Japan loves their tissues.
I know that probably sounds ridiculous. Before visiting Japan, I never would have thought that tissues could be a major life necessity. I mean, yes, tissues are good to have. I like to be clean and blow my nose. But if I run out of tissues, I don’t panic. I don’t feel like I need tissues with me at all times… Or well, I used to feel that way until I experienced tissue mania in Japan.
Just how much do Japanese people like tissues? Consider this numbers:
– Per capita consumption around 13 kg
In a Pulp and Paper International article published in 2002, Japan ranks as one of the highest per capita consumers worldwide of tissue at around 13 kg. Other top consumers are North America (22kg) and Europe (13kg). That’s right, the country of Japan consumes as much tissue as the entire continent of Europe! Neighboring China is quite low, around 2 kg.
– Market value around 3.2 million dollars
According to a recent report by Euromonitor International, the retail tissue market in Japan (read: facial tissues and toilet paper) grew in 2014 to 357.7 billion yen (or around 3.2 million dollars). To put that into perspective, a couple of years ago the NFL was valued at around 3.0 million dollars. You know, the league that organizes the Super Bowl.
Okay aside from the numbers, the love of Japanese people for tissues is everywhere in daily life. For example
1. Tissues are cheap!
First of all, tissues are plentiful and cheap. Actually Texan in Tokyo, an American blogger living in Japan, recently did a video on Cheap Things in Japan. Her Japanese husband mentions that he was shocked to arrive in Japan and find that tissues are so expensive! The video is entertaining. Check it out: 8 Surprisingly Cheap Things in Japan.
(Screenshot from the video.)
2. Tissues are used as advertising!
Small pocket containers of tissues are common marketing tools in Japan. Outside busy train stations, there are often people handing out free packets of tissues. Inside is usually a small slip of paper advertising a store or service or company. This is called “tissue-pack marketing” and is a guerrilla marketing strategy used in Japan. According to Wikipedia, the industry generates sales of around 7.5 billion yen annually.
3. You can dress up your tissues!
Stores in Japan offer tissue “accessories.” You can find all kinds of covers for tissue boxes, the rectangle type or the square type, and also carriers for pocket tissues. Recently I got a rubberized pocket tissue carrier as a free gift for buying my new Hobonichi Japanese day planner. On Rakuten (a Japanese online marketplace like Amazon), tissue box cases are listed under “daily necessities” with over 3,000 search results! The covers can be quite simple, like wooden covers or plastic covers.
(Here is a combination tissue case plus iPhone stand for around $30.)
(Not my picture. Available on: Rakuten.)
You can also find tissue box covers in the shape of cute animals or popular characters.
(Not my picture. Available on: Carousell.)
Pocket tissue covers also come in all kinds of different styles and colors and finishes. There are also tissue hangers that let you put tissue boxes in more convenient places. Like, you can strap a tissue box to the back of your car seat. Or even hang a tissue box directly on the wall!
(Or how about this nifty L-shaped tissue case?)
(Again, not my picture. Available on: Japan Trend Shop.)
I experienced all this tissue culture myself, when I first visited Kanazawa. I stayed with a host family for a month as an exchange student. The first night, we had fried food and after munching away on delicious fried chicken, my fingers were pretty oily. I looked around for a napkin, but there wasn’t one by my plate and there weren’t any on the table. My host mom offered me a box of tissues. At first I was confused and then I realized, “Oh, that tissue is the napkin.”
(Not only in homes, restaurants also have boxes of tissues instead of napkins. Here is a box at a ramen shop in Hokkaido.)
In my mind, tissues and napkins were completely separate categories of paper goods, although now that I think about it, tissues and napkins really aren’t that different. Both are squares of pressed paper pulp that we use to wipe stuff. Pretty much the same.
A couple of years after that I moved to Japan to live for a year and research at Kyoto University. It was my first time really living in Japan and setting up a home. The first day, my labmate took me shopping for home essentials. I was excited to go because my apartment was totally bare – no furniture, no appliances, not even any light fixtures.
(My pretty sad and very empty apartment before shopping…)
Towards the end of the day, we had bought pretty much everything I needed – bed, desk, chair, light fixtures, washing machine, refrigerator. We stopped by Daiso, the dollar store, to pick up any remaining small goods. We were driving back to my apartment, when my labmate suddenly looked panicked. “WAIT! Don’t you need tissues???”She looked upset about my lack of tissues and concerned about my ability to start living comfortably in my apartment.It was too late to stop anywhere else, but she promised to come back the next day and take me for tissues.
Honestly I had not even considered tissues. I was more focused on what I thought were the non-negotiable essentials – plates or something to eat off of, silverware, clothing hangers.
(Here is what I thought I definitely needed! Toilet paper but no tissues.)
After having lived in Japan for over a year and having made 7 trips to Japan, I have joined the tissue party. I love having tissues. Every room of my house has a box of tissues – the kitchen, my bedroom, the bathroom. There is a stock of 3 tissue boxes in the cupboard. I also keep tissues in my bag and another box in the car. Basically wherever I am at anytime there are tissues within arm’s reach.
SO just what are all those tissues used for? Here is my unofficial list of some of the amazing uses of tissues in Japan:
– blowing your nose
– making cat toys (by tying a bit of tissue to the end of a string)
– wiping your fingers
– drying your hands (lots of bathrooms don’t have paper towels)
– smushing bugs
– picking bits of fallen food off the floor
– as toilet paper (bathrooms in Japan sometimes don’t have toilet paper)
– wiping the table
– clothing protector (to keep your lap clean when eating)
– wiping a sweaty face
– cleaning the floor
– wiping the kitchen counter
– picking hairs up off the bathroom floor
– cleaning car mirrors
– company advertising
– drying a wet bike seat after rain
– ear plugs
– nose plugs (for bad smells, or if your nose is super runny)
– seat protector (for when little kids want to stand on the train seats)
– removing make-up
– dusting furniture
Okay that isn’t 101 uses… but hopefully it gives you an idea of just how ubiquitous tissues are in Japan. Just about anytime that I might use a cotton towel, a paper towel, or a napkin, I feel like my Japanese friends reach for a tissue!
What do you think about tissue culture in Japan? Are you also a fan of tissues? What other products are uniquely popular in certain cultures? Share your thoughts~
Where I got my numbers:
“Tissue” article by Pekka Niku on Pulp & Paper International. Read it here.
“Retail Tissue in Japan” by the Euromonitor International. Read that here.