By Melissa Francis
In this article, we look at Japan’s equivalent of Gen Z — the so-called ‘Satori Generation’, what their defining characteristics are, and concepts that resonate most with this group.
How are generations categorised in Japan?
We’ve become accustomed to hearing all about how different generations purportedly approach the world; how their political inclinations, environment and exposure to significant events all influence their general behaviour as well as purchase decisions. We have come to understand these separate generations as ‘Boomers’, ‘Gen X’, ‘Gen Y’ (Millennials) and ‘Gen Z’.
In Japan, however, the common generational categories are different. Rather than classifying generations broadly as we have done in the west, the Japanese approach is much more specific and largely linked to changes in macro-economic trends over time.
These generations have been named as follows:
Here, we specifically explore the Satori Generation (さとり世代), a cluster of individuals born from 1997 onwards who seem to have achieved a sense of ‘enlightenment’.
Defining characteristics of the Satori Generation
Born during the post-high-growth period after the economic bubble burst, the Satori Generation is said to be ‘enlightened’ in that they are content to live in the moment and focus on what they have. Having been exposed to a wide range of easily accessible technology from a young age, they are naturally tech-savvy.
They prefer to avoid pointless conflicts and don’t like to waste energy arguing with others who don’t share their perspective. Along with a diminished sense of desire for materialistic things, the Satori Generation tends to shun excessive expectations and would rather enjoy life not pursuing an education at an elite university or putting themselves on a set career path as their parents may have done. Due to the economic situation and heightened level of competition, many don’t work in full-time jobs. They try not to let feelings of jealousy or greed get in the way of enjoying life.
They’re also less likely to want to travel overseas, preferring instead to remain in Japan and surround themselves with people they resonate with most.
Compared with other generations, they are inclined to stay indoors to relax in their free time. When it comes to achieving results, they place more importance on the final result rather than concentrating on the process used to get there. They see no reason to stretch themselves beyond their means, so taking time off for relaxation and seeking a good lifestyle balance remains important. There is also considerably less interest in buying expensive material things such as cars, and instead accept the bare minimum they need to survive.
The Satori Generation approach: 5 Points
Advocating for gender equality
The Satori Generation are keen advocates for gender equality and as a result have rather a liberal approach. Social movements such as #WeToo and #KuToo as well as many studies have proven that this generation prefer men and women to have access to the same opportunities. They also believe that responsibilities should be shared equally, whether this is at home or in the workplace. One example is ikumen, a term that has been used since the early 2000s to describe a segment of Japanese fathers who take a more active role in parenting, assuming tasks that might be considered traditionally female-oriented.
Accepting diverse presentations of gender
Individuals generation are much more open to expressions of various gender identities and are comfortable with fluidity. The concept of ‘genderless danshi’ has significantly grown in popularity, with prominent public figures like Rycheru, Idegami Baku, and Toman presenting androgynous or feminine looks that positively challenge audience perceptions of masculinity and break down segregational barriers.
Skincare and make-up products which were once firmly positioned in the realm of women are also now being more freely adopted by Japanese men. As a result, there is a growing number of gender-neutral cosmetic options available on the market. Male to female transgender model Genking has also experienced a high degree of popularity due to her keen sense of style. She represents Givenchy among other luxury brands.
Prioritising cost performance
For the Satori Generation, cosupa or ‘cost performance’ is especially important to consider when making a purchase. In other words, they want a good balance between cost and durability. Cheaper brands enable them to take advantage of fast fashion trends and adapt their changing style to suit a more fluid sense of personal identity.
Fashion and beauty are more important to this generation as is enjoying the sense of belonging and community related to these topics, especially on social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, which see millions of subscribers to popular cosmetic reviewers’ channels. Despite a wealth of information online, this group are more likely to trust product reviews from people they are acquainted with in real life as opposed to strangers. Purchase intent can also be strongly influenced by recommendations from friends.
Not wanting to stand out, the Satori Generation are decidedly less political than their predecessors. They tend to shy away from protesting about pressing issues affecting society and are reluctant to make their opinion heard out in the streets. But this doesn’t mean they refrain completely. Instead, they mostly choose to demonstrate their support online, under the more anonymous guise of social media or through the signing of petitions.
There are a number of key figures who are actively involved in breaking stigmas around social points of contention such as equal rights, harassment and body positivity. One example is Shiorinu, a full-time nurse who challenges commonly held ideas about sex education. Through her YouTube channel, she presents an alternative and refreshing perspective that young people can more easily relate to.
Placing less emphasis on romantic relationships
It is said that this generation is less proactive when it comes to romance and dating, with many stating that they aren’t actively looking for a partner. A study found that 40% say they don’t have to get married if they don’t find the right person. They tend to focus on themselves first instead of relying on external aspects to improve their life. In terms of connection with family members, the Satori Generation strives to maintain an especially close relationship with their parents.
