May 18, 2015
Business people tend to be seen as a conservative lot, politically and socially. But they aren’t always. In Japan, some managers are throwing their support behind a minority group that’s long’s been in the shadows. They’re known as LGBTs: L stands for lesbian, G for gay, B for bisexual, and T for transgender. A recent survey suggests one in 14 people belong to this group. They’ve long been marginalized, but that may be starting to change. In March, Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward decided to recognize same-sex partnerships.
We look at sexual diversity and big business; They’re coming together, and NHK World’s Nahoko Yamada explains why.
Japan’s Rainbow Pride is four years old and bigger than ever. Organizers of this year’s event say half a million people showed up, that’s up four times from last year. The strong turnout this year demonstrates the growing interest in the LGBT market. About 90 companies and organizations are running booths at the event. That’s double the number of last year.
From finance and cosmetics to the Internet, airlines and noodle shops, the companies taking part are as diverse as the sexual types in the crowd. A booth offering portrait sketches belongs to a major appliance maker.
"LGBTs power to spread our brand by word of mouth is very appealing, says Hidekazu Imaizumi of Philips Electronics Japan. “Their community is strong and very tight. So information spreads instantly. "
In another booth, the representative of a Japanese beverage maker says his company wants to be the first in its industry to tap the LGBT market.
"We want to differentiate ourselves and be an early participant in this market segment. There’s a big economic incentive for us to be part of it," says Daisuke Kan, Executive Director at Cheerio Corporation.
Same-sex marriage is not legally sanctioned in Japan, but that didn’t stop Len and Yae. They tied the knot in front of tens of thousands at Rainbow Pride, courtesy of wedding planner, Take and Give Needs.
Company rep Akira Hoshino says it’s getting more inquiries about same-sex weddings: "More couples like Len and Yae are speaking out. We believe this trend will surely boost the number of same-sex weddings."
Research shows LGBT consumers have a distinct profile: they’re willing to spend more on life-style goods. Advertising company Dentsu estimates the market is worth about $50 billion -- and growing.
"50 billion dollars is our estimate for just the LGBT market. If their friends and supporters are included, the market is going to be even bigger," says Ayaka Asami at Dentsu Diversity LAB.
One way to win those customers is to show solidarity. Apparel chain GAP is doing just that. Its flagship outlet in Tokyo got a rainbow makeover. Staff put up a photo exhibition in support of diversity. Customers seem to approve, gay and straight alike.
"We bought T-shirts to get this rainbow badge," says one couple
"I’m lesbian,” says one woman. “GAP is supporting us, so that makes me want to shop here."
GAP managers say the campaign is paying off. They’ve seen customer numbers spike during the rainbow event.
"We want people to like not just our brand, but also the lifestyle we are supporting. That makes us stand out from our competitors," says Ryutaro Nagata of Gap Japan.
That lifestyle can include where you live. A share-house in Tokyo has put out the welcome mat for sexual minorities. Tenants rent a room, and share the kitchen and other facilities. 12 people live in the house, 5 of whom are LGBT.
Jun moved in to the Color House soon after it opened. He says he doesn’t have to hide anything and that makes him feel at home: "I was interested in living in a share-house. But in a regular share-house, coming-out could be a problem. Here, that’s not an issue.”
In a regular share-house, the average tenant stays around one year. The Color House opened two years ago -- and so far, only one person has moved out. That means stable revenue for the operator Share Design.
Share Design president Jiro Aso says Japan lags behind in the LGBT market. “Companies haven’t invested. I believe there’s strong potential for the real estate market."
Japan’s LGBT minorities are finding their voice. And businesses say they’ve found a new market. The two sides are still getting to know each other, but a promising relationship is taking off.
Yoshihiro Ito, head of Dentsu Diversity Lab, spoke with Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio.
Beppu: Now, your company is a leader in advertising. You’ve been researching the LGTB market. Tell us how you did that, and what you found.
Ito: First, we sent questionnaires to about 70,000 people. From that survey, we established that 7.6% of the people belong to the LGBT category. Then, we chose 500 LGBT and 400 straight people to carry out an expenditure survey. We based that study on Japan’s official household expenditure survey. And we estimated the LGBT market is worth 50 billion dollars, that’s about the same size as the entire Japanese beverage market.
Shibuya: What kind of consumer trends did you find?
Ito: We found out that LGBT people spend more than straight people on audio visual equipment, furniture, cosmetics and culture-related services. That doesn’t always mean LGBTs have higher income. But they tend to spend more money for themselves. But that 50 billion dollars I mentioned is just the market for LGBTs. If you factor in their friends and supporters, the market size is going to be even bigger.
Sho: So put in those terms, it’s clear why companies would find this market so attractive. Do you think we’ll be seeing more products and services targeting LGBTs?
Ito: We think that there is a certain difference between doing LGBT marketing and becoming an LGBT-friendly company. But they’re definitely interested. There are two issues here. First, managers want to educate their employees to create a good office environment for everyone. If LGBT workers feel comfortable, they’ll perform better. Second, managers want to know how to develop or promote their products or services for the market, while paying respect to LGBT consumers. Because in our survey, nearly 70% of LGBTs and 53% of straight people say that they want to buy products or services from a company that is LGBT friendly. The consumers are having interests in stance and policy of companies.