December 6, 2011


How Japanese Lifestyles and Awareness Changed after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.111 (November 2011)

Eight months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the northeastern part of Japan on March 11, 2011, causing the serious accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). Some say that the March 11 disaster marked the end of an era, having significantly affected our lifestyles, awareness, and sense of values.

What do the earthquake and the nuclear accident mean to Japan? In which directions will these incidents take the nation? To get more complete answers to these questions we may have to wait for future analyses by historians, but with this article we would like to inform readers of some changes in Japanese lifestyles and awareness, as revealed by various surveys conducted and reported after the March 11 disaster.

'Saving and Generating Energy' Required for Homes

In mid-September 2011, Yomiko Advertising Inc. conducted an online survey aimed at 150 men and women aged 30 to 59 who have the intention to buy a condominium. When asked about what they expected to get in a condo, 85.3% of respondents replied "energy-saving features, such as enhanced heating and efficient air conditioning," and 76.0% replied "energy-generation features, such as photovoltaic panels."

Panasonic Electric Works Co. also carried out an online survey on housing- related expenses in June and July 2011, with responses from 2,283 people across the nation who were considering or actually building, or had completed building a home in 2011. Compared to the previous survey, in fiscal 2008, the ratio of people who considered the introduction of photovoltaic (PV) systems jumped from 1.4% to 25%, an eighteen-fold increase. As for home electronics products they would like to buy when acquiring a new house or remodeling an existing house, many people mentioned energy-efficient models, with LED bulbs and air-conditioners at the top of the list, at 37% each. When asked to choose one product that they wanted to buy in the future, the largest number of respondents (46%) chose "photovoltaic systems," followed by "storage batteries for residential use" (17%).

According to a July 2011 survey by the Housing Environment Research Institute, a group company of Sekisui Chemical Co., an increasing number of people have been showing an interest in PV since the March 11 disaster. The survey, aimed at 716 PV owners and 1,037 non-owners, found that 62% of respondents in eastern Japan and 34% in western Japan said PV became a topic of discussion more often than before. The survey also found that others had shown respondents an interest in PV systems "because PV can reduce energy bills" (88%), followed by "because PV provides a sense of security in times of disaster" (44%).

Energy Awareness/Action Not a Fad -- Interest Is Beginning to Spread

Palsystem Consumers' Co-operative Union conducted an online survey via cell phone in September 2011, targeting 1,000 men and women aged 20 to 59. According to the results, 68.7% of respondents said that they had reconsidered their lifestyles and living environments after the March 11 disaster. Regarding specific lifestyle changes, the most common reply was that they began "turning off unneeded lights" (70.1%), followed by "setting air conditioners to higher temperatures in summer" (56.7%), and "reducing food waste" (23.2%). "Switching to LED bulbs" ranked sixth at 15.3%.

Another survey, conducted by Daikin Industries Ltd. in September 2011, targeted 600 men and women in their twenties to seventies. In this survey, 50.2% of respondents said that the need to save energy this summer made them change their awareness and perception of electricity- consuming lifestyles. Some said, "I was surprised to discover many things that I can do without. I realized that I had been using too much energy." Meanwhile, 41.8% of respondents also changed their awareness and perception of the ways to beat the heat as a result of power conservation efforts this summer. They reconsidered their reliance on air conditioners and turned their attention to traditional ways, such as sprinkling water on the road to ease the summer heat and using reed screens to block direct sunlight entering the room.

Contrary to the expectation that people's power-saving efforts might be reduced after the harsh summer of power supply restrictions, 84.3% of respondents replied that they would like to continue saving electricity. Many people said that they could find and learn something new through their efforts to conserve power. Furthermore, some, who once had a vague idea of ecology and energy conservation, have definitely gained a greater energy awareness, with responses like "Japan has limited resources, and available energy is not inexhaustible," and "I would like think about not only utility bills but also about the future of energy, including electricity, in Japan."

Cooking Methods Have Also Changed

In its "Shokuseikatsu Labo" (Diet Laboratory) project, the Dentsu Communication Institute conducted an Internet survey in September 2011, targeting 1,200 people in Japan between the ages of 20 and 69, regarding changes in cooking methods used during summer. The survey found that 40% of the respondents have changed cooking methods in order to save electricity: They tend to try to cook more simply, in less time, without heat, and also to completely use up food and leave no waste.

Rediscovering the Value of Nature and Human Relationships

Based on an Internet survey by NTT DATA SMIS Co. in June 2011, targeting 1,000 people in Japan between the ages of 20 and 69, regarding the credibility of various organizations and persons after the East Japan Earthquake, the Japan Self-Defense Forces came out on top (72%), while the credibility of the Japanese government decreased compared to past survey results. About the response and support after the earthquake, topping the ranking of the favorable organizations and persons was "Japan Self-Defense Forces" (83%), followed by "celebrities such as entertainers and professional athletes" (64%), "Japanese corporations" (61%) and "volunteer organizations such as NGOs and NPOs" (60%). Over 80% of respondents answered that they did not have a favorable impression of the response and support by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the Japanese government.

