Japanese Focus on Future to Deal With the Downturn

More Look for Security by Improving Health and Seeking Marriage

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Just like the rest of the world, Japan has been hunkering down. Unfortunately, the latest economic issues here are just an extension of what has now been a 20-year slump. So how are Japanese people reacting? The luxury-bag-rental business is booming. It seems everyone has a "zero " beer, fruit juice, gum or pot noodle. Walmart's supermarket chain, Seiyu, has had tremendous success with the country's first real comparative-pricing promotion and the most successful company of the last two or three years has been Uniqlo, which has managed to master the art of good-quality, stylish garments sold at bargain prices. Everyone it seems is either cutting back or trying to fortify for the future. Here are a few of the more interesting trends people are using to cope.

TOKYO DISNEY: The resort recently recorded its highest visitor levels in 25 years, as more Japanese are trading international travel for trips closer to home.
TOKYO DISNEY: The resort recently recorded its highest visitor levels in 25 years, as more Japanese are trading international travel for trips closer to home. Credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno


Trips to Europe and the U.S. are way down, but travelers to Korea have boomed in the last two years, thanks to day-trippers. You can jump a morning flight in Tokyo to Seoul. Be there in two hours, and then do the essential shopping -- luxury goods, cosmetics and so forth. Because of the low exchange rate for the Korean won, luxury items are selling for up to half of the price in Japan. Tokyo Disney Resort, grabbing folks who may have gone to Guam or Hawaii before, recently recorded its highest visitor levels in its 25 years. But the most interesting trade down has been from vacations to "daycations" at outlet malls, which, unlike their European or American outlets are fashionable, have large arrays of top brands, entertainment -- such as playgrounds and spas -- restaurants, movie theaters and are increasingly seen as family-entertainment destinations.


Starting earlier this decade, we saw more and more people "pulling out" of the city to get back to agricultural roots. First there was a boom in balcony and even flower-box farming among young single women who would grow plots as small as a square foot in any space that got some sunlight. Agriculture has also taken off as a favored weekend leisure activity among recording artists and celebrities. These aren't weekend hideaways but actual working farms, where they spend their days off getting their hands dirty. More and more people are "dropping out" of professional careers to go develop farms specializing in unique crops. This has linked with a deepening interest in returning to varieties of traditional vegetables that nearly died out as Japanese food production went mass in the late 20th century. New interest in fresh, unique vegetables has also seeing the growth of ultramini vegetables. Sumika, a grill-style restaurant in Tokyo's Minato Ward, serves a plate of pearl-size tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and fifth-fingertip-size white turnips.

Dave McCaughan is regional strategic planning director-Asia Pacific McCann Worldgroup, and a frequent Ad Age contributor.


The Nintendo Wii, of course, has been the breakout product of the decade. Wii Fit has changed not only gaming and entertainment, but doctors are now known to prescribe a gaming regimen to both the booming retiree market and to city-bound kids with weight problems. The building industry has reported a mini-boom in people having their typically small apartments and houses interiors adjusted to accommodate playing golf or tennis. All part of the continuing "metabo" craze driven initially by governments trying to get people to lower their weight levels as part of a drive to ease health-insurance concerns. It's the reason that a number of underwear manufacturers have now introduced "tension" underwear that actually exercises leg and abdomen muscles of its wearers when they're simply walking around. And it's not just the body that is getting exercised. After Nintendo's huge success in creating brain-game software a few years ago, the hottest subject on bookstore shelves is improving the functions of the mind.


One way women are to coping with a tougher economy is to be more open in chasing a husband, something we're hearing in our McCann Pulse focus groups and from other sources. After a couple of decades where young Japanese women seemed to be perpetually putting off marriage, a significant minority are now reporting that they see finding a husband as the best way to deal with money woes. The problem is that what they are looking for and what they are finding don't seem to match. Witness the birth of the newest social group, the "herbivorous" men (so-shoku kei danshi) so called because, well, they just don't want to seem to fight, or eat or commit. There's a generation of young men brought up as computer-game-playing, manga-reading stay-at-home layabouts who sometimes prefer shopping with their friends to dating and find the whole permanent-relationship thing as a distraction from what they see as important in life. So we are seeing a boom in "marriage services" that are oversupplied with potential brides and little interest from husbands-to-be.


For these men, cellphones remain their No. 1 medium. Especially now that we have BeeTV, Japan's first cellphone-exclusive TV network. So far it has more than 30 exclusively-made drama, music and comedy programs you can only access from your phone at a fee of $3 a month. It's estimated over 10% of all TV viewing is already happening via phone screens, with most people now having services allowing them to watch broadcast TV anywhere. It's perfect for tough days when people have time to kill.

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