Over the past decade, Tokyo-based brand consultancy RISKYBRAND has been taking the pulse of Japanese consumers through a national survey conducted annually on 4000 individuals since 2008.
The report surfaces two major trends that suggest that cynicism – as a disposition of distrust and detachment towards professed morals, governmental and economic organisations – is growing in Japan:
■ Tendency to keep a certain distance from the society
Data suggests a growing desire to withdraw from collective interests into a narrow circle of friends, family, and oneself.
■ More focus on the moment and less on the future
Higher standards of living and the instant gratification afforded by technology could have reduced the necessity to plan ahead and diminished concern with past and future.
These trends are exposed through seven attitudinal shifts:
1) Growing indifference to others: the number of people who “don’t think that the lifestyle or circumstances of others has any bearing on their own” has increased by more than 30% in ten years.
2) Cynicism towards relationships: respondents who claim that “people around them don’t understand them well, and therefore judge them unfairly” increased by 13%.
3) Dilution of emotions: people who answered positively to the statement “I am easily moved” have decreased by 17%, indicating a drift towards apathy.
4) Exacerbated risk aversion: the study registers a 24% decrease in respondents who “are willing to take risks to accomplish what they want, regardless of what others may think”.
5) Focus on momentary pleasure: people who “do not worry about tomorrow as long as they are enjoying themselves now” have increased by more than 40% over the decade.
6 ) Routinisation of luxury: increase by 30% of the tendency to “often wear expensive and prestigious items” points a growing desire to enjoy the present by indulging in the finest things in life.
7) Growing disdain for status symbol: people who think that “wearing status symbols is the sign of an unsophisticated person” have increased by 20%.
The report mentions three driving factors to the rise of a cynical mindset in Japan:
■ Overall pessimism and skepticism about the institutions of the society
Cynicism often arises from feelings of let down or broken trust. The government’s inability to solve serious social issues such as population ageing and devastating natural disasters, combined to corruption scandals shaking Japanese top companies’ reputation one after another, could have undermined the public’s faith in institutions and fueled anxiety towards the future.
The idea of a `common good’ is eroding, too: while private and public interests used to overlap in the post-war booming economy, when the economic pie is not growing, not only return of one’s effort become less certain, but only a happy few can prosper while the majority must share the remaining slices. With young generations shifting towards individualistic values, Japan’s traditional work ethic, that puts the needs of the group before the individual, is losing attractivity.
■ Complacency and instant gratification culture in an affluent society
Many things that used to require patience and thoughtfulness are now accessible in one click: we no longer need to read several books to get information, we can have new friends just by clicking a button, enjoy our favorite videos and movies without leaving our home and at low cost. The luxury brands that used to be unaffordable are now available on the flea-market applications at incredibly low prices.
■ Demographic dynamics: how a ‘cynical generation’ emerged
Generations born after the post-war boom – in a rich, but stagnant economy –account today for the largest segment of the Japanese population, representing more than half of it.
The eldest of this segment are the children of the baby boomers, born between 1971 and 1974, and the firstborns of the so-called ‘lost generation’. While they grew up in an affluence that could not have been imagined a few decades before, coming of age they were severely hit by the economic turmoil that followed the Japanese asset price bubble’s collapse. The data suggest that some foundational cynical values – disinterest in material possession, stay-at-home and insularity – were born with this cohort of post-Bubble consumers.
In the last part, the authors discuss the actions businesses should take to address this shift in values.
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>To download the pdf:
About RISKYBRAND INC.
RISKYBRAND INC. is a Japan-based multi-lingual brand strategy consultancy that has helped major domestic and international brands break through to the next level over the past two decades.
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