It is a subsequent article where we discover trends in different parts of the world, how businesses respond to these trends, and offer lessons that entrepreneurs can apply to their venture. Check out our first article on Estonia.
In this piece, we will cover five key characteristics of the nation that entrepreneurs can learn from:
- Healthy and convenient food: Extract pieces of knowledge from a culture that has mastered healthy eating and apply impeccable food hygiene standards in a post-COVID era hyper-focused on food safety.
- J-Wellness: Uncover opportunities to discover societal tendencies based on physical and mental wellness.
- Automation: How Japan, one of the most technologically advanced nations, has integrated robots in daily life, and which of these automated experiences might take off somewhere.
- Party-for-one Culture: As single-occupant household raises are rising globally, Japan offers a model of what a ‘super solo’ future society could look like.
- Pets Industry: While there are only a few pet owners in Japan, they are notorious for pampering their furry friends. There are several opportunities for businesses to capitalize in nations where there are majority pet owners.
What Makes The Country Different
While no article can describe all the intricacies of culture, here are some notable macro trends that drive innovation in Japan:
- Aging Population: The population of Japan is aging faster than any other population globally. In 2019, its bird rate dropped by about 6% to its lowest on record (1). While it creates issues, it also forces the nation to solve problems that several other countries will soon need to answer.
- Single Population: There has been a dramatic increase in the unmarried population in Japan since 1990 (2). There are estimations that by 2040, one-third of all men and one-fifth of all women will remain unmarried their entire lives.
- A Perfectionism Culture: The ‘Kaizen concept is native to Japan. It loosely translates to ‘seeking continuous improvement’ and implies a perfection pursuit. We can observe it in several aspects of Japanese culture, from bonsai to sushi, and permeate the entire life.
- A Focus on Hygiene and Health: Japan has the highest life expectancy worldwide. It is the result of a culture highly focus on health and wellbeing.
- A Long-term Strategy: Japan is home to several of the world’s oldest firms. In 2008, the Bank of Korea discovered that the organizations that were around for over 200 years across 41 nations, 56% were from Japan, including the oldest hotel worldwide (3).
Healthy and Convenient Food
Japanese cuisine is among the three national food traditions that the UN has recognized for cultural significance (4). And its relatively healthy nature contributes to Japan’s impressive life expectancy.
With a rising focus of the world on healthy eating habits, there are several lessons we can learn from a culture that has mastered high-quality and healthy food, even in places where we typically won’t expect to find it, like convenience stores and vending machines, because of the country’s impeccable food and safety standards. It is another practice that we can learn from with the new, pandemic-induced focus on food hygiene.
Konbini (Conbini, or Combini)
The convenience stores in Japan are very well known for their high-quality food offerings. It has become a tourist attraction with its own rating system.
Convenience stores such as Family Mart, 7-Eleven, and Lawson, you will find the most popular products, and surprisingly, their products that we can try in our country.
- Sweet Sandwiches, ‘Sando’ in Japanese
- Savory ice cream, from lavender to chicken wing, or ice creams that don’t melt
- Healthy beer, including nonalcoholic beer and Suntory zero-calorie
- Regional and season products such as melon bread or melopan and cherry blossom burgers
With the popularity of these high-quality convenience store food, there is an opportunity for businesses to:
- Learn the working of Japan’s Konbini system, like how they keep the onigiri so fresh and bring these principles to other countries. You can also study how the country manages to keep over 60k of these stores open 24/7 (5).
- Create a Twitch account or YouTube channel that tastes and ranks Konbini. Notably, top videos on YouTube are already bringing hundreds of thousands of views.
- Find trendy products that are the next ramen or spice up an existing product such as ram-don noodles or craft ramen.
Businesses have taken advantage by offering subscription boxes for Japanese products. Even though these businesses mostly drive their acquisition via paid ads, people are searching for them. For instance, ‘Japan box’ gets more than 8.1k searches per month, ‘Japan candy box’ gets 1.5k searches per month, ‘Japanese subscription box’ over 540 searches per month, and ‘Japanese candy subscription box’ 480 searches per month.
Over 5 million vending machines in Japan generate more than 60 billion USD in sales (6). In the country, people can buy anything from rice to batteries in these machines. It is also extremely common to buy hot food.
