MW-42 -- Japan's "New" Seniors Drive Consumption

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Weekly Financial Commentary from Tokyo

Issue No. 42
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

++ Viewpoint: Japan's "New" Seniors Drive Consumption

The Bottom Line
Top-Down: The rapid aging of Japan is a macro-economic
negative, but it will bring Japan's "gray panthers" to the

o The bad news is that the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
estimates that Japan's GDP will fall by a cumulative 20
percent over the next century. The good news is that
projections have seniors spending nearly 11 trillion yen a
year. But developing this market based on a "nursing home"
mindset has turned out to be an uphill slog.

o Actually, marketers need to recognize that there are three
separate sub-groups: "hyper-seniors," "seniors" (mid 50s to
late 60s) and "the elderly" (those over 75). Hyper-seniors
lead active lifestyles, are active consumers and have a high
capacity for absorbing information. In a Dentsu survey group,
hyper-seniors accounted for about 30 percent of the total. Not
only do the demographics point to Japan's seniors, but they
are the ones who have all of the financial assets.

o In a deflationary environment, the larger the cushion of
financial assets, the larger real purchasing power and the
higher the propensity to consume. Moreover, if Japan's stock
market has really turned the corner, Japan's seniors will
benefit because they are the largest class of individual
stockholders. Finally, the introduction of reverse mortgages
(home equity conversion mortgages) could prolong the spending
power of Japan's seniors as they transition from seniors to
the elderly.

Bottom-Up: Consumer companies must target seniors to maintain sales
growth amid aggregate "zero-sum" consumption.

o Many myths persist about the seniors market in Japan. The
reality is that "new" seniors are not that conscious of their
age, and their mindset is actually more like that of someone
nine years younger. They take tours customized for their own
groups; buy outdoor goods; learn how to use computers and the
Internet; go to esthetic salons; order expensive home-delivery
meals; hire service companies to do their shopping and house
cleaning; go to the movies; buy fashionable clothes; go to
sports gyms; purchase cars; and hire contractors to reform
their homes. In short, they are active and discerning

o Any consumer company that ignores this market segment in Japan
will find that its target market is actually shrinking and
will have increasing difficulty maintaining sales growth in a
rapidly aging marketplace. Conversely, any company that
believes these consumers can be lumped together in "mass
market" sales and marketing campaigns using a "nursing home"
mindset will fail.

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++ Viewpoint: Japan's "New" Seniors Drive Consumption

Japan's demographic problem can be described as long-term bad news,
intermediate-term good news. It took Japan only 24 years to 1994 to
see the ratio of people over 65 in the overall population double from
7 to 14 percent, while it is estimated that it will take 71 years to
2013 for the same to happen in the US. Based on current demographic
trends, Japan's population will peak in 2006. By 2050, one-third of
the population will be above retirement age, and the overall
population (assuming no immigration) will drop by 27 million people.
One in four citizens will be 65 or older in Japan by 2020, according
to a government estimate.

The bad news is that the IMF estimates that Japan's GDP will fall
by a cumulative 20 percent over the next century. The good news is
that projections have seniors spending nearly 11 trillion yen a year.
But developing this market based on a "nursing home" mindset has
turned out to be an uphill slog.

The reasons include:

(1) Elderly needs are diverse, mass production is difficult, and an
individual response is needed.

(2) Few large companies have entered the field because of the
lack of scale merit. Small- and medium-sized businesses provide
the bulk of the elderly services.

(3) Prices cannot be lowered to affordable levels because of the
difficulty of trimming costs in these products and services.

(4) Because of the high costs relative to disposable income, the
industry is protected by a subsidy system, which inhibits technical
and business innovation.

The Nomura Research Institute calls the elderly industry a "social
asset industry." While social needs are high, these segments cannot
commercially stand alone due to low individual-product demand. Nomura
also calls them "disk-shaped industries" because although needs are
diverse and the market is wide, the demand for each individual item is
low and the market is shallow.

What the reports by Nomura and many others miss is that there are
actually three distinct categories of seniors: what Dentsu calls
"hyper-seniors," "seniors" (mid 50s to late 60s), and "the elderly"
(those over 75). Hyper-seniors are the segment's trendsetters.
They are active consumers and have a high capacity for absorbing
information. In Dentsu's survey group, Hyper-seniors accounted for
about 30 percent of the total.

