The World: Insider's View - Japan

Forget the Bric countries - Japan still has much more to offer through its recharged economy and increasingly time-rich, cash-rich consumers, Dave McCaughan writes.

Sometimes, being based in Tokyo reminds me of being on the lost planet. For some reason, many in our industry seem to have forgotten that Japan is, and will be for at least most of our working lives, the number two or three market in the world.

And for all the deserved focus on Brazil, Russia, India, China etc, Japan is still a vibrant and recently recharging giant that is going through an amazing transition.

The average Japanese consumer spends more than $7,000-a-year on shopping.

That's at least $500 more than US consumers.

For most of the rest of Asia, Japan remains the biggest source of trends from fashion to drinks to computer games. Ask a 25-year-old in Bangkok, Singapore, Shanghai or Hong Kong in which city he would prefer to spend a free weekend, and Tokyo is always the top choice.

And Japan still represents more than 40 per cent of the world market for luxury products. One amazing result from a survey we did last year with thirtysomething mothers was that more than 37 per cent own genuine Louis Vuitton goods.

Of course, it is an ageing society. Life expectancy for women is getting close to 90, and more than 70 people a day now turn 100. But that itself is a source of transformation and vibrancy. Whereas in the 90s people thought an ageing population meant insurance policies and healthcare, the market now realises it also means decades of enjoying a healthy, happy and often adventurous lifestyle. The role-models for the retiree in Japan today are people such as Yuichiro Mura, who a few years ago at 70 became the oldest man in the world to climb Everest.

Two examples show how the ageing marketplace is transforming Japan.

One of the fastest-growing divorce rates in the world are the Japanese sixtysomethings. As their husbands' retirement draws near, we constantly hear women talking about " how good life might be without them". And in a population where retirement pensions for this decade's retirees are the highest in the world, separation from husbands who have spent the past 35 years "married" to their offices is both affordable and interesting.

The other trend worth noting is the growth of the mother-daughter travel segment. Mature mothers are opting to take the chance to explore the world in the company of their adult daughters. It lets the mother feel like she is bonding with her daughter and is safer because the daughter is usually a more experienced traveller, while the daughter often gets a free shopping holiday.

Maybe I am an optimist, but when a rich, affluent country has lots of change happening, I can't help get excited about the opportunities. Or maybe I should not be telling you how good Japan can be.

- Dave McCaughan is the executive vice-president, director of strategic planning, of McCann Erickson Japan.

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