LOHAS Takes Japan

LOHAS Takes Japan

by Kaoru Kunita

LOHAS is booming far across the Pacific in a country that is the origin of many health foods, alternative methods of medication, and technologies that satisfy the needs of LOHAS consumers. The country is Japan, and since the summer of 2005 the term ‘LOHAS’ has become a part of the Japanese vernacular.

The term LOHAS was first introduced in Japan in 2002, when Dr. Paul Ray, the identifier of the LOHAS consumer demographic and co-author of The Cultural Creatives, and Frank Lampe, founder and former editorial director of the LOHAS Journal, were invited to speak at a symposium to discuss designing a sustainable society. Since then the term LOHAS has gained recognition and popularity and ultimately has led to many exclusive department stores promoting LOHAS in fashion conscious ways. In the year 2005, there were at least five LOHAS fashion events in the nation’s major department stores in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. Fashion magazines like Elle and Vogue Japan have featured LOHAS prominently. National newspapers and television programs have followed suit, analyzing the trend and growth in popularity, and Japanese publications such as Economist and Toyo-Keizai have printed articles focused on LOHAS business practices.

A study performed by Dentsu, a major Japanese advertising agency, showed that in July 2005, 22% of the Japanese population over the age of 15 recognizes the word. Another study in 2005, a collaborative consumer segmentation study by the U.S based research group the Natural Marketing Institute and Japan-based research firm E-Square, showed that 29.3% of all Japanese adults can be classified as LOHAS consumers. Analysts agree the statistics are not surprising given the country’s lack of natural resources, emphasis on energy efficiency, and 99% literacy rate.

But the growth and popularity of LOHAS in Japan brings with it a threat. Like in the U.S., the unbridled growth of LOHAS in the consumer-driven Japanese society has created opportunity for companies with less-than-ideal intentions. Peter D. Pedersen of E-Square Inc., a company known for its contribution in propagating the concept of LOHAS in Japan, warns about the danger of “LOHAS-Washing”. But unlike green washing in the U.S., where companies claim authenticity where none exists, LOHAS-washing in Japan has resulted in  Japanese consumers being showered with flashy information and advertising gimmicks that lack any authenticity and instead prey on the pure popularity of the term. Many businesses are latching on to the term LOHAS to promote products that are not at all LOHAS related, but which benefit from the brand equity the term carries.

In Japan, where consumer fads burst onto the scene and fade just as quickly, there are also worries that people may be over exposed to the word without understanding its meaning and may even call themselves LOHAS consumers with no real knowledge of the term or its connotation. A Google search of the word LOHAS returns a series of Japanese groups introducing LOHAS fashion, music, travel and products, some of which stray from traditional LOHAS attributes. But just as “LOHAS-washing” spreads, some groups such as the LOHAS Club have dedicated themselves to giving seminars and lessons on understanding the meaning behind LOHAS concepts, emphasizing the importance of sustainability and wellness. The popularity of the term LOHAS is helping to get people involved and enthusiastic.

So, will LOHAS settle for real in Japan? No one knows for sure. Isozumi Takeshi, one of the top consultants at Funai Consulting Company Ltd. has deemed 2006 to be the opening of a new era for LOHAS, and is concentrating its marketing on LOHAS consumers and messages. Time will tell.