UK–Japan: Closer Than You Think?

Shimaguni konjo (island nation mentality) is a term I have often heard applied to the seeming similarities between Japan and the UK.

When I first arrived here almost 10 years ago, the comparisons that expats made between the two countries threw up some interesting suggestions about Japan.

Some called it the “Italy of the east” (because of a focus on aesthetics), “Asia’s Germany” (technical and precise) or referred to it as being “just like Sweden” (minimalist).

However, the most common suggestion was that the two island nations have more in common than most countries. If you Google “Japan–UK similarities”, you will get nearly 5mn hits. Although I only read the first 12 results, I found that they all pointed out the obvious connections. They all mentioned island nations on the edge of mighty continents that have overcome physical distance to play perhaps over-extended roles in terms of history, technological development and cultural influence.

My interest in the comparison was sparked anew when I noticed that our global McCann Truth Central research programme seems to suggest that more recently, in the digital, interconnected world, the two countries may indeed have more in common than they do with other nations.

In the past two years, McCann Erickson Japan has undertaken six detailed global studies on subjects ranging from what motivates youth, mums’ social media behaviour, and women’s attitudes to beauty, to the changing nature of privacy in the digital world and, recently, what wellness means and how the concept is evolving.

Each study included surveys of more than 1,000 people in each of several states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, the US, Turkey, Hong Kong, Chile and, of course, Japan and the UK.

Taken together, the studies reveal a great deal about similarities among mindsets around the world.

A perusal of the studies reveals an uncanny correspondence in the findings for Japan and the UK, especially in the areas of digital behaviour, lifestyle issues and motivation. For example, when the pollees were asked: “Do you imagine that wellness will become more or less important in the future?”, we were not surprised to find that, globally, 75% of respondents said they believed it would become more important. Almost 25% indicated they believed it would maintain its current level of importance, while around 5% stated its importance would decline.

The UK and Japan, interestingly, are the only two countries where over one-third of the respondents said they saw the issue of wellness remaining the same.

Much more so than others—and perhaps for different reasons—the Japanese respondents said that their degree of wellness was already satisfactory, while a good few Brits doubted that people would do much to improve their own wellness.

When asked what they see as the essential elements of wellness, the first choice of 20% of the UK and Japanese respondents was “sleep”. The ratio for other countries was below 14%. Tired nations, perhaps?

In addition, we asked mums about their digital habits and found that the British and Japanese mothers who responded were far less likely to write a blog (50%, compared with a 7% global average). Typical of the comments made is, “Why would anyone be interested in me?”

When asked if they agreed with the statement: “I want as many people commenting about me as possible”, globally, almost 25% of respondents gave a positive reply. The ratio was close to 50% in India, while the UK and Japan had very similar scores of around 10%—the lowest ratio. They are also the only two nations in which respondents indicated they believe it is not important to build an online image of oneself.

Similarly, we asked pollees whether they “like to be the centre of attention”. Globally, almost a third of the respondents agreed with the statement, but of those in the UK and Japan, less than 20% did so.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that, when asked if they liked sharing their thoughts and opinions with online friends, the lowest ratio of positive responses came from these two countries.

Despite Britain being the home of Pop Idol and numerous other reality shows, the poll indicates that Britons and Japanese are the least likely to want to be on a reality show (10%, versus 17% for the US and 43% for India).

And so the data continues, with its many revelations. Make an appointment with me if you would like to hear more. And, of course, as with any set of statistics, the numbers can be interpreted in many ways.

However, it is interesting to speculate whether these two island nations indeed do have a shared mentality.

Although the citizens of both countries are knowledgeable, active participants in global issues, and are heavy users of digital media, the Britons and Japanese appear inclined to be observers rather than players.

In general, they are prone to want to know what others think, rather than broadcast their own thoughts. While these peoples come from great nations, it does seem to hold true that they both display a certain island-nation inwardness.