Kiyomi is a former Canadian pharmacist who is now living in Japan, where she enjoys being immersed in her Japanese roots.
This past year was particularly difficult for everyone in the world as the pandemic took lives, jobs, sanity, and kept many people confined to their homes. Trends may be the last thing on most people's minds, but for some, these trends may also act as a little distraction and break from all the stress.
In this article, I'll explore trends in the following categories:
- The Entertainment World
Keep scrolling for more details about all the latest trends in Japan.
1. The Entertainment World
From popular new bands and dance moves to TV dramas, here's what people in Japan just can't seem to get enough of this year.
The previously popular all-girl group AKB48 has been replaced by many other similar groups, the latest being NiZiu. This group stemmed from a television show whereby the members auditioned and were chosen by a well-known manager in the Korean entertainment industry, J.Y Park. He has created many K-pop girl groups in South Korea.
In the NiZiu project, all members are Japanese. Fans became interested in this group when they found themselves empathizing with the hardships, growth and successes of each chosen member.
Also in music, the worldwide-known Korean boy group, BTS, is popular in Japan too. Their good looks and moves have captured the hearts of many women.
Both of these groups had dance sequences that became very trendy on social media. The dance sequence in NiZiu’s “Step and a Step” video has even earned a name—the nawatobi dance (jump rope dance)—as one of the moves looks like they are skipping rope. BTS’ “Dynamite” dance steps also made fans want to imitate and create their own videos.
The entertainer/comedian/YouTuber Fuwa Chan had a huge break in the past year and continues to appear on various talk and variety shows. Her name was one of the top googled words in Japan in 2020. She’s bubbly and comedic, and you can’t miss her as she is always dressed up in bright rainbow-coloured sporty gear that makes her look like she’s ready for a workout.
Since the COVID outbreak, everybody has had a lot of time to check out all the streaming services and watch a lot of TV. One drama that was often talked about in Japan is called Ai no Fujichaku (the English title is Crash Landing on You), shown on Netflix.
It’s a Korean romantic comedy about a young South Korean entrepreneur who goes paragliding and finds herself falling into North Korean territory during a storm. There, a soldier finds her and decides to help but must keep her hidden in his home for if his superiors found out, his reputation, that of his team and his high-ranking father, would be ruined.
Manga and Anime
Japan has always been known throughout the world for its manga and anime, but this past year yielded a record-breaking series. Kimetsu no Yaiba, or in English, Demon Slayer has become one of the best-selling manga of all time.
The anime TV series has been praised for exceptional quality and is watched by people of all ages in Japan. The movie beat Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to become the highest-grossing film in Japan, even in COVID times. The ending theme song is so popular that it made singer, LISA, a huge hit. I have not watched the anime, but I know this song because I have heard it on various television programs.
One trend that is influenced by Kimetsu no Yaiba is that of wearing masks made from material of the same pattern as the clothing of the main characters.
I don’t really know when this fashion trend started, but I have been noticing it a lot more recently. Women will wear a large and flashy earring on one ear only. Usually, it’s an elegant type, but I have seen a simple large hoop as well.
One relatively new sport that is becoming more and more popular in Japan is called Molkky (or Morukku in Japanese)—a game started in Finland. It consists of 12 numbered wooden cylinders and one more used to throw and knock the rest down. Points are awarded and the first person to reach 50 points on the dot is the winner.
This may sound like just a game, but it is considered a sport; one Japanese comedian/entertainer unintentionally became a representative for Japan on the National Team when he was recommended to try the sport after realizing that he needed a hobby.
Oatmeal has never been a staple item in the Japanese diet, but recently, because of its health benefits, it is becoming more and more trendy. I suppose it is reminiscent of okayu, a rice porridge often eaten with savoury fare such as Japanese pickled vegetables. This is probably why savoury flavours of instant oats can be found in convenience stores. It has become easier to find plain oats in the grocery stores as well.
In Japan, gyms aren’t as prevalent as in the West. Perhaps this is because people get their exercise commuting to work by public transit, walking and/or riding bicycles. Many people also work long hours, making it hard to find time to go to a gym. This past year, a lot of people reported putting on some weight as a result of working from home or being told to stay home in the battle to fight COVID.
One type of home exercise that has become popular is called Hogupira. The term was coined by a personal trainer by the name of Yuka Hoshino. "Hogu" comes from "hogusu," which is a verb to describe loosening muscles, and "pira" is short for pilates. One does need an exercise foam roller to be able to do this. The combination moves are said to help lose weight and are practiced by many Japanese entertainers and stars who have purchased her instructive book.
"Veranda camping" and "camping at home" are terms that are heard a lot in Japan now. This is also a trend that came most likely as a result of being forced to stay at home in the pandemic. Sales of camp and outdoor goods shot up as people tried to replicate the outdoor camp experience on their balconies or in their front ‘yards’ (houses in Japan typically don’t have backyards or very much outdoor space at all).
Recipes for meals made on outdoor grills or burners are often shown on television. They’re a hit because they generally require just one pot or pan and are easy to duplicate at home.
Also with people cooking and eating more at home, the "hotto sando" maker, or the hot sandwich maker became so popular it has tripled in sales. People are not only using it to make various sandwiches, but are experimenting, making other items such as pancakes and rice burgers.
This category is always the longest in my trends articles because they are hard to miss when there is so much good food that's constantly being shown on TV. It’s no surprise that during this pandemic many of these products have become available for takeout or mail order; even products that were not accessible without going to a shop became online hits.
