December 18, 2012


Shifting to a Sharing-Oriented Society

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.123 (November 2012)

In the JFS Newsletter issue of June 2011, entitled "Message to Today's '3-De' Generation," we introduced three "De-" movements: De-Ownership, De-Materialization and De-Monetization.

De-Ownership, De-Materialization, De-Monetization -- Junko Edahiro's Message to Today's '3-De' Generation (TEDxTokyo, May 2011)

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, lifestyles in which things are not owned but shared - what I call de-ownership - is becoming a major trend. This is not merely a kind of lifestyle option, rather, it is in fact creating needs in major business markets. This issue of the JFS newsletter tells about the changing perceptions among people in today's Japan, including a trend towards sharing houses, an idea long thought unlikely to take root in Japanese society.

Growing Awareness of Sharing in Society

Research and Development Inc., a Japanese research firm, has been conducting a general lifestyle survey every year since 1982. The company conducted a survey in October 2011 about renting and sharing, targeting 3,000 ordinary citizens between the ages of 18 to 74 living in central Tokyo. The survey revealed that a positive image of a non-owning lifestyle was spreading, mainly among women in their thirties and forties.

About 60 percent of women answered that they would look at cost-effectiveness when deciding whether to buy or rent something. Two thirds or more of the women in their thirties and forties regard a lifestyle based on renting whenever necessary as smart. The items that were cited most as something appropriate to rent when necessary were music CDs and movie videos, followed by camping and leisure goods. Women were, however, likely to cite items temporarily needed, such as nursing care products, baby strollers and other child products, showing a strong tendency towards leading frugal, non-wasteful lifestyles.

From these results, Research and Development predicts that a rental-oriented lifestyle, which in the past tended to be perceived negatively because of its image of poverty, is now spreading especially among women in their thirties and forties, who think that a lifestyle not surrounded by goods is smart and stylish. The company thinks that this kind of lifestyle will expand as more types of renting and sharing services become available.

A Renting-Oriented Lifestyle Spreading among Women in their 30's and 40's (Research and Development, Inc.) * Only in Japanese

A similar result was found in a survey conducted by NTT Resonant Inc. from April 28 to May 5, 2011, about attitudes towards product and service sharing, targeting men and women over 20 years old mainly living in the Kanto area, which includes Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures. There were 1074 valid responses, and the research revealed that resistance to second-hand goods and renting had declined by 20 percent compared to previous surveys.

Nearly half of the women aged twenty to forty answered they had purchased second-hand goods. Looking at future intentions regarding used goods purchase, more than 40 percent of men aged twenty to forty answered that they would buy used goods, indicating growing demand. Books, magazines, comic books, videos, DVDs and clothing were the more popular items among goods and services to be purchased second-hand. Homes, furniture, appliances and vehicles also ranked relatively high as used items to buy in the near future.

The percentage who had rented any type of goods or services was as high as 30 to 40 percent for men in their twenties and thirties, and the percentage who intended to rent in the future was particularly high for women in their twenties and thirties, as well as for both men and women in their fifties. When questioned about goods and services they would rent, many people cited clothing and automobiles. Nearly 50 percent of women in their forties and fifties expressed their intention to repair goods for a fee, especially durable consumer goods such as furniture, appliances and vehicles.

Regarding the merits of sharing goods and services, including renting and purchase of second-hand goods, frequent answers included "environment-friendly," "available as a trial before purchasing" and "can obtain better products at lower cost compared to buying brand-new goods," although attitudes differed somewhat depending on gender and age. As for anxieties and dissatisfaction in sharing goods and services, frequent answers included "poor product quality" "no information about who had used the item before" and "problems with after-sales service."

Results of attitude survey on sharing goods and services, including purchase of second-hand goods, renting and repair (NTT Resonant Inc.) (Japanese only)

Responding to this increasing awareness about sharing a variety of things, house sharing, that is, several [unrelated] housemates or roommates living in the same house, is rapidly spreading, especially in urban areas. Though Japan lacks traditions or even concepts of sharing a house [with non-family members], recently more and more young people have started renting houses to share with housemates. There are several such households in our neighborhood here.

Recently, shared housing has became one of the hottest topics in the real estate industry. There are growing numbers of land developers that are building apartment houses intended from the start for house sharing, as well as real estate agents specializing in shared houses.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, published an article on March 5, 2012, reporting that, according to Hituji Incubation Square Inc., a company running a website to provide information about shared houses, the total number of shared houses nationwide was 1,004 as of the end of 2011, an increase of about tenfold over the past five years.

In this article, Miyuki Miyagi from the Social Solutions Division of Dentsu Inc., a major Japanese advertising agency, was quoted as saying that increasing numbers of young people began living in shared houses because of the uncertain future of Japan's economy, hoping to, (1) to obtain an edge in their current jobs by putting themselves into an environment of friendly rivalry in their daily life; (2) to develop a network outside the companies in view of the risk that their current company might destabilize; and (3) to seek opportunities to create new businesses adapted to social change together with people who share the same values.

Oakhouse, a major housing agency that specializes in shared house management, is operating 130 houses with 2,177 rooms in the Tokyo metropolitan area as of November 11, 2012. This company estimates that there are about 15,000 rooms available in shared houses nationwide and expects the number to increase even more.

With these increases in scale, shared houses with unique features are beginning to emerge. Now-E Co., a company of networking services mainly for elderly people, has initiated "Japan's first cross-generation shared house operation business," offering rooms or house-sharing between elderly people living alone and single mothers. The key concept of this service is facilitating cooperation and communication between elders and working single mothers to help them feel secure and comfortable with each other in their lives.

Some business operators are starting to renovate corporate dormitories for singles and rooms in existing condominiums as apartment rooms for sharing rather than for single, isolated users. For those with an interest in life at a shared house, but who also hope to secure private time and space that they would enjoy living in their own apartment, some companies offer "social apartment" or "sharing place" rooms with fabulous features such as home theaters, fitness/exercise facilities, or even a bar with a billiard table.

A builder and dealer in urban houses, Asahi Kasei Homes, developed a "two-family home" model for young families and their parents in 1975 and established an institute for the development of such houses in 1980. In response to current needs, an affiliate company, Asahi Kasei Reform, released a line of renovated "two-family" models in 2011.

For residents who remain in a two-family home after the children have moved out and the grandparents have passed away, Asahi Kasei Reform offers to renovate it for two different purposes other than as conventional rooms for rent. One is as a shared house that makes a contribution to society in which vacant rooms are renovated as a place where a variety of people -- such as students from overseas, single mothers and their children, and care workers - can live together. The other is as a shared communication space in which renovated rooms are offered as a communication space for galleries, classrooms for lifelong learning, etc. to facilitate communication and bonding among hobby groups, friends, and neighbors.

Not only businesses, but non-profit organizations that promote and operate shared houses are emerging for the purpose of making a social contribution. A group called Heartwarming House initiates activities to introduce the benefits of sharing. While facilitating house-sharing between house-owners and residents, the group hosts events such as "monthly curry day" for local people to experience and enjoy the sharing lifestyle.

Sharing a house is becoming a common life option for young people in Japan. It started in Tokyo, but is expanding to other cities and suburbs. Major national newspapers have been covering reports on businesses and trends related to the share-oriented lifestyle. How will this trend change lifestyle, values and businesses in Japan? We look forward to seeing what happens.

Written by Toshiko Wakayama and Junko Edahiro