Curbing carbon dioxideemission is a national initiative for Japan. A day cannot pass without seeing the message on TV, online, in-stores.
According to a survey, 73.9% have never heard of the word ‘sustainable’. A focus group finding indicated that consumers think in terms of recycling, not sustainability when they think about eco-friendly efforts.
In Japan, retailers are claiming that consumers have come to expect the elaborate packaging. Consumers expect corporations to take leadership in eco-friendly efforts. The problem of all the waste as a result of excess packaging won’t resolve if the consumer and the corporation continue to argue who is responsible. On top of that, the detail that goes into packaging is regarded as a beauty of Japanese culture.
Altering a perception of something that is considered a beauty of a culture is challenging.
Hence, finding a way to convince the Japanese that unpackaged goods is more aspirational than packaged goods may require a bit of delving into and beyond the tsutsumi culture
“ Tsutsumi" is a noun form of the word tsutsumu ("to wrap") referring to the wrapping of a present or gift in paper (originally, "paper" would only have meant washi) in a particular manner or style; it also implies the gift's wrapped state. The giving of a gift may symbolize the presentation of one's soul - every attention to detail mirroring respect for the recipient. It also has another connotation – to maintain a harmonious relationship by displaying gratitude. Therefore, the ‘wrapping’ is valued equally, if not, more than the gift itself.
The Japanese feel they “mustn't pass on to the recipient anything negative, such as the traces of a transgression unknowingly committed or any internal disharmony we may be experiencing.” (Washi-the orikita of Japanese wrapping) Hence, presents were originally wrapped in white washi (paper), which symbolizes purity. Furoshiki was popular during the edo period and have recently been spotlighted as an eco-friendly wrapping cloth.
The cultural heritage of tsutsumi has evolved in recent years to more and more layers, attention to detail becoming ever increasingly elaborate. In a sense, each layer of wrapping has come to symbolize an extra dose of care towards the recipient.
A study by Hakuhoudou on Japanese consumer spending showed that they splurge on presents for festivities such as birthdays, Mother’s day, Father’s day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas. This does not include occasions like weddings, Ochuugen*, Oseibo**, souvenirs bought on holidays, small gifts offered when invited as a guest to someone’s house, or any other occasion to show a token of appreciation.
Thus, whether the occasion is marked on the calendar or not, for every instance that turns into a potential gift giving occasion, the Japanese shower each other with exquisitely wrapped gifts. That can add up to quite a number of occasions!
Japan – a culture of gift giving Ochuugen*- Present given to relatives, supervisors, teachers, anyone who you want to thank. Takes place between the beginning to mid July. Oseibo**- Very similar occasion to Ochuugen. Takes place between 12/13 - 12/20.
Although elaborate detail is synonymous with luxury purchases, a transaction at any store can be interpreted as a ‘gift’ passed on to the consumer by a store. Each plastic bag given to carry an item, that then gets placed in an even bigger big represents the spirit of tsutsumi, a display of ‘respect’ to the Japanese shoppers. Or it could be a mindless act out of habit.
So for every instance that turns into a gift giving or receiving occasion, let alone the everyday purchases, an obscene amount of trash is generated. If the wrapping is unusual or particularly special, it may be kept to be reused on another occasion, but for the majority - the exquisitely wrapped paper, the bigger paper bag that carried the gift, the plastic bag - all go to waste.
72.9% of Japanese feel some level of stress in their lives
48.5% feel emotionally worn out
40.5% are physically exhausted
Products/services that claim iyashi (to heal, healing) benefits have become ubiquitous. While Japanese give gifts to other people, 42.4% said they have treated themselves with gifts to reward themselves for their own hard work, putting up with hardships, overcoming adversity, celebrating achievements..
Even celebrities are classified as Iyashi-kei (people who with healing characteristics) iyashi products
Japanese art of ‘tsutsumi’ bunka in communication
It’s not only products that come wrapped in Japanese culture, this characteristic is also evident in communication. In Japanese language, there is a concept called honne and tatemae. Honne is what you really feel, tatemae is something said to wrap honesty for politeness, not to be rude or disrupt the wa (harmony). ‘Wa’ is fundamental in relationship building in the Japanese culture because in Japan ‘the nail that sticks out is beaten’.
Therefore, Japan is a culture with overwhelming number of social obligations, both official and unofficial, spoken and unspoken, where an individual is expected to pay extra care not to disrupt ‘wa’, at times masking the substance or how they may be really feeling inside. In addition to the obsession with perfection, the level of stress has accumulated to as tall as Mt. Fuji.
Therefore, the key insight is….
The emotionally and physically drained Japanese aspire to lighten up from all this wrapping. I need iyashi!
Create signage to influence the relationship between people and rubbish through the touch points: points of purchase and points of elimination.
Gifts and people both want to lighten up. Each layer of wrapping that covers a gift is like the layers of stress that wrap the Japanese. Unloading stress by removing one layer at a time will promote a less stressful life. And this consequently reduces waste!
Instigate consumers to think about ‘reducing’. As mentioned earlier, consumers think in terms of recycling than reducing when it comes to eco-friendly efforts.
The touch points of communication – points of purchase and points of elimination
the precise moment when consumers realize that something is unnecessary is WHEN you throw it away. Therefore making people think WHEN they trash something (point of elimination), and further emphasizing the message WHEN they can refuse excess packaging (point of purchase) is paramount.
Points of purchase
Where people buy trash bins (trash bin departments)
When people make purchases (at the till or online shopping sites)
While people are making purchases in the stores – create shelf talkers
Points of elimination
When people discard things – at trash shoots, trash collection points, perhaps also at rivers – where people may throw away trash.
The solution involves the corporations and governments to take the lead, which is something that consumers expect.