Millennial experiences and ’90s nostalgia: Japan’s top consumer trends for 2017

Each December, Rakuten sifts through mountains of data from its Rakuten Ichiba marketplace to create an annual “Hit Ranking,” a celebration of the year’s standout consumer trends. While 2016 gave Japan wacky hybrids (remember cronuts?) and superfoods, the 2017 ranking highlights several interesting generational behaviors that mirror wider social trends.

Below are Rakuten Ichiba’s 12 hit trends from around the nation – or the top six from East and West Japan respectively.

East Japan

GoPro1. “Experiences” trump “things” on social media

Millennials appear to be shying away from material possessions, instead prioritizing social media-friendly “experiences.” To help share those experiences, a boom in sales of versatile cameras such as GoPros hit Rakuten Ichiba, while travel bag sales jumped 26% over the same period.

Educational toys2. Baby geniuses

2017 saw a marked uptick in sales of educational toys following the revelation that the popular marble maze-building toy “Cuboro” was a childhood favorite of 15-year-old shogi genius Sota Fujii. Between June and September, shogi-related products enjoyed a 160% jump in sales on Rakuten Ichiba, while parents, and probably extended family, drove the educational toys category up 40% for the year.

Self-care products3. Weeknights off

Japan’s efforts to tone down the country’s notorious working culture appear to be taking effect – judging by the country’s shopping behavior, at least. Consumers are not only investing their extra time off in self-care products (massagers, foot pillows) but also apparently hitting the books after work, with a 31% rise in sales of products related to studying for exams for various qualifications.

hand made goods4. Handmade goods for the time-poor

Showing off your handmade goods on social media is a surefire way to get some serious “likes.” But who has the time to actually make things from scratch? 2017 saw massive interest in ready-to-go craft kits, with sales of kits for making fashion accessories soaring by 150%.

Ochazuke5. Boldly niche

The ability to find and purchase products from obscure niche markets is one of online shopping’s greatest merits. 2017 took that to the next level, as merchants responded to the most oddly specific keywords searched by shoppers: “deluxe tea-soaked rice” enjoyed a 94% jump, while “hard peaches” jumped by 46%.

Swimwear6. Unseasonal items

The seasons play an important role in Japanese culture, and summer is unanimously regarded as the season for festivals and fireworks on the beach. But a new trend seems to be turning that on its head, as sales of traditionally summer items such as fireworks and swimwear posted significant growth in the middle of winter.

West Japan

Nintendo1. Gen X nostalgia

Nike Air Max 95s, the G-SHOCK watch worn by Keanu Reeves in “Speed” – ’90s nostalgia is hitting Generation X hard in Japan. The 35- to 50-year-old cohort accounted for the lion’s share of sales of the newly released mini-SNES replica, while the 11th installment of the ’90s classic Dragon Quest has been flying off shelves since its release in July.

Picture12: Lightweight lifestyle for seniors

Japan’s ageing population is creating demand for a new genre of products – lightweight versions of lifestyle items. Among over-60s, Rakuten Ichiba recorded increases of 59% and 42% for lightweight glasses and lightweight shoes respectively.

Inflatables3. Daytime experiences at night

The Instagenic generation strikes again, this time in search of memorial nocturnal experiences that don’t require long plane trips. Visiting pools, aquariums and zoos at nighttime provides an easy way to capture unique wet and wonderful scenes. Rakuten Ichiba recorded strong growth in sales of waterproof cameras (+30%) and inflatable swimming rings (+20%).

Low carb4. Easy low-carb lifestyle

Low-carb foods are enjoying a boom in Japan, as health enthusiasts look to cut calories wherever they can. Carb-cutting konnyaku rice sales jumped 50% in 2017, while sales of gluten-free products more than doubled. Konnyaku rice combines regular rice with konnyaku, a gelatinous food made from the underground stem of the konjac plant, giving consumers an easy way to eat guilt-free carbs.

one time use5. Once in a lifetime

Experiences are also trumping possessions when it comes to special events like weddings and Halloween parties. Many consumers will buy special clothes or accessories for such events and then quickly resell them once the event is over (a process facilitated by C2C apps, which are also booming). Rakuten Ichiba is also seeing a trend towards “rental” items being made available on the site.

Makeup for men6. Breaking gender stereotypes

Fashion enthusiasts in Japan are moving away from traditional gender stereotypes and embracing products often associated with the opposite sex. On Rakuten Ichiba the men’s makeup movement is gaining traction, with sales up 27% on last year, while sales of suit jackets for women are up by 20%.

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