JAPANESE EATING HABITS:
April 3, 2002
Of the 95% of Japanese that eat three meals a day, most people consider dinner to be the most important. More than 80% of them usually have dinner at home with their families. But as for what they actually eat, over 60% of Japanese rely on home meal replacement (ready-to-eat food bought elsewhere and taken home) at least once or twice a month. And more than 70% enjoy dining out at least once or twice monthly. This is the picture that emerged when Trends in Japan conducted an online survey concerning attitudes among Japanese people toward eating.
Dining with Family Is Most Popular
For a one week period beginning February 1, 2002, 100 people (50 men and 50 women, with 25 people each in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties) were asked about their eating habits. Respondents were first asked which of the three meals was the most important. Named by 95%, dinner was the overwhelming choice, followed by breakfast (3%) and lunch (2%). There were no significant differences among gender or age groups.
Pollees were next asked with whom they usually had dinner. "With my family" was the top answer for both men and women of all age groups, but the figure was 90% for women as compared with 74% for men. While 64% of those in their twenties usually have dinner with their families, the figure for the other age groups is nearly 90%. The combined total for all age groups comes to 82%. People who live alone and eat alone totaled 5%, those who said they usually eat out with their friends were 3%, and another 2% answered that they usually eat out with their coworkers or business contacts. There were even a few poor souls who said things like, "I eat at the office while I work overtime," or "I come home late, so I eat alone." [See graph 1]
Respondents were then queried as to who usually prepares dinner, and "myself" was the top answer with 49%. There was a difference, however, between the responses of men and women. Only 14% of men indicated that they cooked dinner themselves compared with 84% of women. The most popular answer for men was "my wife," named by 68%. It seems as though many families still feel that preparing dinner is the wife's job. "My mother" was the answer given by 14% of all respondents, and 2% said they never cooked because they live alone. [See graph 2]
Those who indicated that they themselves cooked dinner were asked why (multiple answers were given). "Because it's my duty" was the most common answer (55%), followed by "I've never even thought about it" (39%), "I do it because I like it" (14%), and "I live alone, so if I don't cook, no one else will" (10%). There were only slight differences between men and women and among the different age groups. One woman noted sadly, "I had hoped that my husband would help out once in a while after he retired, but he doesn't lift a finger."
People who said that they do not usually cook dinner were also asked why (multiple answers were given). "I don't have the time" was the number-one answer, garnering 47%. This was followed closely by "Someone else cooks, so I don't have to" (45%), "I don't like cooking / I'm bad at cooking" (20%), and "It's a pain" (12%). While there were slight variations in the percentages, the order of the responses was the same for both men and women and among all age groups.
Home Meal Replacement Used by Over 60%
As is evidenced by the brisk sales of food in the basement levels of department stores, home meal replacement, or precooked food, is extremely popular these days. Respondents were asked how often they use home meal replacement, and only 36% said "hardly ever," compared with 64% who regularly take precooked food home. "Once every two or three days" was the answer of 22%, followed by "once a week" (18%), "once or twice a month" (18%), and "every day" (4%). There was virtually no difference between men and women, but 48% of those in their fifties and 44% of those in their thirties indicated that they never used home meal replacements. [See graph 3]
Those who said that they hardly ever used home meal replacements were asked why (multiple answers were given). "They aren't necessary" was the top reason, named by 53%. Other reasons cited were "they're expensive" (42%), "they don't taste good" (17%), "I'm concerned about the nutritious value of ready-made food" (17%), and "I feel like I'm doing something wrong" (8%). "They aren't necessary" was the number-one answer given by those in their thirties (73%) and forties (67%), while respondents in their twenties most often said "they're expensive" (86%).
Participants were next asked which points were important to them when purchasing precooked food or eating out (multiple answers were given). The most popular answer was "taste," which was named by 81%. "Cost" was a close second, cited by 70%, followed by "the amount of food" (42%), "nutritional balance" (35%), "homemade taste" (22%), "the restaurant's atmosphere" (16%), "fast preparation time" (13%), "calories" (11%), "who I'm eating with" (9%), "a sense of luxury" (8%), and "good alcoholic beverages" (3%). Preferences were similar among men and women, but while people in their thirties placed a high priority on "cost" (84%) and "taste" (80%), those in their fifties were noticeably interested in "the restaurant's atmosphere" (36%).
Survey participants were finally asked, "What does a meal mean to you?" (multiple answers were given). "A means to live" was the top answer, garnering 63%. Also chosen by a majority were "enjoying eating delicious food" (59%) and "obtaining nutrition" (57%). Other reasons named were "enjoying conversation over food" (48%), "to feel full" (34%), "for a change of mood" (23%), "to better enjoy drinking" (18%), "to appreciate the seasons" (16%), and "discussing business" (3%). While there were virtually no differences between the answers of men and women, people in their twenties were most likely to say "a means to live" (80%). "Enjoying conversation over food" was the second-most popular answer among respondents in their thirties (64%) and forties (52%).
While some have pointed out that the number of families who do not eat dinner together is rising, the percentage of people who place a high priority on dining together was high. And with the rising number of women entering the workplace, more people are bringing ready-to-eat food home, allowing them to spend more quality time together.