Makers desperately looked for ways to sell their products when customers weren’t able to make the trip out (Japan has always had a very reliable and efficient mail delivery system, by the way). Restaurants with no delivery system of their own are benefitting from services such as Uber Eats.
Individual Hot Pot
This "nabe," or hot pot trend is definitely a result of COVID. Normally one big pot is set at the dinner table and everyone uses a communal ladle to scoop out the contents into a personal bowl, or some even stick their own chopsticks in to pull out a favourite item.
Of course in the pandemic, this all is considered risky and unacceptable, especially when eating out with friends or coworkers (for the most part restaurants in Japan were open for business with limited seating, shortened operation hours and prevention measures put in place).
The solution was to serve hot pot in small individual servings on a mini burner. In the end, this turned out to be a good idea because now people don’t have to worry about other people’s chopsticks in the pot (which many people did not care for even before our current times), and there’s no fighting over what flavour of nabe broth to order.
Hot Pot Cubes
With individual hot pots came the popularity of nabe instant broth cubes. Most broths are sold as liquids in big, heavy packages that are meant to be poured into a large pot along with the ingredients. With the cube, it is simply dissolved in water in a small pot—one cube for one person.
This snack or light lunch item has always been easy to find just about everywhere. However, it has become trendy again this year. It is essentially a curry-filled bun that is fried.
Now there are all different twists on the regular round, panko-covered, fried bun. Some have taken odd shapes; others are not fried, but rather baked; some use expensive brands of beef; I have even seen one café serve the bread on a cast iron plate with curry poured over, calling it kare-pan.
Every maker is trying to make the perfect balance of bread and curry while making their version stand out. Some new kare-pan specialty shops have even made an appearance.
Last year I had a feeling toufa, also known as "douhua" elsewhere, would become a bigger trend, and sure enough, I am seeing it more and more. This treat consists of silken tofu pudding dressed with sugar syrup and topped with sweet additions such as red bean paste, taro, jellies, or fruits.
Another Taiwanese dessert that is popular this year is the Taiwan Castella cake. Regular Castella has always been easy to find in grocery stores and department stores, but this year there has been a new variety sold by specialty shops. The Taiwan version is large and so light and fluffy that it jiggles.
Macarons have been pretty trendy for years, but the South Korean version, Tounkaron Fat Macarons, takes them to another level. These macarons are called fat because the fillings aren’t just a thin spread of jam or cream; there is so much cream, chocolate, or other sweet filling sandwiched inside that it creates quite a height. Perhaps “tall macarons” would better describe these treats.
Another sweets trend originating in Korea that is popular in Japan now is the kuroffuru, a hybrid of a croissant and a waffle. Croissant dough is rolled up and instead of being put in an oven, the entire thing is sandwiched in a waffle maker. It comes out as an oddly shaped waffle. The kuroffuru has the crispiness of a waffle and the buttery chewiness of a croissant. Toppings such as ice cream, chocolate, caramel, fruits, etc. are usually added to make a pretty high-calorie snack.
Giant Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc is a popular cake in Japan, especially in autumn when chestnuts are harvested. This dessert is a personal-sized light cake or meringue topped with a bit of whipped cream and covered in spaghetti-like strands of chestnut paste.
The newest trend takes it further and uses a large press to create a truly mountainous nest of the chestnut paste. These spectacular Mont Blancs are sold by specialty shops and can cost at least 1800 yen (about 16 USD) for one. I suppose it could be shared by two people. The specialty shops are also being creative topping other desserts such as parfaits, tarts, and ice cream with the strands of chestnut paste.
These French pastries were in a previous trends article of mine as an item to watch out for. These eggy treats—crunchy on the outside and dense and chewy on the inside—have indeed become a trend. Many pastry shops, not just specialty shops, are making them, and now canelé have become easier and easier to find.
Warabi Mochi Drink
In the past few years tapioca drinks, or bubble tea as it is known outside of Japan, have been so popular that you can find a shop or two in every major shopping area. Then came lemonade and banana juice, although these didn’t even come close to being as popular.
Next in line for trendy drinks was the warabi mochi drink (the trend may already have passed its peak). This is purely a Japanese take on bubble tea. Warabi mochi is a traditional soft mochi that almost melts in the mouth. It is usually eaten with kinako powder (soybean powder) and a drizzle of kokuto (dark/black sugar) syrup. Now it has found a new place in drinks, replacing tapioca balls.
Many cafes have added them to their menus, convenience stores have had their own prepackaged warabi mochi drinks and some specialty shops have even popped up.
When you say pudding to a Japanese person, they’ll usually think of a custard pudding as opposed to the type that is quite soft and is eaten out of a bowl because it can’t hold its shape.
Puddings are a long-time favourite here and are found in every convenience and grocery store. Now they can be found in various drink forms. Liquid puddings, morsels of pudding put into teas, or puddings made with lots of milk to make lattes are some of the ways they are sold as a drink.
Without a doubt, the trendy dessert flavour this year is pistachio. Go to any convenience store, grocery store, or the sweets floor of a department store and you’ll find pistachio in cakes, eclairs, macarons, cream sandwiches, cookies, chocolates, and just about any type of dessert fare.
Although you may not be able to visit Japan this year, I hope I was able to give you an idea of what trends you would see. Even through the pandemic, people have been able to come up with new ideas and now, more than ever, are using social media and internet mediums to spread the word. It’s great to see that there are so many successes in spite of it all!
© 2021 Kiyomi Motomura