Behind Rock 'n' Roll Generation
Retirement and Start of New Life
In 2007, the first of Japan's Dankai (Baby Boomer) generation began to retire. And according to some reports, the fastest growing sales of any category of products that year was electric guitars.
By Dave McCaughan
About the same time I heard a great story in a focus group with men who were 58 years old concerning what they would do in retirement when it came in the next few years. One gent said, "I will take my new guitar from its place in the corner of the bedroom and play." So we asked if he played regularly and he shook his head and explained, "No, I have not played since I left University, but for my 55th birthday my two sons bought me a new guitar. I have kept it in the corner of my bedroom ever since, so that every day when I wake up I can see it and be reminded that when I retire I will be able to join a group again and play." There followed many news stories of retiring salarymen joining together to form bands, or re-joining bands with friends from their youth. Often bands that had not played together for 30 years. A phenomenon that should not be surprising.
After all, when we think of the 60-year-old salaryman we tend to think of the tired gent in his "uniform" black suit, white shirt, dark tie nodding off on the subway. We tend to forget that one of the reasons he was napping on the train was all those nights over the last 35 years when he was out at work functions that often ended in karaoke. That he and his wife were teens of the swinging 60s. The first generation to really benefit their whole lives from the Japanese miracle. It is perhaps THE generation that got the most from the Bubble years of the 80s and learnt how to enjoy themselves. And arguably they form the "rock ’n’ roll generation."
Of course in recent years "aging and the shrinking population," "the retirement of Japan" and the "how can we pay for the future" debates have and remain hot topics. In 2005 people over 50 years of age became the majority in Japan and there has been a collective sense of depression for the last decade that this aging society is unsustainable. And there is no doubt that not the Dankai are REAL JAPAN is a monthly column that exposes the trends that are really affecting people and marketers in Japan today. Why "REAL"? Because among all the myths and misconceptions, it is important to understand what is really happening. Dave McCaughan has been based in Tokyo for the last seven years watching and commentating on the changing nature of Japan. McCann Worldgroup is the world's leading marketing communications company with 50 years of building brands for both Western and Japanese clients in Japan. The Real Story … Behind Rock 'n' Roll Generation By Dave McCaughan JAPAN CLOSE-UP | October 2011 39 retiring to great lives. In some ways, it is a polarized generation with many who have a nice set of benefits awaiting them and unfortunately others who struggle to survive. There is no doubt that events like the Bubble bursting in 1991 and the Lehman shock of a few years ago have affected many in terms of being caught with mortgages they cannot afford and investments that were lost. But for most this is the generation who formed the bulk of the 33 trillion yen in savings that sit in the much debated Post Office saving accounts. They were young adults who quickly started saving heavily and constantly. So for many people retiring now and in the next few years, they have the funds to enjoy life, they grew up in a Japan that was learning to enjoy life and they want to play.
Build My Own Retirement Lifestyle
Like all "aging countries" we have noted for a while that aging itself is getting a better reputation. Where today's Dankai generation everywhere grew up in a world where youth became the new premium in the last decade or so, popular media in Japan has reflected a mood that respects aging with style. It is not connected with a loss of abilities but increasingly with terms like "new maturity." Keywords like "grace," "maturity," "thoughtful," "elegant" or for women "gorgeous glow" and for men "masculine grace." Have a look in popular lifestyle and fashion magazines for people of all ages and you will have noted an increasing focus on aging with style.
Perhaps it's no surprise that women in their late 50s, early 60s are more positive than their husbands. After all they have an average 30 plus years to live and have already begun a "retirement lifestyle." Keep in mind that most of this age group had their average 2.4 children at an earlier age, never really returned to work after childbirth and by the time they were in their late 40s have had fewer responsibilities at home. So they have embedded themselves in hobbies and groups of friends. Remember that, as young housewives, they again got into karaoke.
All this may sound like a sugar coated view and it is true that future retiring groups will not have it as good. For example by some estimates retirees from 2020 will have around a third less in terms of savings and pension funds compared to today. And of course many Dankai men feel, well, "old." The disorientation of a radically changed lifestyle after retirement means that many just don't know what to do with their time. And of course that often leads to new pressures on marriages. In another focus group a couple of years ago with 62-year-old men I heard one member describe how he spent 4-5 hours every day in the local noodle shop because a week after retiring his wife told him he was not allowed in the house from 9-5.
However there is also much evidence that most people of around 60 are pretty happy with life. In our own most recent national "Fukkatsu: Japan Rebuilds" survey completed in July we asked people of all ages to rate their lives on a scale of 1-100. The national average was a rather unhappy 59. But the happiest generation were these 55-65 year olds who averaged a rating of 70 (at least 10 points higher than any other age group).
And what are these young-atheart retirees looking for? We would define the key to marketing to them as revolving around:
Autonomy: There will be more seniors who will enjoy long active lives and who want and are willing to pursue self-realization, new experiences and activities even as they learn to cope with aging.
Symbiosis: Their desire and even necessity to have connections not only between people their own age seniors but also with people in different generations as they look to form new types of communities that supports independence and coexistence.
There is a bizarre marketing myth that people over 50 don't change brands and products. Huh?? They are the generation that has gone through more changing, adapting and experimenting than any before or since. Look at their lives in 1960, 70, 80, the new millennium and the way they have reacted to the constant faddism that some Western experts question as the biggest problem of marketing in Japan. It's one constant evolution as they grabbed the chance to create a new middle class, new spending, shopping, traveling, consuming culture. The real truth about today's retirees? They were the rock generation of the 60s and that 19-year-old rebel is still inside all of them.