What’s Popular in Japan? Here Are the Top 5 Hit Products for 2016!

  • With its trendsetter position in various areas such as technology, fashion, and science, Japan introduces an extensive variety of new products and services to the world every year. To keep track of the latest trends, magazines such as the monthly publication Nikkei Trendy (日経トレンディ) are good resources to refer to if you want to learn more about the new and popular in Japan.

    Nikkei Trendy also releases a top 30 ranking of the hit products in Japan for the year (released between October of the previous year and September of the current year) based on three aspects i.e. sales, novelty, and influence. To get a feel of the times, just look at the past years’ winners which included the Internet (1996), Tamagotchi (1997), the Hollywood blockbuster film Titanic (1998), Utada Hikaru (1999), UNIQLO (2000), Universal Studios Japan (2001), the Korean drama Winter Sonata (2004), iPod nano (2005), Nintendo DS Lite (2006), Wii (2007), smartphones (2011), Tokyo Skytree (2012), convenience store coffee (2013), and the Disney anime movie Frozen (2014).

    Are you interested to find out which products were hits in Japan this 2016 (Japanese only)? Read on to know the top 5!

    1. Pokémon GO (ポケモンGO)

    Pokémon GO took the world by storm this 2016 literally with its innovative gameplay format which deviates from the usual mobile phone games where people tend to stay indoors or remain sedentary since they are seated. To play this game, you have to be on the go outdoors to catch Pokémon characters to complete your collection by throwing Poké Balls at them. In order to replenish your supply of Poké Balls or collect items needed for battles at a Pokémon Gym, you will also have to visit Poké Stops which tend to be located at key landmarks in your country or tourist spots. As such, since the initial launch to when the game reached the peak of its popularity, you would most likely have seen large groups of people gathering at Poké Stops or moving together in the same direction just to catch a rare Pokémon sighted nearby.

    At the beginning of August 2016, there were 10.4 million active Pokémon GO players in Japan with 60 percent of them being male. In terms of age groups, those between 15 and 29 years old accounted for about 48 percent of all active players. As for the players who stopped playing the game after two weeks, that came up to about 1.29 million which seems to suggest that not everyone stayed around long enough to complete their collection.

    Seeing a positive spin in this phenomenon, some local governments in Japan worked with Pokémon GO’s developers Niantic to designate landmarks in their cities as Poké Stops so as to increase tourist numbers and income. As a result of Pokémon GO’s boom, it also contributed to a spike in spending on related or needed items to proceed with the game such as secondhand mobile phones and mobile batteries since the game is known to consume a lot of battery power from your phone or tablet. Last but not least, the game is credited for getting players out of their houses to head outdoors for much-needed physical activity rather than letting them remain sedentary indoors.

    However, the game is not without its controversies. Incidents caused by or related to players who were too absorbed in or obsessed with the game such as trespassing into private property, traffic accidents, illegal parking, minors roaming outside alone late at night, noise and litter issues from large groups of players gathered at a single location, and crimes committed against players who failed to take notice of their surroundings have been reported many times in the media. Of course, not all players do these things but the actions of a minority have indeed given the game some bad press.

    Although some local governments welcomed Pokémon GO as a newfound source of tourism income and human traffic, the gathering of large numbers of players at places which may have access restrictions e.g. military grounds or which need to be kept quiet at all times e.g. religious spots such as shrines, frowned on the setting of their premises as Poké Stops or Gyms so there were reports of requests made to Niantic to take such places off from the game.

    Now that there are more people who are aware of the pitfalls and more conscious of the impact of their actions, it seems that such incidents have not been reported as often as before. However, this could also be a reflection of the game’s waning popularity, especially as more players complete their collections and gameplay goals.

    Pokémon GO Website

    2. Your Name

    Your Name or Kimi no Na wa (君の名は), which is the latest full-length anime film from Shinkai Makoto, is definitely the talk of the town this 2016. Since its release in the cinemas on 26 August, it has been hogging the No. 1 spot in the weekly box office rankings for 10 weeks (except for once when Death Note: Light Up the NEW World took No. 1 on its opening weekend) and looks set to exceed the 15-billion-yen mark in terms of box office takings.

    To date, anime films from Ghibli tend to do better at the box office and in critical reviews, so Your Name‘s success is especially remarkable and surprising considering that it is a non-Ghibli production. This is definitely good news for the movie’s distributor which had announced an upward revision in its revenue this 2016.