It is essential to understand that the vending machine business model works in Japan because of many macro-reasons. Japan is an automation-heavy society that values convenience along with its high labor costs and dense population. These macro-factors are not alone in Japan, though. Notably, 7-Eleven is also looking to test an entire vending machine convenience store in South Korea (7).
Platforms such as Vending Connection offer resources and serve as a marketplace for vending goods. And, with the increasing interest in vending machines, there is an opportunity to rethink the outdated vending experience in India.
In a tumultuous time where there is a need for social distancing more than ever, hot-food vending machines like those found in Korea and Japan may be a business worth a take. Companies such as HelloFreshGo are looking to replicate the hot-food experience for the office as well.
The coronavirus crisis has changed the game of mask-wearing across the globe. A behavior that was thought to be exclusive to some of the Asian countries is now common worldwide.
Now is the right time to investigate societal tendencies in Japan, where health and wellness, both mental and physical, is a priority.
Masks are available in markets and corner shops globally. However, it is only one example of a product where the Japanese prioritize their health over fitting in. Pimple patches in South Korea are another example.
Another good example is the ear-cleaning parlor prevalence in Japan. These Japanese take ear care seriously and dedicate entire salons to the practice. The interest is now moving globally, and there may be an opportunity to build product lines around it, such as ear-cleaning kits.
The density of public baths and saunas in Japan is perhaps the most illustrative example of J-Wellness. Apart from over 20k onsens or hot springs that the Japanese can access naturally (7), the country also has thousands of ‘sento’ or bathhouses. Notably, interest in both of these has increased over time worldwide.
As the wellness space is growing, practices such as saunas are a natural addition. Japan has made heavy investments in Japanese forest-bathing, ‘shinrin-yoku’ with over 62 healing forests and 1.2k certified guides (8). In 2018, more than 2.5 million people visited these forests. Studies have highlighted that the phytoncide in the cypress and cedar trees in these forests has immune-boosting and calming effects.
Japan’s Work culture is the most extreme globally in many ways. It pushes several million to their limit, to the extent that the nation unfortunately even has a word for it, Karoshi, meaning ‘overwork death,’ which impacts thousands every year (9). And to combat it, the Japanese government has introduced a ‘Stress Check Program.’
Nonetheless, overwork is not exclusive to Japan. Overseas businesses and governments will likely need to develop a similar program to combat workplace burnout. The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the significance of mental wellness. Even before the crisis reached its peak, people talked about whether mental health support should be a benefit. Presently, 95% of surveyed companies plan to offer virtual mental-health services to their teams by 2022 (10).
Apart from government interventions, there is also a wave of Japanese startups looking to reshape the country’s work culture.
For instance, Empath Inc, a Japanese company, uses AI technology to detect emotions such as joy, calm, sorrow, and anger. It has developed an employee assistance program called ‘My Mood Forecast.’ It tracks week-to-week changes in employees’ moods based on their voices allowing employees to monitor their mood movements and their colleagues to promote motivation and team understanding.
Another example is Wantedly. It is a nontraditional recruitment service platform that matches companies with candidates based on their shared values instead of benefits and salaries. It aims to shift employees’ focus on paychecks to finding a culture fit and pursuing their interests.
Japan is among the most technologically advanced nations worldwide. However, they don’t use it to create faster computer chips alone; they also reinvent how technology integrates into our everyday lives.
Businesses need to keep an eye on Japan’s thriving automated experiences and focus on how they can offer them elsewhere. For instance, Japan has had VR parks for several years now. However, it is only recently that VR companies have started getting major investments globally.
All the Robots
As Japan’s population is aging, there are not enough resources for young people to take care of the old in the same way. The country has looked to technology to offer support for the elderly, including therapy robots such as Paro and Qoobo, which have been proved to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Other robots also find functions in more fun environments such as robot hotel staff, robot cafes, and police robots. While the rest of the countries publish headlines with claims that robots are stealing their jobs, Japan is embracing humanoids (11) to assist their aging population and purposes like teaching English to children. Businesses need to look to Japan for inspiration if they are keen to see what robots may end up on their shores next.
Conveyor-Belt Sushi, Car Parks
Since Japan has a dense population, the country has also looked at automation to save efficiency and space. While sushi trains and conveyor-belt sushi are commonly known outside of Japan, they are still not common.
Japan not only has the classic conveyor belt that allows people to pick and choose what they like, but they also have automated restaurants such as Genki Sushi, which allows customers to select their food on an iPad and have it whizzed over to their tables.