The most economically adverse demographic changes will be most
pronounced from 2025 to 2075, when the real increase of the elderly
starts to kick in. Until then, the proportion of Japan's population
referred to as "seniors" will expand rapidly. According to 2002
population statistics, Japan's senior population (those aged 56-69)
was 22 million. According to a Dentsu study in 2000, the number of
healthy senior spenders (the estimated seniors population less the
number expected to require health care) was 18.5 million; that number
is expected to be 25 million by 2010. In 2000, seniors accounted for
50.4 percent of total consumption, and this is expected to rise to
51.7 percent by 2005, and on to 52.0 percent by 2010.

Consumption-related businesses can no longer afford to ignore
the seniors market. But as opposed to the younger generation,
which is much more susceptible to what's "in," seniors have well-
established tastes and a sense of value, particularly regarding
travel, health and money. They are not easily influenced by mass
advertising. Instead, Japanese seniors are much more loyal to
their own communities, while they also look for new acquaintances,
friends and experiences.

Japan's seniors are the ones who have all of the financial
assets, and in a deflationary environment, the larger the cushion
of financial assets, the larger real purchasing power and the
higher the propensity to consume. Tokyo Shoko Research has begun a
new service from June of this year that offers strategic support to
the retail and service industries in developing the seniors market. As
of 2002, net savings per Japanese household for those over 60 averaged
24.12 million yen, while 66.8 percent of all households in this age
bracket had savings of over 10 million yen. In comparison, those in
their 50s had average savings of 11.33 million yen per household,
while households in their 30s and 40s had net savings of a mere 1.19
million to 2.63 million yen.

The percentage of households that own their own home for the 60s crowd
was 83.4, compared to 67 percent for those in their 40s and 37 percent
for those in their 30s. Those in their 60s were fortunate in that
when they were in the prime of their working careers, Japanese
wages were still rising while housing was still reasonable. While
property prices have plunged up to 80 percent from the peak, the worst
of the plunge has been in metropolitan area commercial property, and
the 60s crowd still has significant unrealized property gains on their
residences even after the collapse of property prices.

Moreover, if the Japanese equity market has in fact bottomed out
and is entering a long-term recovery phase as some claim, the
biggest immediate beneficiaries of a recovery in capital market
values will be Japan's seniors. Average monthly expenditures for
this group are already the highest of any age group. Average
monthly consumption expenditures for those in their 30s is 257,387
yen; for those in their 60s, it is 258,515 yen; and for those in their
50s, it is 319,501 yen.

In short, it's the seniors who have all the money and are now
beginning to lead Japanese consumption, be it in clothing, food,
housing, travel or general consumption. The propensity to consume
disposable income (after-tax income) gives a clear indication of
this. According to data compiled by the Dai-Ichi Life Research
Institute, an index of propensity to consume for seniors over 60
years of age has increased from 100 in the first quarter of 2002
to 120 by the first quarter of 2003. Conversely, the under 29
crowd, long the freest spenders by age group and the target of
most print and electronic media advertising, went from 100 to 120
by the third quarter of 2002, but since has plunged to just over
96. The 30-39 and 40-49 groups have ranged between 100-102 during the
same period. According to the household survey, it is the prime
wage-earner households consisting of more than two people that have
taken the brunt of the Heisei Malaise, where monthly wages since 1997
have fallen by 9.7 percent.

Here is a brief summary of the myths and the reality regarding
Japan's seniors market.

1. Myth: Seniors prefer to socialize in the non-metropolitan
areas, congregate at seniors clubs and play gateball. Reality:
Seniors are active travelers, are eager to learn PC skills and
actively network with friends.

2. Myth: Seniors, because they are retired, have plenty of time
on their hands. Reality: There are lots of things they would like
to do, and they'd like to use their time efficiently.

3. Myth: Because they are in their 60s, their consumption patterns
reflect their age. Reality: Japanese new seniors are not that
conscious of their age, and their mindset is actually more like
that of someone nine years younger, according to a study done by
Shiseido and Wacoal in 2000. A Dentsu survey of the middle-aged
also revealed that 68 percent felt younger than their age, a 10
percentage point jump from eight years earlier.

4. Myth: Because their health and income are unstable, their
consumption is also unstable. Reality: They are going to gyms and
exercising to maintain their bodies and are pursuing more
creature comforts at home.

The "sweet spot" as far as Gray Panther consumption is concerned is
likely to be from now until 2010 because they represent the core of
Japan's original postwar baby boom. As Japan's population continues to
age rapidly, the "bubble" of Japan's baby boom seniors will begin
shifting towards the 70-and-older group after 2010, while there will
likely be a secondary Gray Panther movement from the secondary baby
boom generation, which is now in the mid-30s to mid-40s. However, this
group was not as fortunate as their parents in terms of affordability
of housing purchases. Moreover, the government will be taking a very
big bite out of the property and financial assets they inherit from
their parents in the form of inheritance taxes.

