The Deeper Side of Japan’s Generation Z: A Generation That Loves Emotionalism?–An Introduction to “Emoi”

The term “Gen Z” is now widely used around the world, referring to the generation born between 1996 and 2015. Though well known for their skill with technology as “digital natives,” this generation has further unique characteristics, such as social activism and a strong sense of self.

It is often thought that overseas businesses have difficulty penetrating the Japanese market due to language and cultural differences. Among those cultural differences, it may be difficult to understand the characteristics of Japan’s Gen Z. One of the characteristics of Generation Z in the Japanese market is that they are highly sensitive, empathetic, and have a desire to share their feelings with others. The Japanese word “emoi” (エモい), derived from the English “emotional,” has been attracting a lot of attention recently as a key descriptive word for the Japanese Gen Z. As understanding “emoi” is key to understanding Japan’s Gen Z, let’s explore its meanings and impact further.

What is “emoi?” – An Introduction to Emotional Consumption

As one phenomenon to understand Generation Z in the Japanese market, we would like to introduce “emotional consumption,” which has been the focus of much attention recently. Emotional consumption is a concept proposed by columnist Kazuhisa Arakawa, and refers to consumer behavior aimed at gaining sympathy and evoking emotions. The term “emoi” in Japanese has the same roots as the punk music genre “emo” or emotional hardcore, but it was media artist Yoichi Ochiai who is said to have popularized “emoi” since then, and in recent years the term has become popular among Japanese youths. In Japan, “emoi” refers to a feeling that words can’t describe well, but somehow sticks in your mind. In other words, emotional consumption refers to consumption that cannot be explained with logic, but is driven by the heart. The key is buying and consuming what you like, regardless of the likes of others or popular trends.1

Example – Fan activities

One of the most representative activities of emotional consumption is “oshikatsu” (推し活), a term referring to activities that support a person’s favorite musician, YouTuber, anime series, athlete or other talent/entertainment. These fan activities could range from attending their concert or buying their merch, to purchasing a paid subscription to their creative channels, to holding a birthday party for them even if they are not in the room.

Emotional consumption is not about owning things or even new experiences, but rather a consumption that brings mental stability and fulfillment. That desire to support another through one’s individual actions is the key. In a survey, about 72% of Gen Z females said they regularly made purchases to show their support as a fan for a specific person/media.2

Emotional consumption is for their own mental stability and fulfillment, but at its root is a desire for emotional connection. One characteristic of the fan activities of “oshikatsu” is that it is not completed by a lone person; the use of hashtags on social media is easy proof of the size and importance of a fan group. By engaging in such activities, fans are able to connect with others and get excited about things that only other fans can understand, creating an in-group with the common interest set as the focal point.

The Background of “Emoi” – Empathy among Japanese Generation Z

In line with Gen Z’s relatively high skill in connecting emotionally, the most important characteristic of “emoi” is the ability to empathize. According to one survey on Gen Z advertisement wording preferences,  the most favored were “fashionable and trendy ads” at 27.9%, followed by “highly empathetic and personal ads” at 13.7%.3 This data further supports the notion that Japan’s Generation Z is particularly attracted to things that are “emoi.”

Recently, “emotional searches” have been observed among young people. For example, when they finish watching a movie, they search for reviews of the movie to see what other people thought of it, and then they choose their own impressions based on what they found in the reviews that they could relate to. If they find many voices that are different from their own, they’re apt to adjust their feelings. While individualism is important, too unique an opinion could make an individual feel left out or wrong in their assumptions. They search for feelings in order to learn about themselves, learn about others, and learn about the gaps between the two, which can further be seen as a manifestation of their empathy.

The Four Conditions of Emoi

“Emoi” and emotional consumption shows the high level of empathy and sensitivity of Generation Z in Japan, as well as their desire to connect with others based on similar emotional reactions. Now that we have introduced “emoi” and the characteristics of Japanese Gen Z that underlie it, how is the “emoi” response created? Let’s take a look at the four conditions.


