The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

For the past four decades, the most authoritative annual survey of Japan’s enormous recreation and leisure market—valued last year at ¥72.9 trillion—has been the Reja Hakusho (White Paper on Leisure).

Currently published by the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development, the report is based on government data, information reported by various associations, plus the results of Internet questionnaires, answered by 3,325 individuals aged between 15 and 79.

The 2014 figure for total annual leisure outlays is considerably down from its peak of ¥90.9 trillion in 1996. Affected by natural disasters and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in March 2011, the total dropped from ¥74.98 trillion in 2010 to ¥72.14 trillion the following year.

The 2014 figure of ¥72.92 trillion achieved 0.6 percent growth over the previous year, but recovery to pre-2011 levels still has a long way to go.

Economic statistics for 2014 were also affected negatively across the board by the increase in the consumption tax from 5 percent to 8 percent, which resulted in the prices of goods and services going up around 2 percent.

Looking back at the year, the 0.6 percent growth in leisure outlays was encouraging, particularly considering that average household income fell 3.9 percent and disposable income 3.7 percent.

That decline notwithstanding, the white paper reports that in 2014, 17.3 percent of men and 21.6 percent of women believed that their leisure time had increased, while 61.1 percent and 57.0 percent, respectively, said it was unchanged from the year before.

The decreases for males and females were almost identical, with 21.6 percent and 21.4 percent, respectively.

With multiple replies tallied, the top 10 leisure pursuits during 2014, for men and women of all age groups, were as follows:

Domestic travel, 54 million (stated by 53.5 percent)

Eating out (as a leisure pastime), 50 million (49.5 percent)

Reading books, 49.9 million (49.5 percent)

Going on drives, 48.7 million (48.2 percent)

Window shopping, 45.1 million (44.6 percent)

Visiting shopping centers, 44.3 million (43.8 percent)

Going to the movies, 30.5 million (40.1 percent)

Visiting zoos, water parks, marinas, and museums, 36.9 million (36.5 percent)

Taking walks, 36.3 million (35.9 percent)

Watching videos (including rentals), 35.9 million (35.5 percent)

Compared with the year before, “window shopping” rose from 7th to 5th place, “taking walks” rose from 11th to 9th place, and posting on SNSs and Twitter rose from 20th to 17th place.

In the “declined” column, “going on drives” fell from 2nd to 4th place; “karaoke” dropped out of the top 10, from 9th to 13th place; “playing the lottery” fell from 10th to 13th place; and “overseas travel” declined from 37th to 40th place.

It should be noted that, while the 2014 ¥72.9 trillion revenue total represents a 0.6 percent overall rise, by excluding outlays for one activity—pachinko (a vertical Japanese pinball machine)—the year-on-year rise in leisure expenditures was up 2.1 percent in 2013 and 2.0 percent in 2014.

Leading the growth categories was travel and excursions which, from 2013 to 2014, showed growth of 5.0 percent. This is considerably higher than the 0.7 percent expansion for overall consumer outlays, such as food and clothing.

It should be noted, moreover, that in various leisure activities’ latent markets—calculated by subtracting the number of actual participants from the number indicating a desire to take part—foreign travel was the top items given by men in all age segments (31.4 percent), and women in all segments except for those aged 70 and above (32.9 percent).

Among elderly women, the single exception, taking an ocean cruise (19.1 percent), took first place followed by foreign travel in the second spot (with 15.5 percent).

What’s more, the white paper includes average monetary outlays for various leisure activities and their historical trends in terms of increases or decreases. It also touches on the burgeoning number of foreign visitors, which in 2014 reached 13.41 million—up 29.4 percent year on year.

This was achieved primarily by the relaxation of entry visa requirements, solid economic growth in neighboring Asian countries, and downward revaluation of the yen.

A side effect of foreign visitor growth was an acute shortage of hotel rooms (plus tour buses and guides) in the greater Tokyo area. To get around the shortage, overseas travel agents go online and reserve large numbers of rooms under individual names. The agents then cancel and snatch up the vacant rooms.

Aside from the obvious disruptions this creates, the report advises that more efforts will be needed to disperse foreign visitors from Tokyo.

Interestingly, the study incorporates a four-page comparison of leisure in Japan and South Korea. Based on international labor statistics in 2010, in terms of the number of free hours per weekday, while South Korea was shown to have 4.0 hours (and the United States 4.7), Japan had 4.8. For weekends and holidays, Koreans lead with 7.0 hours, followed by the United States and 6.8 hours in Japan.

The report also features case studies of two popular leisure destinations: the Mitsui Outlet Park, a shopping and leisure complex in Chiba Prefecture, and efforts being made to promote tourism in Ishikawa Prefecture following commencement of service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) line in March 2014.

Catering to travelers along the new line is the Mitsui Outlet Park in Koyabe, Toyama Prefecture, which opened for business on July 16. Billed as the first of its kind in the Hokuriku region, the mall features 173 shops—of which 81 represent the operators’ first venture in the Hokuriku region—and parking for 2,800 vehicles.

According to Mitsui Real Estate, there was a 1.5-fold year-on-year increase in foreign customers (defined as those transported aboard tour buses), at its large-scale shopping facilities during 2014.

Some miscellaneous highlights from the 2015 white paper:

Cinema revenues rose 6.7 percent overall, with the animated Disney film Frozen achieving ¥25.48 billion in box office revenues.

While books (-4.0 percent) and magazines (-5.0 percent) showed year-on-year declines, e-media achieved double-digit growth.

Travel-related leisure was up 4.5 percent overall, with a healthy demand maintained by railways.

Hotel revenues grew 11.0 percent from the 2013 figure to ¥1,201 billion, buoyed by high occupancy rates thanks to the upsurge in foreign visitors.

Reiterating the white paper’s cover sub-title for this year—The future of domestic travel—the final chapter provides insightful analysis of the types of travel Japanese people regard as most enjoyable.

These can be summed up under three headings: as mawaru, aruku, mata kitai (to go around, to walk, wanting to return). The first term could mean visits involving multiple destinations, such as the five ancient roads out of Edo, the 88 temples of Shikoku, and even UNESCO world heritage sites.

The second term suggests strolling through shopping centers, or along city streets whose appearance has been restored to resemble the decade of the 1950s, creating a nostalgic appeal to the post-war, baby-boom generation. The third term, meanwhile, suggests either revisiting a spot during a different season, or returning in the company of a friend.

Taking a cue from demand for originality, more Japanese businesses have been refining their marketing strategies to meet diversifying consumer demand, both in their domestic markets and abroad.

The report anticipates potential growth through the strategic applications of Japanese culture (including the “Cool Japan” approach), particularly in four leisure-related fields: sports, hobby/creative, amusement, and travel/excursions.

Mark Schreiber has worked in such fields as travel, home electronics, advertising, public relations and market research. A resident of Tokyo since 1966, he reports about Japan and Asia for various publications.
More Japanese businesses have been refining their marketing strategies to meet diversifying consumer demand