Storecheck Japan – current packaging trends in the land of the rising sun
Japan is exceptionally rich in culture. The history and fascinating peculiarities of the East Asian country are also reflected in packaging design. In recent years, new trends have developed that combine classic Japanese packaging concepts with modern elements. The most important themes include the use of natural materials as well as fundamental sustainability, the use of traditional Japanese motifs and patterns, and the use of innovative technologies.
Below, we take a closer look at the packaging design developments that caught our eye during our store check in Japan.
Trend 1: The use of natural materials
Japanese brands are increasingly turning to natural materials such as bamboo, paper and wood for their packaging. These are environmentally friendly and sustainable. In addition, they give the packagings a natural and timelessly beautiful look.
Here are a few examples at a glance:
– Muji, a Japanese retail chain that is now also successful internationally, specializes in making affordable, sustainable products with no frills. The packaging for its minimalist, functional creations is made primarily of natural materials such as paper, cardboard, wood and bamboo, as well as glass.
– Lupicia produces high-quality tea from around the world. The sustainability concept of the brand from Japan includes tea bags made of paper, hemp and corn starch.
– Shiseido is a Japanese cosmetics manufacturer that relies on sustainable product packaging made from recycled materials, for example bamboo, rice paper or silk.
– Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing brand, produces high-quality essentials for women, men and children. The focus is on natural materials: cotton and linen are used, for example, but also luxury fabrics such as cashmere and silk.
– Mikan is dedicated to the production of freeze-dried fruit. The delicious dried fruits are mainly packed in paper and cardboard, but also in glass. While the latter is not a natural material; however, it is 100 percent recyclable and can be reused an infinite number of times.
– Hokkaido Milk is a well-known Japanese milk brand whose organic milk from Hokkaido enjoys an excellent reputation. It is bottled in natural and/or sustainable containers made of paper, cardboard and glass.
Basically, we encountered rice paper grocery bags many times during our store check in Japan. In addition, we repeatedly saw wooden crates for beverages in stores. The “natural materials and sustainability” trend is also directly reflected in product design. A good example of this is cutlery made of bamboo.
Trend 2: The use of traditional Japanese motifs and patterns.
The Japanese are proud of their cultural characteristics and demonstrate this in the design of their products. If the packaging is not presented in an emphatically simple and minimalist way (because this is also a clearly observable trend), then it usually reveals traditional Japanese motifs. The broad spectrum ranges from cherry blossoms and koi carp to patterns typical of the country.
General examples at a glance:
– Sake bottles with samurai motifs
– Tea bags with cherry blossom motifs
– Sushi boxes with koi carp motifs
Traditional illustrations of women in kimono are also very widespread, such as some tea boxes from Lupicia. And when you look at Japanese rice boxes, you commonly see illustrations of rice farmers. This motif is meant to illustrate the tradition and importance of rice production in the Land of the Rising Sun.
In addition, Japanese art forms are often used for packaging design. An example of this is SK-II cosmetics, whose packaging features Suminagashi – an ancient Japanese marbling technique. All the Japanese motifs and patterns evoke associations with the country’s history and culture and make the packaging real eye-catchers.
More modern, but still already Japanese cult is “Kawaii”. This particular style now permeates almost all areas of life in Japan. The term translates as “cute” or “adorable.” From sweets to cosmetics, the packaging of a wide variety of products features adorable figures that make you smile – even beyond infancy.
Trend 3: The use of innovative technologies
In addition to natural materials and traditional motifs, patterns and art forms, new technologies are also being used in the Japanese packaging industry. So despite the importance of its own culture and traditions, the country does not close its mind to allowing innovations. On the contrary, the Japanese are more successful than almost any other people in the world in combining national customs with modern technologies. And they are even quite far ahead in inventing these technologies.
Japanese companies are increasingly using 3D printing, augmented reality and virtual reality to design their packaging. These special technologies make it possible to create packagings that are individual, interactive and literally appealing.
3D printing can be used to create unique packaging in a time- and cost-saving manner. Augmented reality brings products to life, so to speak. And virtual reality allows products to be analyzed in greater detail virtually.
Here are some examples of the Japanese trend at a glance:
– Coca-Cola has developed a 3D-printed beverage bottle made of recyclable material. You can scan it with your smartphone to get more information about the product.
– Uniqlo is causing a stir with a new augmented reality app. This lets customers try on clothes virtually. It uses the smartphone’s camera to scan the user’s body and project garments onto it in real time.
– Shiseido, a Japanese manufacturer of facial care, makeup and fragrances, makes the seemingly impossible possible with a virtual reality app: trying out cosmetic products without actually using them practically. Again, the app uses the smartphone’s camera to scan the customer’s face and project the cosmetics directly onto it.
Basic product trends in Japan
During our store check in Japan, we naturally took a closer look at the products themselves in addition to the pure packaging. In the process, we noticed several trends as well:
– Probiotics: special dietary supplements containing viable microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, which are designed to support healthy intestinal flora
– Bento boxes: boxes with dividers that separate different ingredients – typical presentation form of food in Japanese cuisine
– Frozen food: various dishes are sold ready-prepared in frozen form, such as bolognese and other pasta, but also soups
– Unusual drinks: for example, tomato-flavored beer
– Monodose: single container that contains the respective product in a quantity that can be consumed or drunk at once (filling volume for one serving)
– Gift boxes: Japan has a unique gift culture, people give each other gifts for a wide range of occasions, both private and business.
Summary and outlook
The current packaging trends in Japan – i.e. the use of natural materials, traditional motifs and patterns as well as modern technologies – are diverse, witty and a mixture of classic and innovative. On the one hand, they convey the country’s history and culture, and on the other, they set new standards for packaging design. In any case, they make it clear that the packaging industry in Japan is on the move and constantly evolving without undermining the country’s cultural characteristics. It remains really exciting to see what else Japanese companies will come up with and realize in the coming years.