'Reverse Mortgages' Could Give Gray Panthers a Boost
Japanese regulators have begun to consider the introduction of
"reverse mortgages" in Japan. According to the American Association of
Retired Persons (AARP), with a reverse mortgage in the US, you remain
the owner of your home just like when you had a forward mortgage. You
are still responsible for paying your property taxes and home-owner
insurance and for making property repairs. The amount of money you can
get depends most on the specific reverse mortgage plan or program you
select. It also depends on the kind of cash advances you choose.
Within each loan program, the amounts you can get generally depend on
your age and your home's value: The older you are, the more cash you
can get. The more your home is worth, the more cash you can get. When
the loan is over, you or your heirs must repay all of your cash
advances plus interest. Reputable lenders don't want your house; they
want repayment. All reverse mortgages are due and payable when the
last surviving borrower dies, sells the home, or permanently moves out
of the home. In the US, one type of reverse mortgage, home equity
conversion mortgages, is insured by the federal government.

Japanese seniors live in relatively larger dwellings than younger
households. The average area of dwellings inhabited by older
persons is 80 square meters for single-person households, 108
square meters for elderly couples, and 123 square meters for
multiple-generation households. That means they pay relatively higher
property taxes and maintenance costs on basically similar levels
of income.

Their asset value to disposable incomes is 3.6 times that of their US
counterparts. The ratio of value of assets to disposable income is
much higher among older Japanese than it is with their US counterparts
(24 times against 6.6 times). While the spending of older Japanese
exceeds their disposable income by 4.5 percent, on paper at least,
they could keep this up for 20 years and would still retain assets
worth 23 times their annual disposable income.

For households of at least two persons with the householder aged
60 or over, the average value of family assets per household is
65.6 million yen, of which land assets accounted for 38.0 million yen,
or 58 percent of total net assets. Yes, households headed by the
60-plus crowd have 4.4 times the financial assets of households headed
by those under 60. But not all elderly households in Japan have net
assets worth 60 million yen. Indeed, 63 percent of all households
surveyed fall below the average net asset value. The largest group
(just over 12 percent of the total) falls into a range of "more than
20 million yen but less than 30 million yen" of net worth.

With a pension system in serious trouble, rising health costs and
"stealth" tax increases, the last thing Japan's seniors are thinking
about is making "risky" investments or rapid draw-downs in their
savings, particularly as they get older. Going forward, the burden of
social security provisions like pensions, medical care and welfare can
only increase.

Consequently, the introduction of reverse mortgages could give
some seniors a way to convert their unrealized fixed asset values into
spendable cash.

The Grey Panthers in Action
Where and on what are the seniors spending their money? Who is
benefiting? Japan's seniors are:

1. Taking tours customized for their own groups.
2. Buying outdoor goods.
3. Learning how to use computers.
4. Going to esthetic salons.
5. Ordering home-delivery meals from expensive hotel restaurants.
6. Hiring service companies to do their shopping and house cleaning.
7. Going to movies, concerts and presentations.
8. Buying fashionable outer and undergarments.
9. Purchasing sporty small-engine-displacement automobiles.
10. Going to gyms.
11. Hiring contractors to reform their homes and buying high-end home
12. Spending less money on their kids.

Fashionable Clothes
At the end of February in the Yokohama Sogo department store, a
women's clothing shop run by Kanebo that carries a much wider
selection of pants originally designed for younger women that outlines
their stylish silhouettes is selling merchandise worth some 8 million
yen per month, or about two times planned sales. The main buyers are
not young women, but older women whose figures are still in good
shape. One woman who came all the way from Chiba city on the basis of
an advertisement she had cut out of the newspaper said: "This is what
I had been waiting for." She was 60 years old.

Kanebo and Onward Kashiyama are now designing more fashionable,
"young-oriented" clothing for middle-aged and older Japanese women.
Onward Kashiyama has developed a brand called "Jane Moore"
specifically for women in their late 50s and 60s, and began moving
away from the old, dull "Mrs" clothes from 1999. Sales of the Jane
Moore brand in the year to February 2000 were 8.5 billion yen; they
jumped to 10.5 billion yen in the year to February 2003.