1. Experience

The ability to recall or imagine a similar experience when interacting with a product or service is very effective in creating empathy for an “emoi” reaction. If the conversation ends with a “that’s nice” or worse “can’t relate,” the probability of the appeal to emotion leading to a purchase is slim to none. When targeting Gen Z, invite them to empathize with you, and reciprocate by understanding and empathizing with them. An easy product example would be perfumes and colognes. On its own, perfumes are a good scent, but that same perfume worn by family or lovers becomes an olfactory trip of nostalgia, evoking the same emotional response as though the person was right there. 

That feeling of nostalgia may also partially explain the recent boom of Fujifilm’s cameras, “Sharundesu,” among Japanese youths. Unlike the high-performance images from smartphones and digital cameras, the out-of-focus and blurred pictures Sharundesu was able to snap created an indescribable nostalgic “flavor” that can be perceived as “emoi.”

2. Positive Emotions

While Gen Z are looking to empathize, that doesn’t mean they’re looking to commiserate. In fact, in one survey regarding advertising expressions, Gen Z is not responsive to “expressions that make people feel insecure,” “expressions that promote complexes,” “expressions discriminatory to gender,” or “expressions against physical appearance.”4

“Emoi” is generally a positive vibe. However, there is no need to hit the bullseye on the target’s emotional experience. Put more simply, it is better to aim for about 60% level of empathy rather than the full 100%.5 A full 100% would only apply to a small niche of people with that exact experience and emotional response, alienating a larger subset that could probably relate on some level. Targeting with an energy that Gen Z knows is for them without over-specializing is the ultimate challenge of balancing.

3. Communication

As mentioned prior, “emoi” is not a solo experience for Gen Z. They have a desire to connect with others and share the same feelings. While one can be content alone, it is through communication and sharing with others that we feel our minds and connections expanding. A likely side effect is UGC (user-generated content) that creates free publicity for the business and evolves the experiential appreciation of a purchase to beyond the limits of the product/service itself. An easy example, there are book series that ended years ago still drumming up excitement and energy due to the active fan community or “fandom” that continues the conversation and creates their own content to be shared.

4. Personalization

While “emoi” heavily relies on group connection and relation, those bonds are ultimately in service to establishing and defining one’s self identity. To that end, personalization options within products and services can be used effectively to increase Gen Z’s attachment. Returning to the emotional experience, the ability to customize something can take its base 60% empathy level up past that with little interference on the business side. It can be an effective solution to creating that perfect balance between a strong sense of belonging and a strong sense of identity.

To give an example, In March 2020, Kuretake Kurarake, a long-established ink and brush pen manufacturer in Japan, launched the “empty pen,” which is a product brimming with “emoi”-ness. This product has no ink initially inserted, but rather users can assemble it and mix and add their favorite colored ink to create their own original colored pen. The customization of the ink to the most subtle of details, and the fact that many of the inks have unique names (e.g. “Burmese Amber,” “Rose Quartz,” “Winter General”) resonated well with Gen Z customers.6


Experiences, positive emotions, communication, and personalization are essential to creating feelings of “emoi”. The combined effect of these four factors creates an emotional experience that resonates with the emotional consumption tendencies of Generation Z.

Conclusion

There are a wide variety of ways to incorporate “emoi” into business practices. From advertising to marketing, product development to management, incorporating “emoi” can provide a user experience that is well-suited to Gen Z in Japan. Specifically for empathetic, emotional understanding, qualitative evaluation via UX research is the key to hearing the real voices of Gen Z and comprehending their experiences, purchase habits, and behaviors towards self-expression and community-building.

At Uism, we specialize in uncovering these insights through our comprehensive UX research services. Our experienced and diverse team, including the author of this article (a member of Gen Z herself), is dedicated to providing you with the tools and knowledge needed to effectively engage with the Japanese consumers. By leveraging our deep understanding of cultural nuances and consumer behaviors, we can help you reveal “emoi” experiences of Japan’s Gen Z and integrate these insights into your business strategy. Please feel free to contact us for any kind of consultation. We are here to support you!