The four Japanese Gen Z ‘types’
The below illustration lays out four distinct groups of Gen Zs in Japan. These are:
- The Yosumi (wait-and-see) Follower — Prefer to read the air before making a statement or a decision about something, such as ordering food in a group at a restaurant.
- The Sho-ene (energy-saving) Pessimist — Not so good at connecting with others, veer towards a more minimalist lifestyle and have an overall pessimistic approach to things.
- The Social Yoiko (active on social media) — Sensitive to new trends and care about how others perceive them. They especially dislike being criticised by others on social networking sites.
- The Jinsei Gachi-zei (life tactician) — Possess strong social values and have leadership qualities that enable them to enjoy life to the fullest. Compared with the other categories of Gen Zs they have a more traditional mindset.
Case study: life through the eyes of a Gen Z tech exec.
Huffington Post Japan published an interview with 23-year old executive Momotaro Ohashi, in which they questioned him about his personal experiences growing up and how he got into his current position with crowdfunding startup CAMPFIRE. He explains how he had easy access to the internet via his mobile phone since his childhood and despite adults telling him not too overuse it because of the dangers involved, he never viewed the internet in that way and instead saw it only as an opportunity and a regular part of everyday life. He even applied for his position at CAMPFIRE via direct message on Twitter after having connected with the founder there.
There is a tendency for Gen Zs to instinctively use cutting-edge technology as a means of sharing information while connecting with others and helping to solve social issues. A sense of urgency can be seen among this group in the workplace in that they are keen to test new methods and technologies the moment they become available. There’s a feeling of wanting to see results quicker and with fewer hurdles or processes involved that are seen as a waste of time.
Categorising new graduate employees by ‘type’
In addition to the various generations identified in Japan, graduates entering companies in Japan are defined by ‘types’ based on the results of an annual survey conducted by the Japan Productivity Centre (JPC) that seeks to shed light on their attitudes, experiences and behaviours. These types are intended to summarise the current job-hunting and employment situation in the form of a simple analogy. For instance, employees starting a position at their first company in 2017 were referred to as キャラクター捕獲ゲーム型 (‘character capture game type’), based on concepts seen in Pokemon GO.
This group were categorised in this way as the corporate hiring rate was up from the previous year, which meant they were able to ‘capture’ jobs and opportunities easily. This does not mean, however, that these graduates could secure a position at a desirable company. During their job search, they also made significant use of technology such as smartphones and social media to try and get ahead of the game. Other past types include; the ドローン型 (‘drone type’), the 消せるボールペン型 (‘erasable ballpoint pen type’), and the 自動ブレーキ型 (‘automatic brake type’).
Using TikTok to reach Gen Zs in Japan
Social platforms led by visuals and user participation definitely have the most impact among Japan’s Satori generation, with Instagram and TikTok having become especially integral to many brand strategies recently. Asia is one of the key markets for the platform, with young people in China especially active on it. But let’s take a look at some examples of how Japanese brands have boosted their presence with this generation by running competitions on TikTok. It’s all about shareability and having a more personal connection with a concept, which is then linked to a sense of brand stickiness.
Beverage manufacturer Suntory ran a campaign to promote its ENERGY PEAKER hops and grapefruit flavour carbonated energy drink. The company encouraged users to participate in the campaign by capturing videos of themselves dancing to a song by idol group NMB48, following the official account, and including the hashtags #ピーカーダンス (#Peaker Dance) and #コンテストに参加 (#Take Part in the Contest). Once finished, the five winning TikTokers were chosen by members of another idol group, Queentet, and presented with a Quo Card, a gift card that can be used in more than 57,000 stores nationwide with 50,000 JPY loaded onto it.
As well as motivating Gen Zs to take part, with more than 17.9 million ‘PEAKER Dance’ related posts shared as of June 2019, the campaign saw a positive impact from its influencer marketing by collaborating with NMB48.
Jupiter Telecom (J:COM) also launched a campaign which saw TikTokers uploading videos of their dances with an augmented reality image of the company’s official mascot, ZQ. A winner would be selected and their video would be broadcast on one of the large screens at the Shibuya Scramble Crossing in Tokyo. This was a significant incentive for Gen Zs to get involved. The associated hashtags were used more than 11.8 million times.
Take a unique approach to Gen Zs in Japan
When considering marketing strategy, it’s crucial not to lump the Satori Generation together with the more globalised definition of ‘Gen Z’. This generation embodies unique characteristics and worldviews related to the specific environment in which they’ve grown up; aspects such as culture, economic situation, attitude towards politics, and technological innovations need to be taken into account.
After all, what influences young people in the US may be very different to what motivates the same cluster in Japan, and brands can’t afford to assume a one-size-fits-all approach will work. Spend ample time researching and deeply understanding what matters to this demographic in order to reap the benefits. Offer products and services that can resonate at a fundamental level and that encapsulate authenticity, acceptance, and create the right kind of engagement.