By Ryoko Ward & Melissa Francis
Tokyoesque are experts in Europe-Japan relations and provide clients with unique cultural insights that can be used to accelerate business growth across the globe. In this article, we take a look at what the summer season means to Japanese people, how they typically celebrate, and outline some of this year’s limited edition launches and brand strategies.
Traditional ways to spend summer in Japan
Many spend summer holidays returning home to be with their family. All of the family gathers together and if there are kids, they get to see their cousins and extended family. Traditionally, this time of the year is called obon, originally a religious ritual (a mixture of Japanese ancient religion worshipping spirits and Buddhism) that worship ancestors’ souls/spirits.
It was a time when Japanese people would pay visits to their ancestors’ graves at Buddhist temples and pray in front of them. However, according to a survey conducted by travel company Airtrip found that the majority of Japanese plan to ‘stay at home and relax’ during obon (38.0%), which is followed by ‘going home’ (14.6%), and ‘travel overseas’ (13.9%).
Ochugen（お中元）is an integral part of Japanese gift giving culture. People exchange gifts during the obon period to express their gratitude. People do it in their personal lives (among friends and relatives) as well as in business situations (among clients and business partners). This tradition, however, is ceasing and the market size for ochugen is shrinking every year.
Department store Takashimaya was highlighting the fact that this was the very first ochugen of the ‘Reiwa’ era and offered a range of ochugen gifts including fruit-flavoured desserts, cold beer, cider, and sausages. According to gourmet Instagram influencer Mayumi Satoi, who acts as the gift-giving guide for Takashimaya, the top recommended gift was iced fruit puddings from Hokkaido.
What are summer holidays like in Japan?
Japanese workers take a maximum of one week of holiday during the middle of summer. On the other hand, in Europe the average holiday allowance is substantially longer with places like France and Germany leading in terms of the amount of time taken. The number of days of summer holiday that can be taken in Japan varies depending on the company and industry, but this year, it’s a maximum of nine days.
According to the previously mentioned Airtrip survey, 56.1% said their companies will shut down during Obon (between 13th — 18th August this year). 46.8% said they have to work during Obon but they can take summer holidays whenever they want. 60.9% said they will not tack on extra annual holidays during the Obon period to make it longer.
Because the summer holiday is quite short in Japan, it doesn’t interfere with business progress like it does in Europe where there are often set shutdown periods. This might mean that, when doing business with Japanese companies, they will still expect European companies to respond promptly even during summer holidays — otherwise it might be perceived as incompetence and be frowned upon. In order to avoid misunderstandings, it’s important to have them understand beforehand that the legalities around holidays are quite strict in Europe, which means they cannot reasonably expect the usual speed of response.
Campaigns and events to celebrate summer 2019
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art has temporarily extended its hours of operation to 9pm on Fridays during the summer holiday period until the end of August, with the Museum of Photography doing this on both Thursdays and Fridays. In Japan, it’s not yet common to open museums at night, so therefore having longer access than usual still comes with a special feeling. The summer night programme is replete with mini concerts, rakugo performances, and late entrance into ongoing exhibits.
The Ota Museum of Art is holding an exhibition throughout August celebrating representations of youkai in ukiyo-e paintings, ranging from the Edo period to the modern day. The thematic keywords for the exhibition are; ghost worlds, spirits, and foreign countries. During the summer in Japan, it’s common to hear scary horror stories about spirits and ghosts, so this ties in neatly with a seasonal tradition.
Summer afternoon tea
A number of hotels, including ANA Intercontinental and Tokyo Mariot, are offering limited edition afternoon tea menus that make the most of summer fruits and seasonal ingredients. With the average price set at 5,000 JPY per person (and with complementary plate refills), the Mariot is focusing on a Hawaiian theme with its ‘Aloha Afternoon Tea’ while Keio Plaza Hotel is hosting the ‘Summer Vacation Afternoon Tea’, consisting of a selection of more than thirty drinks and a range of sweet treats made from the likes of passionfruit, mango and muscat.
Time for a McSummer party?
McDonald’s Japan is running a limited summer campaign for groups of three to four people called the WaiWai Pack. The menu is available from 5pm every day from 7th August as part of the yoru mac (night MacDonald’s) line-up. Anyone who followed the official McDonald’s Japan Twitter account and re-tweeted about the WaiWai Pack within a one-hour window had a chance of winning a gift card loaded with 1,500 JPY to redeem on a yoru mac meal.
Cocktails and outdoor relaxation: Martini Garden Lounge
With drinks brands taking advantage of open air outdoor spaces for promotional purposes, Martini is hosting its own space as part of the second instalment of the ‘Hi-Beer Garden’ in Hibiya, Tokyo for a week-long period at the end of August. It’s likely to be similar to the event held in May 2018, which featured Japanese bartenders creating an array of cocktails using Martini. Places for up to four people per group cost 12,000 JPY including tax and are available by reservation only. This helps to give the event a special, limited edition feel. The atmosphere has been designed to look sleek and luxurious, with branded Martini furnishings.
Seasonal discounts on beef bowls for children
Popular beef bowl chain restaurant Yoshinoya is running a summer holiday campaign throughout August especially for children under 12. Last year, the same campaign was only applicable for three dishes, but this year the discount can be applied to more than fifty different meals which is likely to draw bigger crowds. The popular beef bowls will be available at half price, whilst all other options can be ordered with 190 JPY deducted. The main objective is to help families out during the summer holidays with more affordable meals they can eat out together.
Refresh and socialise with Sapporo Beer
From June 2019, Sapporo beer released a quantity limited summer Classic version. The slogan for this year’s beer is ‘ONLY YOU, ONLY HOKKAIDO’. The commercial, broadcast from 8th June, shows a group of people enjoying the feeling of summertime with beer and a BBQ. It stars musician Masahiro Matsuoka and comedy duo Oklahoma.
Sapporo Lion, a subsidiary of Sapporo Holdings, along with Sapporo Beer ran ‘THE Sapporo Beer Garden’ from July 19th until August 14th 2019. at as part of the 66th Sapporo Summer Festival.
“THE Sapporo Beer Garden” featured a large tent with a colorful roof that creates a comfortable atmosphere, even with weather conditions such as strong sunlight or heavy rain. The venue will offer a variety of draft beers such as Sapporo Draft Beer Black Label, Ebisu Premium Black, Sapporo Hokkaido Draft Beer, and Hokkaido Limited Beer Sapporo Classic.
SORACHI 1984, which debuted for the first time this year, is a draft beer that incorporates a hop called “Sorachiase”, which originated in Hokkaido in 1984 and has since become popular worldwide. By blending a part of the original sorachiase hop, drinkers can enjoy the combined scent of cedar, cypress and lemongrass, which is unique to sorachiase.
How can western brands appeal to Japanese consumers during summer?
What westerners might typically associate with summertime doesn’t necessarily translate into a Japanese context, especially in terms of common associations with the season. In a previous article, we explored how limited edition and seasonal goods are often an effective way in which to create a heightened sense of curiosity and social media shareability. They have the power to generate a significant amount of buzz around a brand and bolster their overall reputation as an engaging, innovative player in the market. This applies to both domestic and international brands. Consider what consumers most want to do in the summer and then wrap an eye-catching concept around that particular activity or desired outcome.
Tokyoesque specialises in localising marketing strategies to help western brands adapt for the Japanese market. Feel free to contact us or fill out our free diagnostic to see where you stand in terms of making a strong impact in the Japanese market.