Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
I’ve always seen Japan as a nation of trend lovers. From Tamagotchi digital pets and “print club” photo stickers to the morning banana diet and Billy’s Boot Camp, people here seem ready to jump all over the latest fad.
But 2009 wasn’t much of a year for fun and games in the world’s second-biggest economy, according to ad agency Dentsu’s latest Hit Product Recognition survey.
With the exception of flu masks, the Top 10 in this year’s survey was dominated by low-priced retail merchandise and eco-friendly products as consumers pinched pennies and took advantage of government stimulus subsidies.
Hybrid vehicles topped the rankings while other low-emission vehicles eligible for tax breaks and subsidies placed fourth.
Japanese retailers reported mostly dismal first-half earnings results, with the industry stuck in a slump as shoppers remain reluctant to open their wallets even as the economy emerges from recession.
The economy is struggling but sales of a traditional, fish-shaped sweet snack are going along swimmingly, thanks to its low price and auspicious name.
James Dean smouldered in his, the Marlboro men looked rugged in theirs, and now me and hordes of other Japanese people can feel frugal in ours. Jeans — practical, durable and with just a hint of rebelliousness — are at the centre of a price war in Japan, as struggling retailers look to lure cash-strapped customers back through their doors.
With the country slipping deeper into deflation and its jobless rate rising, shops have for some time been marking down almost everything from bags of cereal, to laundry detergent and bicycles.
Japan is back in deflation, and price falls look like gathering pace as shoppers’ bargain-hunting leads stores to cut prices further to weather the worst retail slump in decades.
Retailers large and small reported hard falls in quarterly profits last week, and the few bright spots were focused on those drawing in thrifty shoppers with their cheap but well-made goods.