Kiyomi is a former Canadian pharmacist who is now living in Japan, where she enjoys being immersed in her Japanese roots.
Japan is good at setting trends because once a trend starts, it spreads rather quickly throughout the whole country. When something becomes popular, you’ll see something about it on nearly every television channel, whether it’s a segment in the news, or in variety, travel or cooking shows. It will become the talk of the day at both home and work. The Japanese are also renowned for being able to line up for hours and hours to wait for entry into a store or to get a seat at a restaurant, especially when something becomes popular. Here are the latest popular trends you'll see.
1. Women's Fashion: Wide-Legged Pants
This fashion trend has been around for a while but it is still going strong. Not only are they comfortable, they can hide thighs and can even be cooling in the hot summer months if they are made from a thin, light and flowy material.
2. Food: From Fishy Ramen to Roast Beef
Fish broth ramen: Despite the abundance of ramen shops already in Japan, there are still more and more new ones popping up. Because of the competition, there is always the need to produce something new. We are used to the standard pork, tonkotsu (pork bone broth), or chicken broth, but the latest trend seems to be the fish-based broths. These broths may be made from dried katsuo (skipjack tuna) or sohda (frigate tuna) flakes, or dried whole iwashi, ago, or aji, (sardines, flying fish or horse mackerel respectively) or a combination of any of these. They are quite strong and fishy tasting on their own and are therefore often combined with chicken or pork broths. I personally find the flavor of fish broths a bit too overpowering even in these combinations.
Cheese Dak-galbi: This trend comes from Korea, but has become very popular here in Japan. Dak-galbi is a traditional Korean dish using chicken and gochujang sauce, stir-fried with various vegetables. It is often served on a hot plate, but with the newest trend, also served with a good amount of melted cheese. The cheese is not mixed with the dak-galbi, rather melted aside, and used like a fondue dip for the chicken and vegetables. In Japan, many restaurants now serve this dish, not only in the Korean restaurants but in bars and family restaurants. One fast food chain that normally specializes in gyu-don (beef on top of rice) even served up their version of dak-galbi.
Roast Beef: This trend has also been around for a few years, but is still seen everywhere and doesn’t seem to have gotten old. There are countless versions of roast beef recipes on cooking shows using the oven, rice cooker or frypan, and there are still many restaurants call their roast beef a signature item (usually served on top of a bowl of rice with a runny egg). The latest trend here might be serving it with sea urchin; supposedly the creaminess and natural sea sodium is a great match for roast beef.
Jiggly Pancakes: the Japanese have always loved pancakes, as one can see by the number of pancake cafes. All of these restaurants seem to use a special hotplate in order to get a nice even colour on both sides of the pancake. Still, there are new pancake houses popping up where the newest trend seems to be fluffy pancakes. This fluffiness is usually achieved by whipping up the eggs whites to make a meringue before carefully introducing the yolks into the batter. This produces a pancake that jiggles when the plate is slightly moved. The Japanese have always liked fluffier and lighter cakes (chiffon cakes are still going strong), so I think these newest pancakes will be here to stay.
Macarons: These light, but chewy cookie-like sandwiches can be found at countless patisseries in Japan, and can even be found in the pudding and cakes section in some convenience stores. They are loved for not only their sweet almond essence, but also for their cuteness, and the variety of flavours that can be found. Not to mention it is very difficult to recreate the perfect shape and texture at home. They are used as toppings for parfaits or other creamy desserts, and I have seen the cookie part only (no cream) being sold as ‘macaron rusk’. Their appearance is also adored as one can see by the many plastic keychains, purse decorations and hairpins that have made macarons an accessory as well.
Popovers and Dutch Baby Pancakes: Popovers are probably known for their popularity in the 70's, but they are making their boom in Japan right now. These Yorkshire pudding-like hollow rolls are mainly being used as a base for fruits and cream and are being made into desserts. Similarly, Dutch Baby pancakes which also use an egg and flour batter that is baked, are being drizzled with melted butter and honey and then topped with ice cream to satisfy the sweet tooth.
3. Health and Fitness
Everybody is continually looking for ways to look and feel better, not only the young, but also the baby boomers and those living in their 90’s.
Working out the buttocks: Asians have genetically flat behinds and need to put in some effort to give some lift and roundness. The Japanese have realized the attractiveness of a nice round bottom, and seem to be putting more attention into shaping up their butts (mainly women). Not only those their 20s and 30s, but women even older in their 50s and 60s are seeing how a nice shape can make them look younger. Recently there are gyms and training sessions that focus on achieving a rounder bottom. Stars and famous entertainers are working hard on their bottoms. Television programs are using ‘how to shape-up one’s butt’ themes for some of their broadcasts. There are also new stockings or leggings that are advertised as an answer to sagging or flat butts.
Fermented food products, Natto and Vinegar: It has long been known that many fermented foods (the kinds that are purposely fermented) are good for you. However, now that are so many people living into their 90’s and even making it past 100 years old, the Japanese are looking for the secret to long life and how to stay as young as possible even as life progresses to those ages. Among the many fermented products such as yogurt, miso, amazake and shiokoji (both made from fermented rice), two have recently made a boom in the anti-aging area. Natto (fermented soybeans) has been eaten for ages but has made a huge comeback. Aside from being delicious and going very well with Japan’s staple of rice, people have been putting the smell aside (or at least getting used to it) and are eating the stuff every day. There are hundreds of brands to choose from and a package of 3 can cost less than 100 yen (about one dollar USD).
Vinegar is the other fermented product that is making a boom. Not only is it inexpensive, it is originally used in traditional Japanese dishes such as sunomono (usually vegetables or seafood marinated in vinegar and sugar). The claims say that just one tablespoon per day can have health benefits, so people are looking for ways to incorporate vinegar into their daily diets (may include drinking the sunomono marinade leftover in the bowl). House-made pickled vegetables using vinegar have been making an appearance in all kinds of restaurants and TV cooking shows.
4. Instagram Rules All
This is no doubt this is a trend that has taken over the whole world. Here in Japan, people will go out of their way to snap a good photo to post. At picnics there will not only be food and ground sheets, there will be picnic baskets, patterned sheets, cute decorations and signs that say ‘nice day’ or ‘picnic’ that can be held up in front of the camera. The deciding factor of where to vacation or where to eat may be whether or not a great Instagram picture can be taken. Stores and restaurants are producing products targeted at those searching for a picture perfect for their Instagram account. There was even a new Japanese word created; insuta-bae, a combination of Instagram and the word for ‘looking attractive’. This new word is used to indicate if something is a suitable candidate for an Instagram photo.
Japan is continuously changing and looking for new trends, which is one reason why it’s so fun to live here. It also makes it a good vacation spot not only once but twice or three times because every time there will be something new to discover. If you are wondering about the 2019 trends, I've published a new article; Trends You'll Notice When Visiting Japan in 2019.