particularly wet, the slopes are narrow and crowded, and that the combination results in a high number of accidents. So the Consumer Product Safety Association, a private industry group, has drafted a new set of standards for ski equipment, including one that increases the thickness of the ski under the binding. Manufacturers that meet the standards will be able to use the mark SG, which stands for safety goods, on their skis, bindings, and boots. The issue is making foreign manufacturers hot. ''There are accidents in Europe too,'' says Luciano Cohen, president of the Toyko office of the Italian ski boot maker Nordica. Last year Rossignol, a French company, K2 Corp., an American company, and other foreign makers shared about 50% of the $440-million ski equipment market. So far, only 5% of Japanese ski equipment makers have permission to use the SG label. But once major ski makers such as Nippon Gakki, which sells under the Yamaha brand name, begin to adopt it, foreign companies fear their market share will tumble. They argue that guidelines set by the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization, which rules on products from skis to car equipment, are adequate.