Jeremy Sy, Kajal Vatsa and Melody Zhou write:
In Part 1 of this post we argued that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics offered a chance for Japan to emerge from its long stagnation and take a more internationalist approach to the world. Whether it succeeds depends in large part on how well it nurtures its current youth generation.
While Japan is rightly thought of as an old society – its median age in 2014 was 46.1 years, the second highest in the world – 45 million people, or more than third, is under 40 and considered young. The most interesting group among Japan’s youth are its under-25s.
This generation is popularly referred to in Japan as the Satori Sedai, which, tellingly, translates into both “the Enlightened Generation” and “the Resignation Generation”. It refers to Japanese born after 1990. Unlike the generations before them, they have no living memories of a globally dominant or economically buoyant Japan. They were born as the economic boom of the 1970s and 1980s turned to bust. While they haven’t had it as good as the generations before them, with many unable to find permanent employment, they’re also blessed by not being tied to either the inflated expectations that were fostered by the boom, or to the stifling corporate structures that limit the innovation that Japan needs to break out of its current economic situation.
Popularly derided, especially by older Japanese, as being resigned and lacking in ambition, the Satori Sedai might also be viewed as better-balanced and better-adjusted to the possibilities of the real world. From their perspective, the hyper-commercialized and hyper-materialistic lives of their elders, especially of their parents who came of age during Japan’s boom years, are neither realistic nor attractive. They want what they can realistically achieve; if they’re resigned, they’re resigned to being content with enough. Their aspirations are to live better, not for more things.
21st century values
The Satori Sedai are important to Japan’s future because the values they’ve already embraced are the right kinds of values to steer Japan through the 21st Century. With resource scarcity increasing globally, and with crises a recurring issue, the Satori Sedai’s comfort with living with less might be what Japan needs to drive a new wave of innovation that puts Japan back into a position of world leadership amidst the new context of resource-constraint.
However, Japanese society is changing too slowly to make the most of the potential of this new generation. Japan’s institutions were designed and structured to support older generations of Japanese in an age of affluence and progress, and are now failing to provide the Satori Sedai with the training or resources they need to succeed in today’s less buoyant Japan. And Japanese companies are failing to provide brands that serve Japan’s youth on their terms, or that reflect their unique set of values. This represents an opportunity for companies that want to do well in contemporary Japan. By understanding and supporting the Satori Sedai, companies will connect to an untapped audience, and create a market with long-term potential.
What to do with this
- Don’t give up on Japan. The country has passed its economic and demographic peak, but Japan calls for much more than managed decline. The country remains hopeful about the future, with many of those hopes centred on a successful 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
- Enable self-reliance. In the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, the Japanese have had to learn to be more independent and self-reliant. Amidst a context of increased risk and reduced resources, how can your company enable the Japanese to stand confidently on their own two feet?
- Support the Satori. Just because Japan has an ageing population, don’t forget its youth. Japan’s youngest generation are re-defining what success and fulfilment mean. Brands that understand this generation’s aspirations stand to win the country’s future.
A shorter version of this post has also been published on the OgilvyDo blog. The image at the top of this post is by Magnus Manske, via Wikimedia, and is published here under a Creative Commons licence.