June 30, 2006


Development of LOHAS in Japan

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.46 (June 2006)

"Yoga is experiencing a big boom nowadays. I started doing it, and I am more comfortable because I know more about my own body. I look at my inner self calmly, and have come to appreciate the people and natural environment around me." "In caring for the health of my children and family, I prefer organic foods grown without agrichemicals and containing no artificial chemical substances. Thinking about it even more deeply, I can see that this is related to our drinking water and the air we breathe." "The clothes I like to buy are supplied through fair trade. Fair trade aims to improve the current situation where children are put to work or workers are not being paid proper wages in developing countries. It supports a system that enables local people to sustain their own lives. I am happy not only because of the nice clothes I can buy, but because my action can help in some way."

An increasing number of Japanese are thinking this way. Until now, some people did act, but the popularization of the word "LOHAS" has triggered a more carefree attitude towards adopting this kind of lifestyle.

As many readers may be aware, LOHAS is an acronym of Lifestyles of Health And Sustainability. It is marketing jargon that originated in the U.S. to describe a category of consumers characterized by certain ideas and behavioral patterns. LOHAS consumers are not daunted by tradition, but at the same time they do not pursue only cutting-edge technology or social success. They seek alternative directions and have new values. Their main features can be outlined as follows;
LOHAS consumers:
1. are very interested in the environment, health, and actually act on such interests,
2. have a high awareness of social issues,
3. are very interested in self-development and raising spirituality, yet have a good consumer appetite,
4. send out information and messages, such as recommendations of preferred products, to family and friends.

The term LOHAS was first introduced in the Japanese media in September 2002. In June of that year, the sixth LOHAS exhibition was organized in the U.S. Ms. Junko Owada, the first Japanese participant to the exhibition, reported this event in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan Financial Times) and the related publication Nikkei Ecology. Subsequently, E-Square Inc., the environmental consulting company that sent Ms. Owada to the exhibition, hosted an international symposium featuring Dr. Paul Ray, who coined the term. In the U.S., the word LOHAS is only used among those engaged in marketing as a way of identifying a segment of the market, and is not commonly used among the general public. In Japan, however, because the word was introduced to the general public by the media, its development has proceeded on a slightly different course than in the US.

According to a survey, in the U.S., 20 to 30 percent of the population falls into the LOHAS category. In Japan, an Internet survey and analysis using methods identical to those used in the U.S. revealed that 29.3% of the population falls into the LOHAS category. The gender breakdown was almost even, and academic background tended to be high, with 55.6 percent identified as having university or post-graduate degrees; about half earned 6 million yen (about US$51,000) or more annually.

The survey indicated that people who fall into the LOHAS category have the following characteristics: they desire to move forward; they are environment-conscious for the sake of their health; they feel good when they perform an environment-friendly act; they are very interested in social issues in general; they can be effective leaders in consumer trends; they are trend-sensitive and brand-conscious; they place importance on the environment, corporate behavior, loyalty to producers and how they feel when using a product; they are sensitive to the implications of buying a product; they care about experts' comments on the background of the product and how it affects to their lifestyle; and they pay attention to information coming from other than mass media.

The survey ended up illustrating a trend among modern consumers that Japanese businesses had already been clearly feeling in the form of sales figures. The data show the existence of consumers who espouse these values and can provide companies with a good marketing tool for new products. Ms. Owada said many businesses have already developed products designed to attract consumers with these kinds of values.

Another force that has promoted the spread of LOHAS sensibilities is a monthly magazine "Sotokoto" that features eco-friendly lifestyles. The magazine has been praised highly by many experts for its contribution to spreading the idea of LOHAS; it has featured LOHAS in some way or another in every issue since July 2005. The company that publishes "Sotokoto," as well as some other companies, have registered the word "LOHAS" as trademark in various fields. Problems of unauthorized use of these registered trademarks have been reported, while some people have criticized these companies as trying to cash in on the LOHAS concept. Some say registering it as a trademark runs counter the idea of LOHAS, and emotionalized criticisms were also leveled. The publisher of the magazine responded by saying "The initial purpose of the registration was to limit the use of the word LOHAS to appropriate purposes and to prevent it from being used for everything. Now LOHAS has become a general term." The controversy subsequently more or less faded away.

Moreover, since summer 2005, an increasing number of magazines have featured LOHAS. The term has become popular in TV and radio broadcasting. An Internet search of LOHAS on June 6, 2006 yielded more than 237,000 pages hit in Japanese. More and more books featuring LOHAS are being published.

From the business point of view, advertising with "environment" and "eco" are essential, especially in relation to Corporate Social Responsibility. However, because these terms are associated to a certain extent with an idea of abstinence, they are not appealing enough for companies to fully employ in marketing. LOHAS is different. It has a stylish image because of the media push. Because it implies that people can change the world by consuming products as opposed to abstaining from consumption, it lends an advantage to businesses because it can promote business and social contributions at the same time. Eco-friendliness has worked well for companies' environmental sections, but LOHAS is naturally enough spreading through sales and marketing departments as a new keyword.

As part of this trend, in May 2006, the "LOHAS Marketing Initiative" was launched by E-Square Inc., Dentsu Inc., an advertising agency, and Dai Nippon Printing Co., to provide information to a variety of business sectors and a venue for discussions. A total of six study meetings will be held during the one-year initiative. Applications from participating companies were solicited in spring and will be again this fall; 33 companies signed up for the spring session.

At the LOHAS10 held in the US in late April 2006, a few Japanese companies had booths for the first time with the assistance of Lohas-World, a private Japanese firm that was involved in planning and organizing the event (where JFS also displayed panels). The first time a Japanese person attended was the 6th LOHAS exhibition, and Japanese participation continued to be small in the following years, but this year there was a "Japan Room," in which seven companies exhibited and about 50 people participated.

Japanese LOHAS products and services such as sake (Japanese rice wine), incense, a Japanese inn built mostly with natural materials, towels, scarves and T-shirts made from bamboo fiber were exhibited and gathered a lot of attention in the United States. Some exhibitors thought that they might see their products start to sell more in the United States than in Japan.

How about the personal level?

Naturally the media play an essential role in this movement. With celebrities in and out of Japan showing interest in yoga or macrobiotics, the idea of LOHAS has come to the attention of many people who were not very environmentally conscious before. LOHAS may be merely a word they see in magazines, but it may serve as an opportunity for more and more people to stop and think first about their dietary habits, then about their own surrounding environment and further about the global environment. If this happens, the popularity of the LOHAS concept can play a very positive role. Some people who showed no interest in "eco" or "environmentally friendly" are showing interest in LOHAS.

However, in Japan where LOHAS gained popularity rapidly, some people in fact see it as a temporary boom or a buzzword. Changes in the market and in consumer awareness in the years ahead will determine whether LOHAS ends up as just another trendy word, or becomes the mainstream lifestyle.

(Staff writer Hiroyo Hasegawa)