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Wellness in Japan - statistics & facts

Wellness is a relatively new concept that has permeated modern societies in manifold ways. The subject is broad, spanning various industries, which makes a clear-cut depiction of it difficult. The core idea of wellness is the promotion of the well-being of people, but the manifestations thereof are bound to cultural customs and predispositions, as well as to local resources. In the case of Japan, the main industries identified here that contribute to the wellness economy include cosmetics, beauty services, mineral springs and thermal bathing, sports participation, traditional complementary medicine, and health and wellness nutrition. The cosmetics and beauty service industries are large contributors to the wellness economy. Thermal bathing (onsen), and traditional complementary medicine are culture-specific elements – otherwise insubstantial in many economies around the world – that are also important contributors to wellness in Japan.

Bathing culture

Japan has a well-developed bathing culture, attested by the numerous thermal spring facilities, and the high number of annual stays at traditional Japanese lodging facilities situated around thermal springs (onsen). Wellness and tourism are often interconnected. For tourists, wellness can be one of the incentives or even the main incentive to travel. This makes Japan’s bathing-related resources and infrastructure a valuable asset that can be harnessed to maintain domestic tourism and increase inbound tourism. Other than the thermal bathing facilities and resorts that tend to be expensive and are mostly used during leisure travel, there are numerous public baths, called sento, scattered around cities. They provide city dwellers with a bathing experience that is affordable, spacious, and an enjoyable alternative to one’s bathroom. There is a straightforward explanation for the solid bathing culture in Japan: the geological activity in and around Japan resulted in the creation of many natural thermal springs. On the other hand, historical and religious reasons may also have played an important role in the success of the thermal and mineral spring industry. Japan’s indigenous religion, Shintoism, emphasizes cleanliness and purity, as well as the importance of connecting with nature. Hot springs offer the ideal environment to satisfy both these elements which are important in traditional Japanese culture.

Conflating beauty and wellness

The beauty industry has two branches: the cosmetics industry, and the beauty service industry. Spearheaded by Kao and Shiseido, the cosmetics industry in Japan – also called J-Beauty – is a multi-trillion Japanese yen industry that has successfully tapped into the international market, establishing itself as a world-leading brand. The beauty service industry is also a multi-trillion-yen industry that is very well established domestically. Beauty service is omnipresent in Japanese society. There are several times more beauty salons than there are convenience stores in Japan, which is somewhat shocking considering that convenience stores can be found at every corner in Japanese cities – and we haven’t even mentioned other types of beauty and personal care facilities. The ubiquity of beauty services and cosmetics is relevant for the subject at hand because the concepts of wellness and beauty are somewhat conflated in Japanese society. The common denominator of many cosmetic products is their appeal to bodily or mental comfort resulting from their use. Similarly, beauty services promise physical and psychological well-being, in many cases blurring the boundary between beauty and wellness. This is a potent and effective strategy to create an emotional bond between customers, and beauty products and services.

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