Yamato-Damashii: Research Guide in Japan


Yamato-damashii (大和魂) is a term used to express the Japanese resolute spirit. The phrase was coined in the Heian period to describe the cultural values that are an important part of Japanese life. In modern Japanese, the term is also used to refer to practical, ‘real life’ ability and intelligence. As the term has assumed various connotations over time, there are also many connected social conventions in Japan that westerners might find hard to understand.

To learn more about Japan’s unique culture and research market, Satoshi Toyotomi, SSI Senior Account Manager Japan, shares insights about the key trends impacting the research market as well as some practical guidelines for conducting successful online research in the country.

How big a research market is Japan and what are the most common types of research carried out in the country?

Japan is the 6th largest research market in the world and currently the second largest in Asia according to ESOMAR’s 2015 report. It is clearly a significant research market, which accounts for around one third of the research revenue in the Asia Pacific region. With the country’s highly advanced technology and economy, online research remains the most popular market research methodology, sitting at a value of over 600 million USD. In terms of types of research, brand tracking, U&A, advertising and product dontdontevaluation account for the largest portion of client research spend.

Can you give an overview of Japan’s geography and demographics?

Standing at the far eastern end of Asia, Japan is a shimaguni (island country) consisting of four major islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, along with thousands of smaller surrounding ones. The country is divided into eight regions, each of which contains several prefectures, except for the Hokkaido region. The 47 prefectures of Japan, which form the first level of administrative division in the country, are further subdivided into cities and towns.

Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and most of its land area is heavily forested and unsuitable for either agriculture or living. About a quarter of Japan’s residents live in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, which consists of the Kanto region, Tokyo and surrounding prefectures. The second most populated region is Kansai (also called Kinki), which includes Osaka, and followed by the Chūkyō region, which includes Nagoya city.

The Japanese people are one of the most linguistically and ethnically homogenous in the world. While nearly 99 percent of population is of Japanese ethnicity, there are many regional variations in attitude. For example, in Osaka, which is historically known as a merchant city, companies tend to be much more price sensitive when it comes to buying businesses. Fashion trends in Osaka are also quite different from those in Tokyo.

On what types of demographic groups do researchers usually set quotas?

Many foreign companies tend to conduct nationwide surveys without quotas. Japanese companies, on the other hand, tend to conduct surveys by age, gender and region quotas. When setting quotas by area, nationwide (all 47 prefectures) is usually the first choice, followed by Kanto (Greater Tokyo areas) and/or Kansai (Greater Osaka areas), depending upon the research budget and purpose of the study. In larger and wider-reaching studies, a prefecture level read is preferred.

The same quota groups apply for online studies. Japan is kōreikashakai , it has an aging population . Based on 2014’s estimates, 33 percent of the Japanese population is above the age of 60, 26 percent are aged 65 or above, and 13 percent are aged 75 or above.However, internet penetration is 91 percent overall, thus older age groups are well covered by internet samples, unlike other countries in Asia that are still emerging and developing. Online research represents a good coverage of the total population of Japan.

What are the things that we need to consider when designing and fielding questionnaires for Japan?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the Japanese tend to give neutral or middle answers on numeric scale questions. For that reason scale usage is not recommended, especially when asking controversial questions. Second, the question of income is usually avoided in face-to-face interviews and so asking it in an online survey (as a banded question) is an effective way to collect this information. Third, religion is not really a point of research in Japan as it has little to no impact. Other sensitive topics that would be best to avoid are regarding politics and ethics.

What else do researchers need to consider when conducting research in Japan?

Respondent eagerness to avoid conflict and the tendency to provide neutral answers are probably some of the key things to remember when thinking about survey methodologies in Japan. From an overall execution standpoint you can treat Japan similarly to the way you would deal with any developed Western country (i.e. you don’t have to worry about non-coverage issues among older age groups and rural areas). However, special thought must be given to how the questions are worded. It is extremely important that the translations are made by a native Japanese speaker. Having Japanese practical insight (or yamato-damashii) would be your best guide to conducting research in Japan.

By Satoshi Toyotomi & Jennifer Serrano