Are Japanese Women Finally Growing Out of "Kawaii?"

The Nikkei just ran an article this week focusing on the hidden consumption appetites of the "New Around 40s Women." These are our 2nd generation Baby Boomers born between 1971 and 1974 who have come of age after the Bling-Bling 80's ("The Bubble Economy" era) and have been thought to be more frugal, less likely to carry luxury brand handbags, and are sometimes referred to as the generation that got the short end of the stick.

The article draws on survey results run by Sankei Living, a publisher of free newspaper "City Living" widely read by working women, and a marketing writer, Megumi Ushikubo, conducted four times from 2011 through 2012.

The survey results ran counter to the common belief that this generation is not interested in flashy consumption, and that they relate more to the Bubble Economy generation (74%) than to their younger peers, known as the "Yutori" or "Easy-Going" Generation (so called due to the "Yutori Education Curriculum" introduced by the government to reduce the stress on children).

The article says this generation's purchasing decisions have three triggers:

1) Being a smart shopper based on individual values
2) Extremely time-poor; and
3) Individual consumption.

Representative examples of the first are comments like
"I dress in simple blouses at work but splurge on my favourite clothes for the weekend,"
"I pay 70,000yen a month on rent for a simple apartment, but I own a horse,"
"The bag I take to work is 1,500 yen but I have more than 10 luxury brand bags in my closet."

This kind of consumption behavior is referred to as "closet splurging" and is clearly differentiated from the very obvious way the Bubble Economy generation spend on themselves; i.e. it is rather easy to understand the preferences of the Bubble Economy generation by just looking at how they dress and what they carry whereas the new Around 40 women have a side they do not readily show to the outside world.

The second results in multi-tasking. Because this generation got jobs when the job market was lean, their workload has always been quite full. Multi-tasking or finding snippets of time to take care of chores is a norm - hence they surf the Net on their phones while commuting, they watch TV and surf the Net on their mobiles at the same time, and so on.

The last is an interesting tendency as only 27% of them are single. The majority of these women are those who have never married, but there are an increasing number of women who are single after divorce. But regardless of their marital status, these women tend to allocate a portion of their spending on things they alone can consume. They tend to gravitate towards facilities that offer childcare so they can enjoy themselves for a time and have no qualms about being a "single wife" so to speak.

In the Japanese market, where there are over 70 fashion magazines, each targeting a narrow age and taste group (for example, PRECIOUS is targeted at women aged 38 to 42 and is a glossy fashion magazine that features Koyuki, a Japanese actress, on its covers instead of the foreign models featured on VOGUE, ELLE, and other "imported" glossies), a new title, DRESS, targeting single working women, will be launched. The focus will be more on "the handsome woman" and not the women who aspire to be eternally "kawaii."

「隠れバブラー」団塊ジュニア女子の消費促すツボ  編集委員 石鍋仁美 :日本経済新聞

On 1 December, 2012, a fashion show targeting women aged 40 and above, "The Madam Show" was held in Tokyo's Shibuya. 14 fashion brands catering to this group participated, and a total of 1,600 women attended the event.

Like the extremely popular Tokyo Girls Collection, the show featured "real clothes" for the current (winter 2012/13) clothes and the participating brands set up stores in the adjacent exhibition hall to enable customers to purchase the items they just saw on the runways.

The theme for "The Madam Show" was to offer "elegance and sophistication along with trends that are much more than kawaii," according to it's Creative Director and TV celebrity, Terry Itoh.

So, our 2nd Generation Baby Boomers are less into Bling, but are not exactly as frugal and stingy as commonly believed... (We had already been seeing signs of that with there being a strong tendency for such households to "splurge" on very specific items like "rice bought directly from the farmers" and "water from a particular area of Japan" and so on).

Trend-grabbing marketers are looking beyond "kawaii" to appeal to them.

Are we finally growing out of kawaii?