A few decades ago, Japan was renowned as the leading luxury market in Asia, propelling growth in the luxury consumer goods market in the region. While other Asian markets have since vied for the spot, Japan is on track to once more becoming the Asian epicenter of global luxury, with revenue in the luxury goods sector forecast at US$32.31bn in 2024, the largest segment of which is the Prestige Cosmetics & Fragrances market. Despite being badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Japan’s luxury sector has swiftly rebounded, since.
The country’s luxury expenditure climbed in 2023, as a result of income and bonuses, as well as the reopening of national boarders and increasing tourist activity. There are a number of reasons that Japan stands out as a distinct and dynamic player in the luxury goods market, shaped by unique cultural, historical, and economic aspects.
A keen eye for quality and craftsmanship
Japanese consumers have a discerning eye for quality and craftsmanship. This is likely rooted in the nation’s centuries-old artisanal heritage and its deep regard for finely made traditional arts and crafts. Japanese artisans follow meticulous processes and scrupulous methods, across an array of artistic expressions. Whether it’s in producing rich textiles and intricate prints, creating exquisite pottery and lacquerware, brewing the finest sake, designing a mindfully appointed Zen garden, arranging a breathtaking ikebana piece, or presenting a meaningful tea ceremony, there is a high commitment to excellence that underpins the artisans’ efforts. This dedication to superior craftsmanship results in products and services that embody not only creative flair but also superior quality— and this resonates with luxury consumers who appreciate the attention to detail and dedication that each item typically reflects.
While traditional craftsmanship remains highly valued, there is also constant effort to integrate modern technology and design into the luxury sector. After all, Japan is largely regarded as among the leaders in technological innovation, worldwide. This blend of the old and the new, the classic and the innovative, brings forth an overall experience that not only honors tradition but also caters to the ever-evolving tastes and preferences of the global luxury clientele. The Japanese luxury sector seamlessly moves between preserving heritage and embracing the innovative spirit, creating a distinctive market identity that embodies the best of both aspects.
‘The art of making things,’ holistically
The concept of monozukuri, meaning the art of making things, is a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture and a driving force behind the country’s stature in the luxury market. It encompasses a holistic approach to production, emphasizing not only the end product but also the entire process of creation, itself. This philosophy contributes both to the creation as well as the appreciation of goods that embody a commitment to refinement and excellence, from start to finish.
This also likely influences the preference of most Japanese shoppers in the luxury market to visit a brick-and-mortar store when making a purchase. While online shopping has its conveniences, nothing can replace a physical store in terms of a firsthand experience and being able to touch, feel, examine, and appreciate the products, up close. In Japan, the luxury brand experience still largely hinges on physical retail. Case in point, almost a quarter of all the physical stores across the Asian region of French luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (commonly known as LVMH or Louis Vuitton) are located in Japan.
However, the ecommerce market is catching up, a shift that likely occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, and which is steadily gaining ground in the post-pandemic landscape. Per Statista, the revenue share from e-commerce is expected to reach 17% in 2024.
Simplicity and seasonality + sophistication and sass
The Japanese aesthetic sense is predominantly rooted in simplicity, characterized by a deep appreciation for nature and sense of place; these all play a pivotal role in shaping the luxury market. While it may seem like a contradiction of terms, Japanese style is largely defined by simple sophistication. In the luxury sector, Japanese consumers gravitate toward a more minimalist, timeless style, imbued with an air of chic elegance. The melding of classic and cosmopolitan characteristics is another hallmark of many luxury brands that enjoy popularity in the Japanese market. This aesthetic appeal resonates with tasteful consumers looking for top-notch products that are not only visually pleasing but also convey a sense of refinement and cultural authenticity.
A strong connection to nature and seasonality likewise distinguishes the Japanese luxury market. In traditional arts like ikebana and tea ceremonies, the changing seasons influence the choice of elements that go into each flower arrangement or into each tea gathering. Luxury goods often reflect this connection, with seasonal collections and limited-edition items that capture the essence of a particular time of year. This approach not only adds exclusivity to products but also aligns with the Japanese cultural appreciation for the transient beauty of nature, which springs from the ancient philosophy of wabi-sabi.
The Japanese aesthetic sense is predominantly rooted in simplicity, characterized by a deep appreciation for nature and sense of place; these all play a pivotal role in shaping the luxury market.
Additionally, the influence of Japanese pop culture elements derived from anime, manga, and J-Pop, imbues the luxury goods market with more than a hint of quirkiness. Luxury brands often tap into the popularity of these cultural phenomena, creating limited edition items featuring beloved characters or collaborating with Japanese pop culture icons. Collaborations over the years include Jimmy Choo and Sailor Moon, Loewe and Studio Ghibli, Dior and Spy x Family, Gucci and Doremon, as well as Supreme and Akira.
This integration of pop culture into the luxury market not only attracts a younger demographic but also reinforces Japan’s status as a cultural trendsetter on the global stage.
Infused with the omotenashi touch
Furthermore, the Japanese commitment to service excellence, encapsulated in the concept of omotenashi, presets the penchant for posh, in Japan. The omotenashi brand of hospitality goes beyond conventional customer service; it represents a deep-rooted culture of hospitality that strives to exceed customer expectations. In luxury retail, omotenashi translates into personalized and bespoke experiences, attention to detail, and a genuine desire to create a memorable interaction with the brand. A stroll down Tokyo’s center of luxury retail, the Ginza District, bears testament to this. From Chanel to Grand Seiko, Ginza’s luxury boutiques bear witness to Japan’s high-end, heartfelt hospitality. This emphasis on omotenashi not only fosters customer loyalty among Japanese luxury goods consumers, but also contributes to Japan’s reputation for providing an unparalleled luxury shopping experience—a win-win scenario for global luxury retail brands that set up shop in Japan.
Omotenashi is likewise easily evident across Japan’s premium restaurants, as well. Gastronomic experiences are elevated to an art form, with the country boasting numerous Michelin-starred restaurants—all of which reflect a dedication to quality ingredients, precise culinary techniques, and warm yet super efficient hospitality.
Alive and thriving, for years to come
Overall, Japan’s luxury goods market is alive and thriving, poised to regain its position as the region’s leader in all-things luxe. The country continues to evolve and adapt to changing consumer preferences, pivoting on its distinctive qualities that make it a rich and robust market—all of which perpetuate its prominence on the pedestal of all things premium.