Japan now has Black Friday, but it doesn’t fully translate

A woman is standing in the desert, wearing a large, flowing dress.  Above his head he reads, "Aeon Black Friday."

Thursday was Thanksgiving, but Japan doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. That hasn’t stopped the Japanese retail business from rolling out Black Friday sales.

While Japan isn’t the only country to have recently caught on to the US Black Friday sales bonanza, the day has started to get more noticeable.

In the photo, a wine sale with Black Friday signs.

In 2014, Toys “R” Us Japan began Black Friday sales, and the Gap followed a year later. In 2016, the Japanese national retail chain Aeon began promoting sales more widely with in-store displays and TV commercials. At that time, advertisements explained that Black Friday was a tradition of “big sales” started in the United States.

In 2021, Japanese news channels are still explaining what Black Friday is. In Japan, it’s not limited to Friday, the sales go on for days. Some sales draw lines, but even though Black Friday receives a strong retail push, it doesn’t quite match Japanese year-end buying habits.

In English, of course, “Black Friday” refers to the retail business making an instant profit – being in the dark. It’s the start of the holiday shopping season. In Japanese, there is a similar expression, kuroji (黒 字); However, the country’s holiday shopping season actually starts later.

Tomohiro Osaki of the Japan Times reports that annual surveys show that 75 percent of respondents in Japan now know what Black Friday is. That’s a jump from just around 30% in 2017. However, only 15.5% of those polled in this year’s survey plan to take advantage of the sales. [Full disclosure: I am a columnist at The Japan Times.]

Yutaro Suzuki, an economist at the Daiwa Research Institute, told the Japan Times that while Japanese consumers are more aware of Black Friday, the sales don’t translate entirely to Japan. “In November, the bonuses are in many cases not yet paid, which means that people’s willingness to spend is not too high,” Suzuki said. “Black Friday is still a developing culture in Japan. “

Pictured is a stack of toilet paper with labels that say Black Friday.

The country is already experiencing a great period of sales and shopping in connection with the end of the year celebrations. There is an established selling tradition with big discounts and “lucky bag” packages. Retailers, it seems, are no doubt hoping that Black Friday will bring an increase in fall sales to their bottom line. Some Japanese consumers seem unhappy with the arbitrary nature of Black Friday, which is to tie it to the day after a public holiday that doesn’t even exist in Japan.

As mentioned earlier, there is no Thanksgiving (Halloween, however, is celebrated), so Black Friday obviously doesn’t mark the official start of holiday shopping, but it does mark the start of something.

This article was originally published on November 28, 2016.

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