Bizarre game shows and kawaii fashion hail from Japan, no stranger to the world for its peculiar cultural trends. The Japanese people in particular are thrilled by constant new releases, whether it be food, fashion, or the trending “word of the year.”
No matter what time of the year you visit Japan, there will always be new and limited edition drinks and dishes at convenient stores (some that come with collectors memorabilia), restaurants, and shops. From forming long ques to devour the latest dessert item at McDonald’s (which has created a world of its own in Japan unlike McDonald’s in other countries) to snatching the latest in overpriced streetwear finds, there is always something new trending that people in Japan jump on the bandwagon for.
When visiting Japan, you’ll find some trends that are obvious and others that are found in the language and mannerism. These five expats share their opinions on the culture they’ve immersed themselves in or decided to stay out of.
This time around, we asked five expats: “What's a trend in Japan that you love? (And/or what is one you don't quite understand?)” Here is what they shared.
More and more Tokyoites are happy to make their own way without looking to others for approval
Founder of GaiaWorks / 30 years in Japan
Japan is famous for its culture of conformity and cooperation - what detractors might call "groupthink." Once in the early 80s I was sitting in a room in Nepal with a few dozen other trekkers, including a group of fifteen or so Japanese men. I was surprised to see the Japanese men finish their breakfast, pay, and after a decent pause, all stand up as one body and march out the door without any discernible word or signal. How had they known it was time to move? It seemed almost supernatural.
Timing is learned, and when being homogeneous was of prime importance to postwar Japan, people were masters of synchronization. In recent years, I'm noticing a different trend. Initiative is the name of the game.
Sometimes it takes an instigator. The other month I was walking home at night and noticed an elderly man crouching on the sidewalk trying to hail a cab in the dark. Commuters clearly thought he was a drunk and avoided him. Turns out he had fallen from a second-floor window and sprained both his ankles. As soon as I engaged with him, a crowd of pedestrians gathered, asking what they could do to help. It only took one person to take action, and a number of people followed suit.
More often these days however, it's not the blustery foreigner who takes it upon themselves to intervene. The cultural context has changed, and there is less hesitation in speaking up or doing something unexpected when it seems necessary. Whether managing a disturbance or helping a person in distress, individuals display a more diverse skill set in taking initiative. News commentary and the Internet now provide much of the consensus for what is considered acceptable, but I find it fascinating to see the emerging individualism that seems to becoming the norm here in Tokyo.
It used to be said that when crossing against the light, wait until everyone crosses together. Nowadays, more and more Tokyoites are happy to make their own way without looking to others for approval.
Tokyo’s incredible shared office spaces: Creating community, style
Executive and Life Coach, Sarah Furuya Coaching / 17 years in Japan
I love how many incredible shared office spaces are popping up over the city. I am a member of Ninetytwo13 in Nogizaka [in Roppongi], behind Midtown and I love it. The people who start these places, the ones that are really creative and beautiful inside as opposed to being the usual grey interior office spaces are truly inspiring entrepreneurs. The game has been well and truly upped by some international people who have started offices after investing in property. These people create community, style, hold seminars and conferences and leads the way in creative and innovative design and community activity. Now some of the larger companies are getting wise to these trends and incorporating art and and more creative spaces into their previously dull companies.
A trend I don’t like is the way the AirBnb situation has gone down. While I entirely agree that people need to work within the law and regulations and be registered, the stifling way that Japan has gone about this with no regard for businesses, customers, travelers or the effect on micro-economies has made me very sad and frustrated watching my friends struggle with their businesses. It feels like corporate and government bullying. I wish they had worked to co-create solutions especially with Rugby World Cup and Olympics coming up and also just more inbound tourism. It’s such a shame to spend out such a mean-spirited signal. So people - get your license in order! And find those loopholes.
Japan’s fascination with clear beverages
Fashion and costume designer / 30 years in Japan
Bucking the worldwide trend for all things healthy and organic and with the Japanese diet seemingly healthy enough, you just have to consider the natives of one of the collectively slimmest and longest living countries on the planet to realize that maybe just healthy isn't enough? Food needs to be entertaining too. The considerable marketing power of the major beverage suppliers in Japan seem hell bent on making all drinks clear!
The trend was started by the introduction of 'flavoured' bottled water: simple bottled water was not sexy or exciting enough. (Even though Japan's consistently safe and delicious tap water is fine, no need to keep your mouth closed in the shower of the country I consider home!)
Water is now flavoured with lemon, tangerine, lychee and other flavours, while always remaining, well...clear. Japanese food and beverage makers have a history of tweaking their products to remain ahead of their rivals’ and on the shelves of all Japanese supermarkets you can find cholesterol lowering-cooking oil(!!!), blood pressure-lowering tea, fat-melting tea!