    The movie’s success has also contributed to the original novel selling 1.26 million copies to date, the increased popularity of the band RADWIMPS who wrote and sang the songs for the film, and the huge number of people visiting the locations in Tokyo and Gifu Prefecture which were featured in the story. However, the downside to the fervent interest in the filming locations is noise issues affecting the local residents and photography at places which ban such behavior. This led to the film’s production committee to issue an unprecedented request to the public to be more mindful of their behavior when visiting the places featured in the movie.

    As the movie is still playing in the cinemas within Japan and will most likely continue its run for a while longer, be sure to catch it if you can during your trip. However, do note that Japanese films don’t come with subtitles so you will need to understand the language if you plan to watch the movie in Japan. Otherwise, you can wait for the movie’s release in your country which should come with subtitles.

    To date, the movie has already been shown in Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Malaysia, and will be progressively shown in France from 28 December 2016, as well as South Korea and Italy from January 2017.

    As for the United States, there was a limited one-week release in Los Angeles from 2 December so that the film could qualify for nomination in the upcoming Academy Awards. However, the commercial release date in the US has not been confirmed yet.

    Your Name Website *Japanese only

    3. iQOS (アイコス)

    For those who wish to quit smoking or switch to a so-called healthier alternative while still satisfying their cravings, Philip Morris International, which manufactures Marlboro cigarettes, has launched iQOS. This smokeless cigarette, which is said to be a hybrid between analog and electronic cigarettes, uses real tobacco refills which are heated to produce tobacco-flavored vapor. It is claimed that this cuts the intake of poisonous substances from cigarettes by 90 percent and prevents the emission of passive smoke and smell left behind on the smokers. This device was launched in Japan and Italy first on 21 November 2015, but due to its popularity, it is constantly out of stock. As such, you will most likely be unable to get this in Japan for the time being.

    Personally, as I am not a smoker, the biggest bugbear I had during my trips to Japan was having to sit next to people who were puffing away while I was having my meals. There were a number of occasions when I didn’t check with the staff first before entering the restaurant and later found myself surrounded by smoke from other customers. It was truly uncomfortable and there were at least two occasions when I left the restaurants without finishing my food.

    This situation was especially troubling for me during dinner time because, in places like Tokyo, the eating establishments tend to ban smoking during lunch hours but do the reverse during evenings. In the end, I had to ensure that I find eating places which ban smoking indoors or just buy a takeaway dinner to eat in my hotel room. However, in places such as Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture, they have a more extensive smoking ban indoors to reduce the intake of secondhand smoke by non-smokers, so it was a more pleasant experience for me there. As such, if you are like me, you should pay a bit more attention at the entrance of the restaurants to make sure that you don’t end up fleeing the place due to cigarette smoke as soon as you sit down.

    If there is a day when iQOS becomes a true alternative to real cigarettes, it may just solve the issue of letting smokers and non-smokers co-exist in a more amicable manner. However, it may also be worth considering if the harmful health effects of smoking can indeed be reduced as claimed, or else smokers may be misled into thinking that they can puff away as much as they want without being affected in any way.

    iQOS Website *Japanese only

    4. Instagram (インスタグラム)

    Many of you may already be very familiar with Instagram which is a mobile application that allows users to take, edit, and post pictures and videos and that has more than 400 million users as of June 2016. Its easy-to-use interface is a key reason for its popularity which companies are tapping on for their promotional efforts.

    In Japan, Instagram is said to be better received by women between 18 and 40 as they account for over 55 percent of its users in the country. Due to the application not requiring people to provide their real names, this anonymous nature is also said to be an important factor in boosting its popularity as compared to other social networking sites like Facebook. Nonetheless, with Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012, it has undoubtedly boosted the links between both social media platforms as seen from features such as posting to Instagram and Facebook at the same time without doing it on each portal. Hashtags are said to be less popular among the Japanese users, though.

    In recent years, many Japanese celebrities such as actors, actresses, models, and singers, have hopped onto the Instagram bandwagon in a bid to connect to fans easily. Many celebrities have fan clubs which only allow those living in Japan to sign up and a lot of the information about them is in Japanese only, so a tool like Instagram allows them to reach out far and beyond to an international audience. As photos are the key on a platform like this, words become secondary, so even if a fan doesn’t understand the comments or captions, there is the translation function on Instagram which can be useful to them. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so this could be why Instagram is preferred over other social media portals like Twitter and Facebook when it comes to staying connected with your favorite celebrities.