Furthermore, over 80% of respondents answered that since the earthquake, "I came to realize the importance of nature," "I value a sense of togetherness with others," or "I realize more than ever that people cannot survive alone." Over 70% of respondents answered that "I rediscovered what it means to be Japanese when I saw various responses after the earthquake," "I gained a better appreciation of the importance of my own hometown," or "I found myself wanting to spend more time with my family rather than at work."

In April 2011, one month after the earthquake, the Dentsu Communication Institute conducted an Internet survey targeting 2,000 people between the ages of 20 and 69 in Japan to test 24 hypotheses the firm had developed about changes in people's awareness. The following 10 trends in people's awareness after the earthquake were confirmed by over 60% of respondents:

  1. Safety: Want to take steps to ensure safety, going beyond what is commonly accepted and beyond regulated standards.
  2. Electricity/water conservation: Want to incorporate tips to conserve electricity and water in daily life and housework.
  3. Balance: Want to reconsider what is the most important in life, and to change the way of spending money and time.
  4. Eliminating waste: Want to reconsider wasteful consumption in order to reduce purchasing, to save money, and to put up with less.
  5. Sustainability: Want to have more interest in energy production and supply systems, and how to improve them.
  6. Information quality: Want essential and accurate information rather than simplified versions that only seem to be correct.
  7. Peace of mind: Want mental well-being and to enjoy the little joys in daily life.
  8. Ethical consumption: Want to support companies that aim to contribute to society and to change society for the better.
  9. Relationships: Want to put a greater value than before on relationships with family members and friends.
  10. Celebration: Want to forget the daily stresses of life and celebrate special moments.

Have Working Women Aged 5 Years from Quake-related Stress? Asking What Is Important

NAGASE BeautyCare Co., an esthetic clinic company in Japan, conducted a survey in August 2011, targeting 520 working women between the ages of 20 and 69 living in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. Over 70% of respondents answered that their stress has increased since the earthquake, particularly due to "fear of future earthquakes and aftershocks" (81.0%), "anxiety about radioactivity" (57.9%), and "anxiety about the future" (50.4%). When asked, "Did your stress from the earthquake age you?" about 50% of respondents answered affirmatively. To the question "How much do you feel you aged?" the response "five years" ranked highest (41.2%). The average of the responses was 4.98 years, and the maximum was 15 years.

To the question "What did you stop doing or discard after the quake?" the greatest number of respondents (60 women) answered "I stopped wasting money," followed by "I reconsidered my habits of using electricity" (52), and "I organized my belongings and got rid of unnecessary items" (30). It seems that the disaster gave people an opportunity to determine what they really need.

When asked "What is the most important for you?" most answered "my family" (207 women), followed by "health" (77) and "human relationships" (29). Unmarried working women felt the importance of human relationships even more than married women. While working women tended to care for private time according to a survey conducted in 2008, this survey revealed that many working women rediscovered the importance of families and human relationships since the disaster.

Self-Centered Youth Open Up to the World

R25, a free magazine for businessmen, and M1 F1 Soken, a marketing research agency targeting the young generation, conducted a questionnaire survey in June 2011 for 500 company workers aged from 25 to 34 and living in the Tokyo metropolitan area, Nagoya and Osaka. About half of them answered, "I am more concerned about the world now (than before the disaster)." Other major answers included "I feel uneasy about Japan's future" (89.8%), "I take a greater interest in politics" (80.9%), and "I place a greater importance on my relatives" (80.1%).

"Desire to Marry" Jumped After Disaster, but Now Trending Lower

"youbride," a major Japanese website for people seeking a marriage partner, conducted an online survey of 500 men and women all over Japan, asking about changes in desire to marry immediately after the disaster and three months later. About 30% of men had felt more interested in getting married immediately after the disaster. Three months later, the number had decreased to half. The number of women also decreased to less than half, from 37% immediately after the disaster to 17% three months later.

Changes in Views of about Career, Life and Marriage

In June 2011, AXA Life Insurance Co. conducted an Internet survey of 10,000 men and women aged 20 to 59 living in areas around Tokyo. For questions about their views about career, respondents answering "I want to make a good salary" decreased by 10.1 points and those answering "I want to get ahead in life or be acknowledged in the company" decreased by 5.2 points, while "I would like to work near my family" showed an increase of 5.1 points. Other answers, such as "I am placing a greater importance on enjoying good health or staying healthy now" (75.9%), "I more often think about the meaning of life and death" (67.4%), and "I am more aware of the importance of connecting with others" (67.4%), showed changes in their attitudes toward life.

The disaster also made married couples reconsider their partners, with 81.7% of wives and 89.5% of husbands thinking better of (having more respect for) their spouses. Meanwhile, 11.3% of wives and 11.5% of husbands answered that they had considered divorce. Though it is commonly said that young women require "three highs" (physical height, high education and high salary) of their prospective marriage partners, "high salary" in this survey ranked twelfth, "physical height" eighteenth, and "high education" twentieth. The top three conditions required for marriage partners were "sharing similar values," "having similar spending habits" and "enjoying good health." "Being reliable" moved up to fourth from sixth last year.

These surveys suggest that the lifestyles, awareness and values of Japanese people have been changing in response to the earthquake and nuclear accident in March 2011. How will the people and society change in the future? I would like to continue investigating these changes, not just superficially but at a deeper level.

Written by Junko Edahiro