The recent trend for all things clear has been taken up a notch recently with the introduction of clear milky coffee...a completely clear drink that actually tastes like a milky coffee; even the holy grail of long-selling beverages, Coca-Cola, has introduced a completely clear version!!
Japan has a seemingly endless range of tv programs that are food-related where the latest 'celebrity' (with quite whitened teeth) will be seen swooning over a very ordinary plate of noodles, sushi, whatever....these programs are currently doing the Wow, Unbelievable, Tastes just like the real thing! tasting tests of all the clear beverages you could ever imagine...
I quickly look in the mirror and it all becomes Clear: the recent trend for clear drinks are to protect the whiteness of people's’ TEETH! This all became Clear as I realized my own teeth reflected the colour of my favourite drink, BEER!
Allure of Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid Music
Writer and video game reviewer / 18 years in Japan
A few years ago, I'd read an article in The Japan Times about the growing popularity of Vocaloid music, as well as its leading character and virtual idol, Hatsune Miku. I was intrigued, and decided to learn more. Before long, I was watching a few videos on YouTube where the blue-haired twin-tailed character in her space-silver outfit and black knee-high stockings was singing and dancing.
I was not impressed.
Her voice was unnaturally high-pitched, the music sounded disjointed, and the songs were overall annoying to my ears. After all, this wasn't even a real singer. Just something created from software! After playing a few tunes and deciding this wasn't my cup of sake, I switched it off.
Yet Vocaloid music and the Hatsune Miku character continued to grow in popularity, creeping its way out from cult fandom and into mainstream. I started seeing her on advertisements in the convenience stores, and occasionally heard her songs on the radio at my local sports gym.
I don't know what possessed me to do it, but one day while visiting a video game shop, I picked up Hatsune Miku Project Diva f by SEGA for the PlayStation Vita. It was a music rhythm game, somewhat similar to the Rock Band or Guitar Hero titles but with Vocaloid music, matching the beats by hitting the buttons at a ridiculous speed. It was a fun game, and the more I played it, the more exposure to the music I received. Eventually, it began to grow on me.
Unlike the more "product" musicians and idols like AKB48 or any of the Johnny's boy bands, Vocaloid music is created by amateur but aspiring musicians. It utilizes a voice synthesizer software created by Yamaha Corporation that can create a number of different singing voices - allowing these underground musicians to create their own music. Some of these songs become popular online, and may even have their rights purchases to be featured in video games, collective CDs, or even in concerts where the Hatsune Miku character is projected as a hologram on stage.
After being slowly sucked into this trend, I can now proudly call myself a Hatsune Miku fan. I listen to her Vocaloid music on the train, and have even been to her concerts - not once, but three times. Since the songs are created by numerous artists, the genre is a wide mix from pop and rock, to gothic, rap, and even jazz. Is Vocaloid an acquired taste? I would definitely say so, especially for anyone living outside of Japan. But just like any pop-cultural trend, an appreciation - or even a liking - can be gained through more understanding and a little exposure.
Imperfect perfection in Japanese design
Owner, Turquoise Port / 1.5 years in Japan
Japan is the treasure trove when it comes to design – I particularly love the concept of ’Wabi-Sabi’. I have always been drawn to certain not-quite-perfect objects because feel that imperfection enhances their beauty. ‘Imperfect perfection’ is what I used to call it before I moved to Japan and figured out - to my delight - that there is a proper term for it. ’Wabi-Sabi’ is deeply ingrained in Japanese design and its reach seems to be increasing. Elle Decor Magazine, one of the world’s most respected home decorating and design sources, has recently named ’Wabi-Sabi’ as THE 2018 trend in home decoration.
However, there are a number of design trends I just don’t get. One of it is all things ’kawaii’. Sure, cute images and little mascots are nice, but not everywhere!
Teenage girls sporting outfits with adorable little pictures is ok, but grown women? Dainty images advertising a toy store: yes. Charming little pictures advertising a kitchen appliance: no! I am not your average Japanese consumer, but buying products that have ’kawaii’-designed packing or advertising stops me from making a positive buying decision, because I feel the company producing the product in question does not treat me like a grown adult. But as I said: I am not your average Japanese customer...
The idea of “trends” both in Japan and worldwide seem to cover a variety of areas but it’s evident that here in Japan, there’s no limit to the outlandish package they’ll present themselves in. Who would have ever thought of creating clear drinks of our traditional favorites? Or come up with a new genre of music that takes some getting used to? Then there are the trends that are timeless and borderless that Japan kicks up a notch to fit its people’s needs (whether they knew it before or not). New trends are found on every corner of Japan, and especially in large cosmopolitan cities such as Tokyo where things are always churning and changing.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by guest writers do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Live Japan.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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