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Business

From status symbols to simplicity: Monocle

Selling and shopping are two sides of the same coin, and millennials are putting a new spin on both. From conscientious shoppers in Tokyo to local-minded artisans in Hong Kong, this generation is writing its own definition of consumption for the 21st century. By Monocle correspondents.

TOKYO Millennials in Japan have got the country's carmakers worried. Known as the kuruma banare (demotorized) generation, many young Japanese these days have neither the means nor the motivation to own their own vehicle. The general feeling is that this so-called enlightened generation no longer desires the consumer products that so excited their predecessors. That means not only cars but also label-loaded designer clothing and accessories are largely out.

"Young people are pessimistic about the future," said Masahiro Hori, a senior research fellow at the Cabinet Office's Economic and Social Research Institute. "Those who went to university after the economic bubble burst have never experienced economic growth, so it's difficult to make these people believe that the cost of living can increase by 2-3% a year."

According to Hori, this lack of experience of inflation suppresses consumerism because young shoppers, not believing prices will go up, don't feel any particular urgency to spend. Some young people also fear that the pension system might have evaporated by the time they reach retirement, further curbing their appetite for shopping.

There is also an element of young Japanese choosing to turn away from modern status symbols.

Despite having access to a dizzying array of digital gadgets, for example, young people today are increasingly intrigued by the simplicity of the analog world. Sales of vinyl records shot up to 662,000 units last year, up from 248,000 in 2006. Along with this trend, turntables are making a comeback, too: Stylish Tokyo-based electronics brand Amadana released the Sibreco, a faintly retro wooden turntable with a built-in amplifier, speakers and, in a nod to the present, a USB port. The cost is a reasonable 16,200 yen ($155).

Fashion magazines and blogs, meanwhile, are filled with odes to old-school film cameras and even cassette tapes.

In lifestyle shops and magazines, meanwhile, food and travel are edging out luxury goods. The June edition of monthly design magazine Casa Brutus, for example, is a special issue devoted to vegetables. These days, rather than splash out on a designer handbag or a luxury holiday, young Japanese urbanites would rather have a shirt from a Tokyo brand like Hyke or Auralee and go on a "glamping" (comfortable camping) trip with friends.

Over in the upscale Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo, fashion retailer Baycrew's has opened Cityshop, a combination clothing store and deli selling fresh, seasonal food and vegetables. "Our creative director [Yuichi Yoshii] noticed that skateboarders on the West Coast weren't eating junk -- they really care about what they eat," said Haruyuki Tanimoto of Baycrew's. "He thought that idea would work well for both men and women here in Tokyo."

Judging by the young crowd that fills the deli every day at lunchtime, he wasn't wrong.

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