    Due to the popularity of Instagram these days, it is increasingly common to read news about someone having opened an Instagram account and how many followers he or she got within the first few days of activity. For example, when Fukada Kyoko opened her Instagram account earlier in summer 2016, the first few photos of her in bikinis taken while she was shooting for her photo book got a lot of attention and she has amassed a whopping number of 1.2 million followers in just a few months! As for the guys, Yamazaki Kento who also started his Instagram account in summer 2016 has about 1.7 million followers and is the highest-ranked male celebrity on this platform.

    If you look at the top 10 Japanese celebrities who have the most Instagram followers (Japanese only), you may notice that the female celebrities tend to get more attention.

    Instagram Website

    5. Mercari (メルカリ)

    Mercari is a “flea market” mobile application especially popular among young people and women which allow them to sell and buy various items such as clothes, accessories, electrical appliances, and books at prices the sellers set. You do not have to pay a single cent to use this portal, you can choose a variety of ways to make payment (there is a payment processing fee of 100 yen if you choose a method other than credit card payment), and there are so many items you can browse through using your mobile phone at any time anywhere. Other than the 10 percent charge on the selling price of the item imposed on the seller, there are no other costs such as sales tax. Besides these advantages, the points you earn from your purchases can go towards offsetting the cost for your next transaction. As such, as long as the item is not stolen or a counterfeit, nor one already banned by the preset rules and regulations such as pornographic materials, you should be able to find it on Mercari.

    Unlike auction sites like Yahoo! Auctions where prices are sometimes pushed higher than the initial amount due to competition among the bidders, the price of the item is pre-determined by the seller on Mercari. However, you still have a chance of getting a discount by discussing with the seller through the comments section before going ahead with the purchase.

    To protect the interests of the buyer against non-delivery and receipt of defective and fake goods, the payment is withheld from the seller until the buyer confirms receipt of the item. For the seller, if the price of sale is below 10,000 yen, they will have to pay a remittance fee of 210 yen for Mercari to send the funds to the designated account. Buyers are advised to provide their comments about the seller only after the transaction is completed i.e. item received, or else the company will not handle refund requests if it so happens that the seller did not fulfill his or her part of the transaction.

    The delivery process is also a breeze as Mercari has teamed up with Yamato Transport to provide collection and delivery services since April 2015. What this means is that the seller can just bring the items to certain convenience stores (FamilyMart and Circle K Sunkus only) or Yamato Transport’s branches, or call the courier to come to his or her place to collect the parcel for delivery. The delivery charge is standardized for anywhere within Japan and any excess payment will be borne by Mercari.

    One famous example of the unique items you can find on Mercari is the core of the toilet paper roll. You might be wondering why anyone would want to buy this, but apparently, this is something commonly required for art and craft projects in kindergartens or primary schools. For parents who are in need of this item urgently but may not have them on hand, Mercari becomes their savior as they can really find sellers who are peddling such daily items which people might not think would have any market value. Likewise, for people who want to sell off things which they no longer need, they may be able to find buyers who will appreciate those items for what they are worth.

    Although there are many such applications in Japan, Mercari is considered to be a market leader with more than 500,000 items being put up for sale each day and monthly sales figures exceeding 1 billion yen. Their commercials featuring Watanabe Naomi can also be seen on TV and on the Internet. Due to these reasons, Mercari has achieved more than 35 million downloads within Japan and is currently making inroads into the North American market.

    In March 2016, Mercari introduced a new service called Mercari Atte which allows the buyer and seller to meet at a public place for the transaction. This way, they can save on the delivery time and cost. This is said to be quite popular among people who want to sell their furniture or electrical appliances as they shift to a new house, so they can ask the buyers to come and collect the items on the day of the move and save the time and effort needed to bring the items to the new house.

    Mercari Japan Website *Japanese only

    Having read about these hit products in Japan this 2016, do check them out during your holiday the country and experience for yourself why they are so sought-after and popular!

    Nikkei Trendy Website *Japanese only

    *Featured Image: wsj.com/

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