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Japan often flexes its muscles as a tech-savvy nation with break-dancing robots and toilet/computer seats being the forefront of its technological advancements. It turns out, Japan in the 90s isn’t much different from today.

Japanese culture is rich with shrines and temples, complementing its unique history, but it doesn’t stop there. If you happened to land yourself an office gig in Japan, it might feel like a day out in history. Many offices haven’t changed from Japan in the 90s. Fax machines, old-school computers, and even software products like Windows 95 are still being used. 

Spending the day strolling along Akihabara highstreets will give you a delightful dash of nostalgia. Businesses that you thought were dead and buried are still going in Japan, like DVD rentals and music stores. 90s retro video games also kept gaming classics alive, reminding us of our childhoods glued to a screen.

It’s fun to see old trends still around, as simpler times come to mind,  but it still raises the question: Is Japan stuck in the 90s?

Here’s a list of 90s Japanese trends that never died.

Japan’s 90s Music Scene: CD’s & Cassette Tapes

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Japan boasts the second largest music market globally, so how have CDs and cassette tapes managed to make it? It seems Japan hasn’t caught up with streaming services like the rest of the world.

Cassette tapes were bricks and mortar of the music industry. Every man, woman, and child of the 90s rocked along to Bon Jovi’s Blades of Glory. The glory disappeared when CDs entered the scene as the decade hosted the shift. The rest of the world saw cassette tapes turn into a dust magnet, chilling in your big brother’s room. In the 00s and 2010s, Japan pulled off a miracle by keeping both outlets alive, with Youtube and Spotify’s birth.
Digital music sales are rising in Japan but still overshadowed by physical audio(CDs) as Japan saw a 2.6% rise from 2018-19 in product sales.

Tower Records in Shibuya is a great example of 90s Japan. In the Uk, past CD stores like HMV or Virgin Megastores were swallowed up by the digital age. The Japanese music scene hung on, allowing cassette tapes and CDs to sell, keeping Japan’s chunk of the 90s culture alive.

90s Japan: A Retro Heaven

Japan in the 90s was a golden era for gamers. The decade saw classic intros like the PS1, Nintendo 64, and the Gameboy color. Japan kept old-school consoles in demand, as gamers still enjoy their favorite 90s consoles, including the Sega Mega Drive and Nintendo Gameboy, both being a late 80s release.

Strolling by Akihabara’s retro gaming spots, don’t be surprised to see Japanese salarymen, spending their lunch breaks in one of Tokyo’s retro arcades, beating the latest Pac-Man score. Many adults game in japan, perhaps feeding the demand to keep classics alive.

Super Mario/Nintendo 64 Commercial - 90s Japan Style

DVD Rentals: 90s Japan Tradition

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Streaming outlets like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have caused DVD rental chains like Blockbuster to dry up. In the last 13 years, DVD sales have dropped 86% in the US as streaming services became a leading player. With Japan’s intro to Netflix in 2015, DVD rental chains should have followed suit, but consumers kept up a demand. Japanese rental chains like GEO and Tsutaya have adapted to the streaming age, but physical sales are still the bread and butter of Japan’s film industry.

Websites & Computers

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When scrolling on a Japanese website, you probably notice a difference? Company websites often use old browsers. This points towards the greying population in Japan. Senior members of Japan’s workforce are less reluctant to adapt to current systems. Web designers work with products like PCs and Internet Explorer to cater to elderly users as they make up much of the market demand.

Japan already has a computer aging problem. Many companies are stuck in the 90s by still using Windows 95. As companies worldwide have adjusted to working remotely, this process could be a nightmare for Japanese businesses with outdated systems. Perhaps the transition will be a wake-up call for companies to move with the times and adapt to modern products.

Fax Machines

Fax machines are not only a survivor for 90s Japan but a trend that’s alive and kicking. Both businesses and households still use fax machines. A government survey showed one in three homes in Japan always keeps a fax machine. 

Why are fax machines still used in Japan?

Again, this points towards Japan’s greying population. Older generations make up much of Japan’s workforce and still operate like Japan in the 90s. Companies are very particular when conducting business, to the point where face-to-face is most common for meetings(before COVID). Japan’s business traditions go beyond basic software and often send faxes written by hand. Younger generations may move on from Japan in the 90s, but fax machines are still vital for conducting business in Japan.

Japanese Newspapers

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Newspapers are one of those rarities you see on a coffee table in a doctor’s waiting room as you continue your endless scroll on Instagram. Simultaneously, the sight of a friend reading the daily telegraph will cause a double-take. Newspapers stayed going well into the 00s but eventually followed the digital trend, going online. Japan stayed loyal to the printed word. The top two newspapers on the planet, in terms of sales, are Yomiuri Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun, both Japanese publications. Japan’s aging population keeps newspapers going as 70% of readers are over 50. Only time will tell if younger generations will keep a place on their coffee tables for The Japan Times.

90s Japan: Alive & Well

Photo Credit: Tim Franklin Photography

It’s beautiful to see a tech-savvy country like Japan keeping the 90s alive while reminding us of our simple childhood, hunched over with a Gameboy or the cozy yet annoying sound of the fax machine going crazy. With younger generations in Japan coming up, we can expect some 90s trends to fade.
As it’s essential to adapt to modern ways, having unique traditions gives a country its identity, especially in a world where trends come and go like the wind.