Riding the tide of increasing sports club membership by seniors,
Wacoal has come out with the "Grappi" undergarment brand that is
growing at an unprecedented rate. In a segment where it more
commonly takes 10 years to reach 1 billion yen in annual revenues,
this brand had already exceeded that level in the first year of
marketing through March 2000. Total sales of the brand last year were
2 billion yen, and revenues continue growing by 50-60 percent per
annum. From the age of 60 onward, the female shape begins to lose its
balance. The Grappi undergarments help to maintain balance without
being too restrictive. The brassiere itself costs about 6,000 yen, or
about 1,000 yen more expensive than those for younger women. The data
shows that married Japanese women between 55 and 64 spend something
like 57,771 yen per year on undergarments, or 70 percent more than
their 20-34-year-old married juniors; 60 percent more than women aged
between 35-44; and essentially the same amount as unmarried
20-34-year-old women.

Restaurant Home Delivery, Cleaning and Shopping Services
Supermarkets are reporting unusually high sales of filet steaks
around the 15th of each month. According to data compiled by the
Agricultural Products Promotion Board from a survey of all
regions nationwide, sales of beef filet steaks over the past two
years during this period have been significantly higher than
other types of meat, and 61.8 percent higher than during other
periods. Around the 15th of every month is when seniors get their
pension checks.

One couple lives in Kanagawa, the other in Chuo Ward. They both
really like the cooking at Hotel Okura's Terrace Restaurant, but
they never eat there. One couple orders their meal and takes it
home; the other couple has the restaurant deliver it to them. One
couple orders such meals three times a week; the other couple orders
once a week. Each order can easily exceed 10,000 yen. But both couples
say that that's still a bargain when compared to the time it takes to
shop and prepare a meal of similar quality. The Okura Hotel's Terrace
Restaurant just began offering this service this April, while the
Chinese restaurant in the hotel offers home delivery to any of Tokyo's
23 wards. Skylark restaurants began offering a similar, albeit more
budget-oriented, take-home order service from June 1998. In fiscal
2002, orders for this service produced 15.6 billion yen in revenues,
or 5.4 percent of Skylark's total revenues.

MiniMaid Services and Duskin have always offered house/office
cleaning services. They used to contract with individuals to have
three female staff come one to four times a month for house cleaning.
From October of last year, they began offering a new service for
customers whose average age is 62. Whereas a monthly contract
with several people visiting the house several times a month
would run 16,000 to 25,000 yen per trip, the new service needs
only one cleaner and offers a menu of 150, 210 and 270 minutes to
perform specific cleaning tasks; it costs a more reasonable
9,000 to 14,000 yen per trip.

The Socie World chain of esthetic salons began an advertising
campaign aimed at older women from May. Of the new members during the
first six months of the year, the proportion of women in their 50s
rose to 10.8 percent of the total, and the ratio of women in their 60s
rose to 7.8 from 4.1 percent. These women are coming with their
daughters, which makes it much easier for them to make the decision.

From September, the chain plans to create a pamphlet aimed at
newly betrothed ladies and their mothers. The number of mothers
getting primped for their daughter's wedding has been rising rapidly
over the past several years, to the point that 30-40 percent of the
mothers of brides-to-be are coming in to get primped. Women in their
50s and 60s are dropping 100,000 to 200,000 yen to have their wrinkles
taken care of.

Consumer Durables
Sumitomo Forestry's housing reform subsidiary Sumitomo Forestry
Home Tech averages 2.5 million yen per reform contract, compared
to other comparable companies, where the average is often below
1 million yen. According to the top salesman in the company, some
40 percent of his clients are in their 50s and 60s, and older couples
are using the occasion of the husband's retirement to reform
their residences.

Last summer, Denon received an unusual complaint from a customer:
Neither the housing makers nor the home electronic goods outlets have
any home theater displays and don't know that much about them. Where
can someone go for help in creating a home theater? Denon jumped on
the idea and began talking with the housing makers. Sumitomo Forestry
and Higashi Nihon House responded favorably. They created the position
of "installer" to help customers select their equipment and build a
home theater. A Denon home theater will set consumers back 1-2 million

Last June, Daihatsu introduced the "Copen." One out of four
people who purchase this small-engine-displacement sports car are
over 50. This is 180 degrees different than 10 years previous,
when the buyers of Honda's "Beat" and Suzuki's "Capuchino" sportscars
were young people. Daihatsu insists that while the Copen is a
small-engine-displacement car, it nevertheless is a full-fledged
sportscar. With an electrically retractable roof, it retails for 1.5
million yen. The company had originally projected monthly sales of 500
cars, but orders took off immediately after the car was put on the
market -- there were 5,000 orders in the first month.

A survey conducted by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association
(Jama) revealed that the proportion of motorbike riders in their 50s
or older is rising steadily from 25 percent in 1995. As young people
desert the motorbike market, the pace set by seniors is helping to
support two-wheeler sales.

