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Consumers Enjoy Slowness in Today's High-Speed World

July 11, 2000
Customers line up at a cinnamon-roll bakery in Tokyo.

In today's highly competitive marketplace, speed and agility are often the keys to success. Lately, however, there has been an increase of products and services aimed at satisfying the increasingly diversified tastes of consumers for whom speed, traditionally of the essence, is hardly a concern. These include foods requiring considerable time and labor to prepare, made-to-order apartments, and travel packages where getting there is half the fun. Today's world is becoming increasingly bipolar-- for consumers, time is a luxury to be savored, while back at the workplace speed is king.

Two new phrases have been coined to describe this dichotomy--"dog year" and "turtle year." One year in the life of a dog year is popularly thought to equal about seven human years, so a "dog year" refers to a period crammed full of activity. Turtles, on the other hand, live longer than humans and are therefore thought to lead less hectic, more laid-back lives. A "turtle year" is therefore a period of relaxation, free of time constraints.

Slow Fast Food
In Kichijoji, Tokyo, a cinnamon-roll specialty bakery that opened for business in 1999 has been so popular that customers line up outside the door for up to 30 minutes on weekdays and an hour on weekends to make their purchases. What is taking so long? Here, the entire making process--from the mixing and kneading of the dough to the baking of rolls in the oven--is done in store right in front of the customers' eyes. Though time consuming, the process also serves as an effective sales device. The bakery is the first Japanese branch of a U.S.-based chain with stores in over 400 locations.

Another business taking its time with things is a hamburger shop in the trendy Shibuya district of Tokyo. Unlike traditional fast-food joints, each burger is made to order, and even orange juice is fresh-squeezed on the spot. Orders take about five minutes to complete. The company has recently expanded to become the country's fourth largest hamburger chain, prompting some critics to hail the arrival of the "slow food" industry.

This kind of turtle-paced approach has also crept its way into some larger-sized products, such as housing. A cooperative system of house buying, where prospective buyers form a union, make a joint land purchase, and take part in the houses' planning and design, is becoming increasingly popular. While this approach allows prospective home owners to design a living space to fit their needs, the process takes time--as much as a year and a half until move-in day. Companies that offer this kind of plan say that these cooperatives are receiving upwards of 20 to 30 applications to join per day, and other major real-estate firms have also begun developing and selling property based on this co-op approach.

Getting There Half the Fun
An emphasis on slowness is also becoming prominent in, of all places, the service industry. One notable example is tourism. A special express train service from Tokyo to Sapporo offered by East Japan Railway Co., complete with sleeping cars, was so popular upon its introduction in July 1999 that reservations were instantly booked to capacity. Although there were some empty seats during the winter off-season, for summer 2000 many of the trains are again fully booked. "In order to respond to competition from air-travel services, a much faster option, we came up with the concept of providing passengers a way to enjoy a leisurely 16-hour train ride on the way to their destination," says the company.

The popularity of cruises has also been taking root. According to the Ministry of Transport, though the population of cruise takers was down overall in 1998 by 5% from the previous year, the share of cruises geared toward individual sightseeing has grown somewhat. "Travel packages where passengers fly to a certain destination and then board a cruise liner have become a fixture over the past few years," commented one major travel company.

This slowness phenomenon can be linked to a greater diversity among consumers, who are increasingly seeking order-made goods and services to suit their tastes. Some have also pointed out that these products, which require a high tolerance of time and expense on the part of general consumers, have received a boost from the increasing accessibility of information technology.

One irony resulting from this slowness boom is that those benefiting from these made-to-order goods and unhurried services as consumers are the same people who are having to step up the pace to meet these new demands when they return to the workplace.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.