LOHAS by Default

Don’t drink, don’t smoke
What do you do
Subtle innuendo follow
There must be something inside
– Adam Ant, “Goody Two Shoes”

This This Nikkei Business Online article summarizes some recent trends in the consumer behavior of Japanese men under-35 (U-35男子). According to the NB‘s findings, the older generation resents younger men (U35男子) for not following the accepted patterns of adult male recreation: namely, indulging in coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, paid sexual services, and gambling. The article may be too overreaching — any trip to a Tokyo bar will remind you that many U-35 men drink in excess and enjoy chain smoking — but the basic message seems to echo a lot of what we are hearing about the somewhat ascetic lifestyle of “young people” in Japan these days. Young men are being called “shirafu danshi” (素面男子) — “sober men.” One would think that the underemployed and undermotivated “freeter” and NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) would at least be drowning out their boredom and career failure in cheap booze and bummed cigarettes, but apparently, they have rejected both as a lifestyle choice.

They don’t like drinking with their bosses or haunting traditional Japanese izakaya. Some of this is a prideful resistance to being lectured by their seniors, and some of it is just a fundamental desire to pass time alone. However, the change in behavior does not seem to be based on a new set of moral values opposing these “sinful” recreations. The question is more of aesthetics and economics. Young men are bewildered why you are supposed to spend so much money to listen to old men chat in loud and smokey places. The U-35 male does not see the need to go visit semi-legal prostitutes when he can just rent adult videos or meet (fake) girls through online dating sites. Tobacco and coffee are out because this new generation is not down with the smell. (NB believes this aversion to stench comes from a spoiled childhood of clean flush toilets.)

Refreshment is the ultimate desire — whether that be from mints, quiet places, aromatherapy, or a nice tea. Walking and talking with friends is important for building human relations — not the marathon shochu sessions of yore.

In the last few years, LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) has been a strong buzzword in the Japanese media — with dozens of magazine titles like Sotokoto appearing on the scene to cater to this supposed heightened interest in environmental-friendliness and “slow life.” Broadly speaking, this Nikkei Business stereotype of the U-35 man seems to suggest a lifestyle focused on health. These men, however, are not embracing the tenets of LOHAS from a philosophical angle as much as falling into the set pattern of the movement by default. A need for refreshment is not necessarily a dedication to health or the environment.

Many producers seem to be now marketing towards young people through a LOHAS perspective, seeing that the LOHAS aesthetic most closely fits this new pattern of behavior. I have yet to see, however, any real success stories — outside of small service industries like yoga. Marketing towards the U-35 group is not so simple as just framing everything as LOHAS — where the locus of consumption shifts from “unhealthy” to “healthy” items — because these younger males are not specifically nor actively changing their behavior in order to adhere to LOHAS rules. Young people in Japan — especially males — have just grown up in a long recessionary environment and have adapted their behavior away from the joys of spending money. They find joy now in abstention, in the free walk around the block.

This may mean that some products like tobacco could be headed towards a long-term decline, but others like alcohol have a chance of revival. The challenge now is to create new cleaner and fresher contexts for the products which generational and environmental associations have ruined. Alcohol may only be “unrefreshing” because of the traditional locations in which it is served and the general manner in which it is consumed. Since the U-35 crowd are only passively-LOHAS and partially anti-consumer, they could possibly be brought back to the table — if the table is nice and clean.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

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4 Responses to “LOHAS by Default”

  1. Japan Economy News Says:

    Marketing LOHAS?…

    Marxy looks at the rise of LOHAS as a marketing tool and concludes: “This may mean that some products like tobacco could be headed towards a long-term decline, but others like alcohol have a chance of revival……

  2. W. David Marx Says:

    Re: the comments at Japan Economy News

    Alcohol and cigarettes are absolutely bad for your health and lead to terminal diseases. In Japan, however, the idea that cigarettes cause cancer is not AS entrenched as in the Western world, and I think this article makes a good point that young people see something aesthetic or contextually unappealing in these vices ON TOP of any health considerations.

    Moderated alcoholic consumption may be actually good for your health, but we see a total rejection of alcohol here rather than a conscious attempt to limit intake.

    I have defined LOHAS too narrowly perhaps, but I think there may be more demand for aesthetic cleanliness than “healthy living” in a medical way.

  3. Ken Says:

    Hey Marxy, thanks for your comment…been a long time since I’ve seen this post. I agree with what you’re saying about there being something unappealing on top of the health considerations (such as going drinking with the crusty old boss not being very desirable).

    At the same time, the heath issues I addressed were related to drinking, not smoking, since I agree that tobacco will suffer long-term declines. I wonder if the associations that have led to the rejection of drinking have been formed because drinking is viewed as an impediment to one moving forward into a successful future. In other words, not drinking is an economic consideration that goes beyond just saving a few hundred yen by not buying beer. At least, that is drinking within the context they grew up knowing it.

  4. Nikkei: Japan’s Twentysomethings Not Spending Like They Used To : Japan Economy News & Blog Says:

    […] once a month or less. I remember a hip young marketer in Tokyo recently making an astute point that alcoholic beverages needed to be marketed in newer, fresher contexts in order to appeal to the young…, who simply finds their products unappealing due to negative reinforcement. Perhaps what the […]