Consumer Subcultures of Japan

It is a truism that women rule the roost when it comes to consumer spending in Japan. Japan’s highly patriarchal society means exclusion of a large percentage of women from the full-time labour market. That means lots of time for women to pursue leisure activities, hobbies and personal development — think learning languages and travel.

Consumer insights will always involve some generalizations. But there are limits. Western companies who lack on-the-ground familiarity with Japan can be misled by overly sweeping simplifications that exoticize Japan instead of drilling down into the messy reality of what is after all a modern industrialized society.

I’ll start with a defensible generalization of my own that applies across the subcultures:

Japan’s highly sexist norms also mean social pressure to be beautiful and dress stylishly, however that is individually defined. It is unthinkable for most women to go out in public without make-up. This pressure starts on graduation from high school and doesn’t let up until a woman gets well into later middle age.

There is even a word for the source of the pressure: sekentei — appearance in the eyes of society. It is these kinds of social attitudes that lead to Japan being the second biggest market for cosmetics in the world. Stay tuned for more.

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