Japanese Consumers: Work Hard, Play Hard

Sue Kinoshita, Head of UKTI Japan & Master Blogger writes …

Taken your summer holiday yet? If so, just pause to think of the millions of Japanese workers who won’t have done, despite the temperatures reaching a record 40 degrees and the humidity being roughly equivalent to a Turkish bath. The Japanese have a reputation for being incredibly hard-working, and that’s borne out by the statistics, showing that only 3% of employees use their full leave entitlement – which itself is modest, at roughly 20 days a year. All too often an evening spent entertaining Japanese contacts ends with them making their excuses at 9pm or so because they have to go back to the office. Or maybe my company is just so dull that they’re reduced to desperate measures..

Either way, it’s true that Japanese employees are exceptionally loyal, and prepared to put in whatever is required to complete a job. And although – or perhaps because – leisure time is at such a premium they really do make the most of it when they can. A typical family might only manage a summer holiday of a couple of nights at a nearby beach or mountain resort, but they’ll be sure to take in all the sights, try out all the local specialities and clear the gift shops of souvenirs for folk back home.  Hobbies are pursued with the same single-mindedness as work: if someone says their hobby is photography they’ve probably got all the gear, done a course, joined a club, subscribed to several magazines and sign in regularly to an online community to compare and critique the latest technologies.  Half-heartedness is frowned upon: I still remember waiting for an overnight train to a ski resort and hearing the person behind me in the queue remarking to her friend that my bag wasn’t a proper skiing weekend bag. And any hiker who sets out without a cow bell to ward off bears is just not taking things seriously.

The good thing about this thoroughness is that if someone decides that they like your brand or your product they’ll really buy into it big time . Three examples of that which I witnessed colliding in a single evening last weekend: the cool kids (and I) were on the train back from Summer Sonic, a kind of indoor Glastonbury, where the venue for the performance by new British band The 1975 (look them out – they’re good) had had to be closed off it was so packed – and hundreds of people sang along, clearly having spent hours poring over the words. No just hearing a tune and thinking that’s quite nice – they’d really gone to town to internalise it all.

A few stops down the line in piled all the fans of cute who’d spent the day at Tokyo Disneyland – complete with their Disney-print T-shirts, Disney-themed bags and Disney iPhone covers. Then to complete the party we pulled into a station close to where a summer fireworks festival had been held, and made room for lots of young couples wearing traditional summer yukata, fluttering their fans and looking a picture in their elaborate hairdos (men and women).

Three completely different style statements, but each proponent absolutely committed to their chosen one. And of course they’re not mutually exclusive: the indie music fans on a different night could just as well be found embracing more traditional Japanese culture. But the message for anyone tackling the Japanese consumer market, whether for leisure, fashion, entertainment, interiors or cuisine, is clear: if you can create a coherent image or narrative that captures the imagination then someone, somewhere will embrace it with fervour.

My team in UKTI Japan will be happy to help you decide how you might make your brand stick in Japan. Just contact us on exporttojapan@fco.gov.uk

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