Gentle Ecological Products Enrapture Japan

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© YURI KAGEYAMA 2006 The Associated Press

TOKYO — June 2, 2006
A U.S. lifestyle concept that combines consumerism with a bit of ecological conscience is proving a hit in shopping-crazy Japan, where workaholic "salarymen" are looking for quick fixes for stress and thinking green is becoming fashionable.

LOHAS, which stands for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, an approach to purchasing and investment that originated in the United States about a decade ago, encompasses a wide range of products pushing social and environmental responsibility _ organic soap, recycled paper, hybrid cars, solar heating and herbal tea.

The trend is just beginning to catch on here, but it's estimated to represent a $540 billion global market.

Internet shopping sites are peddling LOHAS goods. A Tokyo department store has a section for LOHAS goods. Magazines are singing the praises of the LOHAS lifestyle, including yoga, organic wine, aroma therapy and the option of bringing your own grocery bag.

"We have to learn to make do with what we have," said Junko Shinohara, a 53-year-old housewife, after examining ecologically made towels at an exhibition of LOHAS goods opening Friday in downtown Tokyo.

The concept is appealing, partly because it isn't too demanding.

It doesn't require a stoic, idealistic way of life _ just some adjustment here and there. Instead of saying: "Don't ever drive a car," it merely says: "Buy a fuel-efficient car."

The idea is going mainstream in a much bigger way in Japan than in the U.S., with automakers, food manufacturers, homebuilders, even banks, showing interest in LOHAS marketing, says Peter D. Pedersen, president of Japanese consulting company E-square Inc.

"Even if you live a hectic lifestyle of a salaryman, there are things you can do," he said. "Why don't you do the things you can do and start from there? That's the idea."

Japan may be receptive to LOHAS because the nation's traditional culture embraces a nature-loving view on life with hot springs and seasonal gourmet, according to Pedersen.

The timing was also right. Japanese, who had felt lost after the speculative "bubble" burst in the 1990s, were looking for an alternative that went beyond the power of money, he said.

The idea of LOHAS is linked with "cultural creatives" proposed by American sociologist Paul Ray, who said people are starting to value health, social issues and other aspects of life that aren't directly linked with past patterns of materialistic consumption.

The idea originated as an open trademark, requiring no payment for usage, and so almost anything can claim to be LOHAS.

A restaurant serving everyday but healthy dishes such as brown rice and vegetable curry can claim to be LOHAS. Not littering is LOHAS. Composting household garbage is even more so. The values touch something as cheap as a hammock to something more expensive as Louis Vuitton luggage.

The recent Tokyo exhibition included an ergonomic chair, non-allergenic detergent, water bottles and Crocs Inc. sandals. A glass fishbowl by Italian designer Andrea Branzi had a glass birdcage inside so that goldfish swim around parakeets, making for what organizers said was a statement on coexistence.

Also on display were designs for "furoshiki," Japan's traditional answer to the reusable bag, a piece of fabric for carrying things by simply wrapping them. One with bright pictures of flowers and birds was designed by Environment Minister Yuriko Koike.

What's appealing about LOHAS is that it proposes everyday changes in personal life, proponents say.

"There's been a lot of talk about slow food and slow life," said Mari Takamatsu, spokeswoman for Mitsukoshi department store, which has a corner devoted to LOHAS cooking this week. "LOHAS puts a lifestyle into one word that consumers understand."

By YURI KAGEYAMA AP Business Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press

Slow Life, LOHAS at GokuRakuAn



Daruma Museum, Japan


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