Other carmakers have also begun to focus on the seniors market,
according to survey results released by Jama. They want comfort,
particularly during long road trips. Consequently, they are more
concerned about the car's handling and its roominess. The survey
results indicate that seniors do not want to pay a premium for luxury,
either. Japan's seniors don't simply use their automobiles to travel
long distances, though. They also go shopping and visit friends. For
those everyday needs, many would prefer compact cars that can easily
handle Japan's narrow roads and parking spaces. For seniors who aren't
as mobile, Japanese automakers offer "special-needs" vehicles, cars
and vans that come equipped with swivel chairs and other innovations
that accommodate their physical needs. Supply of these vehicles has
expanded at an average annual rate of 41.9 percent between 1996 and

Toyota, for example, has begun to develop vehicles targeted
specifically at this growing market. It developed the Premio,
which offers easy handling, a luxurious interior and a reasonable
price. Competing with the Premio is Nissan's Bluebird Silphy.
Priced similarly to the Premio, the vehicle offers a roomy
interior and seats constructed on a solid structure -- design
features that make long-distance driving more comfortable for

A study conducted by NTT DoCoMo shows that 41 percent of seniors aged
60 and up in the Tokyo area own mobile handsets. According to the
study, the average phone bill for senior mobile users is $41 a month,
compared to a cross-generation average of $70. About 17 percent of
Tokyo-based seniors use mobile phones to send email. However,
respondents complained that the displays of their mobile Internet data
handsets were too small, making reading difficult. Complaints of
"feature-itis" also surfaced in the study, as seniors said the
handsets have too many functions. Sure enough, the mobile-phone
companies began to introduce mobile phones with larger character
displays and more streamlined, easy-to-use functions. This trend is
also emerging in fixed phones and other consumer electronic equipment.

Sporting Goods, Sports Clubs, Entertainment and Travel
Since last March, the golf shop in the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi
department store's main store has been averaging sales of over 10
million yen a month with its high-end golf clubs, which are worth
1-2.5 million per set; the store established a monthly high in sales
of 23 million yen in July of last year, amidst the depths of the
"gloom and doom" in Japan's economy and financial markets. The
shop's main clients are people in their late 50s or older.
At the "Big Echo" karaoke club in Yurakucho, a group of 20-30
people gather every Wednesday. They are all in their 60s-70s and
come from as far away as Chiba, Ibaraki and Shizuoka prefectures.
If each orders a drink, they get the room for free. The regulars
are all members of JR East's "Japangu Club." To join the club,
men have to be 65 or older, women 60 or older. It started as a
program offering discount tickets to those that travel by train,
but JR East has recently been focusing on leveraging these
"special interest" clubs. "Seniors are interested in developing
new friends in their same age group who have the same interests, as
it gives them an excuse to be out and about," says a JR East
official. During the March 2003 fiscal year, JR East Japangu
Club members used an average of 10.5 discount train tickets per
club member, producing 27 billion yen in revenues for the company.
Package tours for club members gained another 1.7 billion yen. The
company plans to increase the number of club members from the current
770,000 to 1 million by 2005 and increase the number of special
interest groups from 50 last year to over 100 this year.

This trend has also caught the attention of Kinki Nippon Tourist,
which now has some 200 "club circles" and total membership of about
250,000, of which over half are over 60 for the men and between
50-60 for the women. These circles generate some 4,000 tours
every year. Normally, the company's tours are put together with a
minimum number of targeted participants, of which the actual
participation rate is usually around 50 percent. With the club
circles, the participation rate is over 70 percent.

The Tokyu department store in Shibuya is offering arranged outings
such as one-day trekking tours. Participants who are 55 or older
account for 52 percent of the participants and 56 percent of related
revenues. While the store does not make anything on the tours
themselves, seniors coming to the store to sign up often bring their
friends and shop for outdoor goods at the same time. Demand for
outdoor goods from families has been declining since 1996, but
the Tokyu store as of early 2003 had recorded six consecutive
years of revenue increases and saw related sales rise by 32 percent in
the fist half of this year.

When JR Kyushu advertised what they called The Japan-Holland
Transcontinental Rail Cruise, a 14,000-kilometer transcontinental
journey starting from Amsterdam on the Orient Express and
traveling through Russia, Central Asia and China, they had space
for 50 passengers, yet over 250 applied, with tickets costing
between 1.5-2.1 million yen. The average age of male applicants was
67 years; for women it was 55.

-- Darrel Whitten

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Written by Darrel Whitten

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