Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal carried an article by Amy Chozick, explaining how Japan has become “‘Disneyland’ for trends.” The article goes through an exhausting array of trends, including bejeweled sneakers, Jesus-themed restaurants, and robotic baby seals the keep the elderly company. Chozick traces this explosion of innovation to Japan’s recent economic woes:
Japan’s latest ferment can be traced in part to the economic slump that began in the early 1990s and lasted more than 10 years. As monolithic corporations cut jobs and lost their luster, more workers entered fashion, animation and music businesses. The number of employees in these so-called creative industries grew 16%, to 1.4 million, between 1996 and 2001, even as employees of all industries shrunk by 4.3%, according to the Marubeni Research Institute in Tokyo. Japan’s consumers began seeking eccentric products that flattered their growing sense of individuality.
While some of these new trends will travel well overseas and become hits in the US, many will not. The Jesus restaurants, for example, sound like they’ll have patrons thinking less Easter and more Stations of the Cross as, in at least one case, the restaurant is “reached by a dungeon-like brick stairwell, lit by dripping red candles, which leads to a dining area decorated with giant crucifixes, gargoyles and images of a bloodied Christ weeping on the cross.” Yikes!
On the other hand, you can always eat in a “maid cafÃ©” “where waitresses dress in the black-and-white French maid outfits worn by comic book heroines. ‘Welcome home, master,’ they say upon the arrival of a new customer, typically a male. For $5, waitresses will lift a drink straw to a customer’s mouth, or write his name on his omelet in ketchup.” Sounds like home, doesn’t it? The maid cafes are inspired by “cosplay,” or costume play. You’re familiar with this from seeing people dressed as anime or manga characters. The latest is “Goth-loli,” or Goth meets Lolita.
The list goes on and on, through hot tub karaoke to ice vodka bars. Western companies are taking trend tours of Japan as it lives up to its trend theme-park reputation. It’s pretty clear that this all bears watching, but if you can’t make the trip to Tokyo, one place to follow along from your office chair is the Japan section of CScout.