December is a time for reflection. Before welcoming the New Year, it’s good to take a minute to look back on who we were and what shaped us over the past 12 months.
Rakuten’s Japanese e-commerce site Rakuten Ichiba likes to help that process, by sifting through its mountains of data and identifying the key trends in contemporary Japanese consumption. The resulting annual Hit Ranking, which comprises separate lists for East and West Japan designed in the style of a sumo ranking, are fast becoming trends themselves. Here we present the highlights from this year:
Rakuten Ichiba Hit Ranking: East Japan
2016 was the year of “Instagenic” purchases – purchases of goods for the purpose of getting that perfect Instagram shot. Colorful, flashy and instantly-recognizable products dominated the Instagram feeds of users all over Japan, thereby giving birth to this new trend.
2nd – “Pair look” for adults (大人ペアコーデ)
Watches, jewelry and even entire outfits got the twins-treatment in 2016, as the “pair look” moved beyond children to people of all ages. But it wasn’t just matching Disney outfits that created this trend. Accessories such as necklaces and watches also jumped on the “pair” train: Sets of his-and-her Daniel Wellington watches saw a four-fold increase in sales on Rakuten Ichiba compared to the previous year.
Bandanas, chokers, baseball jackets – 2016 had some nostalgic trends rear their (lovely) heads once again as these iconic ’90s fashion items saw big sales increases across the board. Only some lucky customers managed to get their hands on a pair of pink Converses; they were sold out for most of the year. Even more reason to believe that fashion moves in 20-year cycles.
4th – Evolutionary animal fashion (進化系アニマルファッション)
The abundance of faux-fur at the Winter 2016 New York Fashion Week spawned something of a jungle trend in East Japan, with designers incorporating animalian looks into ordinary items of clothing. The result was an abundance of leopard-print sandals and outrageously fluffy purses all over Tokyo.
5th – Superfoods: Learning from history (スーパーフード温故知新)
Japan has a long list of foods that have, throughout history, been considered to have exceptional health benefits. While the ever-evolving food culture in Japan has seen less and less attention given to such foods, enthusiastic endorsements from international celebrities such as Miranda Kerr and Adriana Lima have given second wind to ancient foods such as midorimushi and linseed oil. Everything old is new again.
6th – “Road to 2020”: All eyes on Japan (”Road to 2020” 日本カルチャー最注目)
As Prime Minister Abe arose from the green pipe dressed in Mario garb in Rie de Janeiro, he unknowingly sparked a new trend among Japanese consumers. With all eyes on Japan for the next four years, Japonism is taking the stage once again – but this time, in a different way. As a result of this sudden attention, quintessential Japanese products are seeing a boost in popularity not just around the world, but inside Japan as well.
With Japan’s recent enthusiasm for Western festivals such as Halloween and Christmas, it comes as no surprise that other events might soon be celebrated, too. This year there was an uptick in Easter-related confectionery sales and, in response to “Beaujolais Nouveau Day,” which has long seen spikes in sales of the French wine each November, enterprising merchants have started talking up a Southern Hemisphere version in the northern spring. Chili Nouveau, anyone?
Rakuten Ichiba Hit Ranking: West Japan
Following last year’s “cronuts” sensation, 2016 continued the “hybrid” trend, with items such as “skants” (a skirt/pants hybrid), “skachos” (skirt/gaucho pants) and “chocoroten” (chocolate/tokoroten) all seeing large jumps in popularity. One can no longer imagine Japanese city streets without the billowing pants we’ve come to love.
2nd – Real focus on local produce (“地産全照” 本格化)
Produce from rural Japan has seen increased attention this year, boosted by the rising popularity of the “Hometown Tax” system, by which individuals living in urban areas can give tax-deductible donations to local governments in rural regions.
To balance out the recent trend of “glamping” (a hybrid of “glamorous” and “camping” meaning to camp in a luxurious manner), casual camping has seen a significant rise in popularity this year in Japan. “Casual” camping goods such as simple beach tents and small outdoor backpacks have seen boosts in sales, as more people look for ways to spend short amounts of time comfortably in the outdoors.
2016 was a tragic year for music lovers, with greats such as David Bowie, Prince and countless other musicians leaving us over just a few short months. Their passing drove a nostalgic Japan to reflect on the careers of their favorite musicians, reliving great moments through old CDs and records. More locally, news that the immensely popular Japanese boy band SMAP were breaking up at the end of the year also saw diehard fans snap up the 13 year old album “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana,” to the point that it placed fourth on Rakuten Books’ overall annual ranking for 2016.
With their high exposure to natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis, Japanese households have always made sure to stock up on emergency goods to cover any scenario. This year saw an increase in purchases of emergency goods with an emphasis on design, partly thanks to a stellar effort from the creators of Tokyo’s new disaster preparedness guide, which aims to make natural disaster preparedness as appealing as possible.
6th – Ethical consumption (広がるエシカル消費)
2016 saw an increased awareness among Japanese people of the ethics behind their purchases, with the bean-to-bar movement being one prominent example. Japanese consumers are beginning to take more interest in the background of what they buy: where the raw ingredients come from, who produces the product, and how the process affects the communities involved.
In the world of e-commerce, a product’s popularity can often be short-lived. Almost 20 years of the Rakuten Ichiba platform, however, have brought to light a number of products that have survived the test of time to become so-called “EC long-sellers.” Certain wines, crafts, DIY goods and even curtains have won themselves enough fans to continue selling for much longer than they might have otherwise. Even in the fast-changing world of e-commerce, it seems, some things are timeless.