According to the 2019 Global Wellness Report, the wellness industry is one of the fastest growing global industries projected to harness 500 trillion yen. But in Japan, this is one trend that was often thought to lag behind the West.
Yet, bustling around Tokyo nowadays, you’ll notice many women sporting trending yoga wear, suggesting that the global wellness trend has reached Japan. But is it just a fad—or is Japan starting to surf the wellness wave with the rest of the world? It’s no secret that beauty and appearance are a huge market in Japan, while fitness and wellness have been less so. So, let’s explore the question whether true, holistic wellness has entered the beauty market in Japan as a primary driver, and to what extent.
In short, if you are planning to enter the wellness market here, should your brand focus on outer beauty or health and wellness practices like mindfulness?
The wellness market in Japan: Is it more about appearance or actual lifestyle change?
“Wellness is rewriting the beauty market (in Japan) as natural, functional, nontoxic and sustainable ingredients surge, and consumers seek prevention over repair”
Susie Ellis, Chairman & CEO of the Global Wellness Institute.
Ultimately, the goal of wellness has traditionally been beauty in Japan. But now, it seems that change is under way. Minimalist genderless skin care lines with mottos like “breathe and sleep” are opening flagship stores with yoga studios on trendy and high-end Omotesando boulevard. Luxurious Ginza and even geeky Akihabara sport sleek mindfulness workout studios with classes integrating kickboxing and meditation in a club-like atmosphere, suggesting that toning and beautifying your body is evolving from a chore to a lifestyle.
Younger Japan is taking its health and wellbeing into its own hands
While it may not be apparent in the media, the number of yoga studios popping up all over Japan might give you an idea that something is changing. Mindfulness, pilates, and hot studio classes dot the menus of gyms.
For the more introverted, Japanese yoga classes on Youtube have followers in the 100k. “Yoga Ambassadors” trending on Instagram stress to their followers that they need to take their mind and body wellness into their own hands, potentially suggesting that there currently is a gap between demand and market offers.
A mere trend? Younger Japan seems more aware of the damaging effects of Japan’s traditional work environment than their parents and many are seeking relief in both the new and ancient alternatives trending in the wellness markets. While Japan’s unhealthy work-life balance is slowly improving, it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon and offers substantial leverage for health and wellness offers.
“Employee wellness” is the new HR pet phrase in Japan
That’s not to say that corporate hasn’t been taken an interest in the topic of wellbeing at all. “Employee wellness” is the new HR pet phrase. After years of being faced with overwhelming criticism for antiquated workplace policies, Japan is now the second-largest national workplace wellness market (behind the US), spending $3.9B annually.
Companies ranging from NTT to Virgin boast new employee wellness and wellbeing investment strategies, stumbling to outdo each other with HR wellness manifestos on their corporate sites. We can probably expect to see more alternative wellness approaches in the workplace, such as meditation, yoga, and healthy sleep programs soon.
Diet was long the holy grail of beauty and “wellness” in Japan
Dieting was long the holy grail of beauty routines in Japan. But even this is changing now – for a more healthy and holistic view. Beauty bloggers for working moms discuss how mindfulness in the workplace has a more beneficial effect on the body than dieting. E.g. emphasizing that taking care of one’s emotions through journaling and meditation is trending as an important component of daily routine.
Wellness products — Japan sports an array of diversity
Mindfulness journals, sustainable yoga mats, aromatherapy with smart diffusers controlled by a smartphone, bio-measuring wearables fashioned into jewelry — the wellness product market in Japan is an array of diversity.
Yet, one clear trend crystallizes: A new era of sustainable, ethical, healing, organic, open-mindedness is on the rise in Japan.
In the last 10 years, the number of organic and vegan restaurants and products in the market place has exploded and so have shops focusing on natural and organic cosmetics and skin care products. In the outskirts of Tokyo, organic farms, wellness retreats, and nature getaways are stealing the younger market segment from the traditional hot spring market as destinations for quick renewal. For centuries, Japanese wellness in the sense of relaxation was synonymous with visiting an onsen, a Japanese natural hot spring.
Eastern wellness practices return to their origin
As the West trends on shinrin-yoku, the art of japanese forest bathing, Japan has now become the third largest wellness tourism destination in Asia in terms of total visitors. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has been developing new tourism routes with wellness features such as forest bathing, star gazing, and walking meditation, further manifesting that Japanese wellness is indeed developing away from the primary goal of superficial beauty.
Real Estate projects such as the Tokyo World Gate office building, racing to open before the 2020 Olympics, are building now wellness into their open space: 5000 square meters of green space by the waterside with wooden decks and wifi for outdoor work sessions, breaks, or a quick jog. Wellness seems to have made its way into all areas of life in Japan, from work, to travel, fashion, beauty, food, and leisure. All of the buildings office spaces are already leased.
The Japanese wellness market: Beauty reimagined as well-being
Though the beauty industry is still the queen in Japan, it’s the term biyō (beauty) that’s slowly being reimagined. Japanese women are breaking stereotypes. Real sized models, something quite novel to Japan, are slipping into fashion pages. More designers are creating apparel from sustainable materials in the luxury markets — smart clothes for real sized bodies that optimize wellbeing.
Wellfashion. Athleisure. Mindfulwear. Keywords that sum up the fusion of beauty with deeper values that is taking place in both the West and Japan.
Susie Ellis, CEO, Global Wellness Institute
Photo by CATHY PHAM on Unsplash