Inside Rakuten Insight – The Land of the Rising Contradictions

“A common theme for those interested in Japanese culture is contradiction. There are many cultural reasons for why the West see Japan as a society full of contradictions, but this is also true for the impact COVID-19 has had on Japan and the whole world.”

Following our report on the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour, we have an interesting series of articles about a couple of contradictions that were revealed while looking at the results, all through the eyes of Neil Cantle, Regional Head EU.


Part I: Following Rules

A common theme for those interested in Japanese culture is contradiction. There are many cultural reasons for why the West see Japan as a society full of contradictions, but this is also true for the impact COVID 19 has had on Japan and the whole world.

With the objective of understanding further the impact of COVID 19 in Japan, Rakuten Insight has conducted research & analysis using their own proprietary panel in Japan comprising of approximately 2.2 million members. Largely owing to our place within the wider Rakuten Group Eco-system the panel in Japan is experiencing increasing feasibility in the numbers of monthly active users.

The results of the survey revealed a number of contradictions and this article will introduce a couple of interesting examples and begin to explain these contradictions in the context of Japanese culture.

When it comes to trusting government as a source of information on the coronavirus, Japanese are in general very trusting of authorities. 60% replied that they trust the information on public websites coming from government or local government public. Similar to the West we see very low trust in social media, whether that is from friends or influencers/celebrities. This trust may start to decrease over the coming weeks.

Source: Rakuten Insight survey on impact of COVID-19, n=1000, April 2020

This trust fits with the image of the importance of hierarchy and authority in Japanese culture. This also fits with the image of Japan as being very efficient and well-organised as a result of this hierarchical structure, which is very true. A contradiction however is that it is not a society which will respond quickly & efficiently to the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan is top-down, with a culture that doesn’t allow you to question the boss. In this case, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would have to make quick decisions which clearly state the rules and guidelines for everyone to follow. However, decisions need to be taken whilst maintaining the ‘wa’ or alignment, which can take time. Additionally, Abe’s announcement was extremely vague. For example, he didn’t specify which businesses should close and which can stay open, as was done in UK or ‘strongly requested’ not to open for business rather than being clearly ordered to close.

When asked how day to day life has changed, 54.3% of our panellists stated that they feel more stressed due to not knowing what is going on. Uncertainty is a familiar and common stress within Japanese culture. However until the clarity is provided, people will continue to do their best to follow guidelines but it not be expected to happen in the same way as in other countries around the world. Many businesses will stay open and Japanese people continue to go to work.


Source: Rakuten Insight survey on Impact of COVID-19, n=1000, April 2020

So it is not a contradiction if during lockdown you see images of crowded ramen bars, people smoking outside a taped off smoking area or children playing in playgrounds. They are trying their best to follow the ambiguous guidelines set by the government. The same as we all are in these unprecedented times.

Neil is Regional Head for EU at Rakuten Insight. Neil has also spent many years living in Japan and working for leading Japanese companies.


■Survey Details
Markets: China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, United States, Vietnam
Sample Size: 1,000 per market
Sample Source: Rakuten Insight proprietary panel
Survey Timing: April 2020
Related Articles: Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Behaviour, The Land of the Rising Contradictions (II) , The Land of the Rising Contradictions (III)

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