However, sushi is not the only thing Japan has automated. Automated parking lots have existed for years in Japan. These businesses have recently started to pop up globally (12). For instance, Stanley Robotics, a French startup, started its operations in 2019.
Good news for the introverts. The term ‘ohitorisama,’ meaning ‘party for one,’ has gained traction in recent years in Japan, a country with more than one-third of single-occupant households (13).
While the country is group-oriented traditionally, with a special term, ‘benjo meshi,’ for choosing to take your lunch break in bathroom stalls rather than being seen eating alone, the young population, in particular, has started to embrace solo experiences.
The trend towards solo living is not remarkable or unique in Japan. The nation’s single-occupant household rate is 7th of 36 OECD nations after Norway, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Austria. In India, the share of single-person households has increased from 9.04 million in 2011 to 17.4 million in 2020 (14).
There are opportunities to borrow for entrepreneurs embracing Japan’s party-for-one culture, especially considering that the market for solo experiences is not limited to people who live alone. People who are cooped up at home with family and partners for months have everyone craving for a little alone time.
From entertainment to dining, the ‘super solo’ experience culture is rising. More businesses in Japan have started catering to individuals than the group. For instance:
- Dining: Ichiran, a ramen noodle restaurant chain, offer solo patrons to order their noodles from a vending machine and enjoy them from the solitude and comfort of a partitioned booth for one.
- Entertainment: Restaurants are not the only businesses to provide a partitioned booth for one. There are cinemas in Japan offering the same (15). Karaoke is also going solo with soundproof private single booths for one are also getting popular. Finally, some theme parks offer singletons to jump the queue as a reward.
- Nightlife: Bar Hitori, translating to ‘individual,’ is a cozy bar in Tokyo with a single-only policy that accommodates 17 people at full capacity. People can only enter if they are alone. They can strike up a conversation with others or choose to enjoy the seclusion.
- Travel: Japan gave birth to capsule hotels in the 1970s, and most drunk men primarily used them who were too embarrassed to return to their spouses after missing the last train. However, tourists widely use it today globally—just one example of how the country caters to solo adventurers. Solo travel is a rising trend globally that is sent to continue. As per a survey, it is the second most popular category after couples for post-pandemic travel (16).
By 2040, there are predictions that Japan will have about 40% of all households made up of single-occupants. It is not surprising that there are plenty of products designed for single life at home. One can purchase a mini tempura pot, a combination toaster oven and frying pan, bento rice cooker, and counter dishwasher, all designed for a single person.
Japanese loves ‘cute culture’ so much that they also have a word for it; ‘Kawaii.’ It is built off animal-based characters. Hence, it comes as no surprise that keeping an eye on Japanese pet culture may give a window into trends in one of the most recession-proof industries.
Pet owners are in the minority in the country, with about 18% of Japanese compared to India, the world’s fastest-growing pet care market worth over 430 million USD (17) because of the space shortages in apartments. Despite this, the pet industry is booming in Japan, where furry friends are considered most pampered globally.
One can find a cafe filled with about any animal: Dogs, owls, lizards, cats, pot-bellied pigs, hedgehogs, you name it in Japan. At the Mipig cafe in Tokyo, people pay over 7.50 USD to spend 30 minutes with miniature pigs imported from Britain (18). While there are concerns about animal welfare in several of these cafes, when done correctly, they are an excellent way for non-pet-owners to interact with pets and de-stress without expenses and responsibilities that come with full-time pet ownership.
The Japanese are also renowned for how they treat their pets. At the Dog Salon and Andy Cafe in Tokyo, one can order food for his pooches designed to look like what he is eating, such as a cheesecake, mini-hamburger, cake, quiche, or bento box, as per The Independent (19).
The Wanwan, or ‘woof woof’ Fitness Center in Tokyo, is a specialty gym for dogs that offers a swimming pool, individualized fitness programs, and even aromatherapy massages. Some apartment buildings also offer canine exercise areas that come with hydrotherapy tanks and mini treadmills.
However, the sector which has made Japan notorious for the pet industry is fashion and accessories. From dog strollers to cat hats, Japan has it all. Several companies, such as Zen Market, have created their business on shipping products from Japan to other countries, including some of their best pet clothes, accessories, supplements, and food (20). Some of the lesser-known Japanese pet extravagances include pet taxis, hot springs for dogs, pet hotels and retreats, and pet funeral services and cemeteries.