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Hit Products to Comfort the Soul

February 15, 2000

The relaxed, carefree look of characters like these soothed the hearts of many Japanese people in 1999.

In 1999 Japan was afflicted by a general feeling of suffocation. Economic recovery remained elusive, and the threat of restructuring hung like a cloud over many workers. Given all this, if there is one word to describe the boom products of 1999, it would be iyashi (healing). Although the concept lacks the sense of originality and excitement usually associated with booms, the key to the success of healing products was their potential to soothe the soul and cushion the blows of a harsh world.

Prolific Panda
On the top of the list of healing products was Tarepanda, which is a panda character with a drooping face and slumped-over body. Its popularity has skyrocketed, not just among children and women, the usual markets for cute characters, but also among businessmen. Stickers featuring Tarepanda first went on sale in 1995 but did not have much impact. Since 1998, however, when erasers and letter-writing goods featuring a redesigned version of the character began to appear, it has spawned more than 600 products with total sales approaching 30 billion yen (300 million U.S. dollars at 100 yen to the dollar). Some attribute the reassuring character's success to the prevalence of financial uncertainty and job insecurity.

The popularity of aromatherapy also surged in 1999. The practice is not simply a matter of buying plant extracts and oils and enjoying their scents. An increasing number of shops offer aromatherapy that, they say, helps people emotionally by soothing the soul and smoothing interpersonal relationships.

In music, meanwhile, young folk artists Yuzu and 19 (pronounced ju-ku) proved popular, while greatest hits albums by veteran folk singers Takuro Yoshida and Yosui Inoue also struck a chord. Ryuichi Sakamoto's "BTTB," which the musician himself describes as healing music, continues to sell well.

In October 1999 a major housing company unveiled a new type of residence that is designed to promote healing. The building is constructed largely of wood, and the company caters to the buyer's every need by assigning consultants and interior designers to plan the layout and color coordination of each individual home. The houses have a Western-style exterior with Japanese-style elements mixed in and come complete with an Irish wood stove, making for a truly relaxing and homely environment.

Sleep Studio
The current healing craze has not been limited to buying goods; services answering people's desire to be healed have also proved popular. Tired Tokyoites are flocking to three rotenburo (open-air hot spring baths) in a building that also houses a capsule hotel and a restaurant. They are attracted by the chance to relax both mind and body while enjoying a view of the capital's high rise buildings. Inside the headquarters of a Tokyo bedding manufacturer, there is a "sleeping studio" that anyone can use for free. Those in need of a rest can stretch out for 30 minutes in the relaxing, dimly lit simulated bedroom, as original music featuring traditional instruments and the synthesizer is piped into the room. The music contains high-frequency sounds that are said to have a soothing effect.

Walk-in massage clinics are spreading throughout Japan. About 60% of the clients at one clinic are female office workers who drop in on their way home from work. This clinic offers a choice of four courses of treatment, lasting between 15 and 60 minutes.

Judging from the popularity of healing products, modern people's souls must be very tired indeed. Perhaps some people were suffering from end-of-century blues, or perhaps the 1999 boom was simply a matter of entrepreneurs exploiting a niche in the market. It could be, however, that people wanted to heal and refresh their minds and bodies before moving on to a new millennium in which case, the healing boom may not last much longer.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.