Many young Japanese has not bought goods and service recently: they cut the spending on the fashion and food, don't buy a car, don't go on a trip, and try to save money. They are about to play a big and new role in the goods market in Japan.
Last year a book titled A Study on the Generation of Anti-Consumptionism (this title is translated by Taro and this book is published from Toyokeizai and only in Japanese), and subtitled "Stupid to buy a car, isn't it?" was released and went through several printings.
Anti-consumptionists are the young people of late 20s, and they were born after the bubble economy in late 1980s burst. They have generally a trend toward or taste for less consumption even though they have regular earnings. Interestingly, some of them are low paid part-timers and others have a regular job or full-time job and thus stable earnings.
They consume much less than older generations expect: they don't go to karaoke(to enjoy singing in a room with friends) and a restaurant without coupon, prefer eating at home to eating out and don't like a drink that is harmful to their health.
I found the article on almost the same topic and it said that some of the young people have become"grass-eating men" who prefer clothes and cosmetics to cars, and avoid life in the fast lane. (The Economist, November 20th-26th 2010, special report) So they can also tend to be "grass-eaters", but the men named grass-eaters are generally the ones who don't like making or having girlfriends.
The reason they consume less is, the article says, as follows: when they were teens, they went through the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the subway attack in 1995, the bully in the schools and suicide, the Big Bang in Japan(the reform of financial and banking system) . Especially, they were damaged by the bully in the schools and were forced to be inconspicuous, to read the atmosphere in the schools and to make a shallow friendship with each other.
They tend to fear being made fun of and really want to look smart, which promotes buoyancy and rivalry among them, and thus makes them want to look carefully at others' face and to look nice: Such a common generational experience brings about a common generational mentality, which makes them worry about their future and thus consume less.
The above sounds reasonable, but it seems to me that it doesn't tell what makes them consume less, or what makes them worry about their future. I think there's more an economic cause behind this than a sociologistical or philosophical one.
Many business people are worried about such anti-consumptionists because they consume less and give a negative impact on the economy as a whole; They are more likely to shrink the dampening Japanese economy. However, they are reported to be attracted by the people from abroad and may turn out to be a new Japanese generation who pursues a new and different lifestyle from that of the older generations, as some optimists say.
In my view, a new generation gives a new lifestyle, and changes the structure of preference and thus of demand in the economy, say, in which they change a demand for a peaceful music to a fancy car and TV set.
But in the short term, anti-consumptionism should decrease the aggregate demand of the Japanese economy. Today's newspaper said that almost half of the child benefit offered first by the government this year goes to saving for their children. The child benefit doesn't make them save, but spend more on their children. They save more and consume less, which leads to more depressed economy which forces people to save even more and consume even less. It is called "the paradox of thrift".
Anti-consumptionism may be another or a new version of thrifty lifestyle.
We should need the policy to boost up the economic activity and to stimulate the people's spending in a weakened economy. Anyway, no wonder the Japanese economy will not soon recover from this slump. (Source: Diamond online, 08/12/2010)