Peer-to-peer flea market trading apps, frequently used by young people in Japan, are becoming increasingly popular with the older population as they look to clear away a life’s worth of clutter in their latter years.
Once considered taboo, end-of-life preparations, known as shūkatsu, are being embraced by more and more seniors who live alone and have no one to assist them and no children.
“Shūkatsu” has become a buzzword, and seminars offering advice on everything from investments and inheritance to making funeral arrangements have become commonplace.
But it is smartphone flea market apps from companies like Mercari Inc. or Yahoo Japan Corp. that are helping seniors to start clearing out their cupboards of unwanted possessions. By selling such items now, they hope no one will be burdened with the task of disposing of their lives’ accumulations when they pass.
Although seminars on how to use the apps are being provided, seniors are also warned about possible pitfalls of selling second-hand goods online.
In late January, around 10 participants in their 50s to 70s, all with smartphones in hand, listened as a lecturer at a shūkatsu seminar talked them through the process of posting and selling their unwanted belongings.
“You need to clearly and honestly show any damage and stains on items in photographs,” advised the lecturer, who gave step-by-step instructions on how to make a post.
“You might want to include shipping costs in the price because it will increase the chance of your items selling,” he added.
Yoko Katsumi, a 61-year-old housewife, became interested in flea market apps after she struggled to get rid of an enormous amount of tableware and clothes left behind by her parents when, after their deaths, she sold their house several years ago.
Katsumi attended a shūkatsu seminar in Sugamo, a shopping district popular with older people.
“I wanted to gradually tidy up while I am still capable and healthy,” she said.
Immediately following the seminar, Katsumi used her smartphone to take photos of clothes and other items she had stored away, and posted them on an online flea market. She sold more than 80 items over two months and earned about ¥150,000.
“I could earn some pocket money by getting rid of stuff I couldn’t bring myself to throw away,” she said. “My closet is tidy now, too.”
The seminar she attended was held by a Tokyo-based shūkatsu association, which has organized around 20 such workshops, mainly in urban areas, since its first events in Tokyo and Osaka last spring.
“Flea market apps are very effective and fun tools to use as a means of organizing. … We have received many requests for such events from around the country,” said Yoshihiko Takeuchi, head of the association.
According to Mercari, a major flea market app operator boasting more than 10 million users per month, items posted with “shūkatsu” and similar keywords in 2018 increased about 2.5-fold from the previous year. The number of seniors using the app is expected to grow even further as companies raise awareness of their services through events and newspaper inserts.
While flea market apps are handy tools because they conveniently connect sellers and buyers, problems have also arisen with their growth in popularity.
According to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, the number of inquiries across the country for consultations jumped from 173 in fiscal 2012 to 4,406 in fiscal 2018, reflecting, in some cases, that disputes are becoming increasingly prevalent between online buyers and sellers. For example, according to the center, consumers have complained of being duped by sellers who misrepresented the type, quality and condition of items posted.
The consumer center has warned the public that items posted in online flea markets are traded between individuals. It says consumer-to-consumer disputes should, in principle, be resolved by the parties concerned. In general, operators, it adds, do not intervene in disputes between users.
“People need to keep in mind that parties concerned are asked to solve problems between themselves if they want to use the service,” a consumer center official said.