For Japan's young urban adults, there's little reason to own a car

In Japan, there “a loss of interest in cars”, particularly among younger urban adults. Some feel that public transport will serve them perfectly well, others make an environmental argument, still more refuse to fall for the narrative of freedom o
In Japan, there “a loss of interest in cars”, particularly among younger urban adults. Some feel that public transport will serve them perfectly well, others make an environmental argument, still more refuse to fall for the narrative of freedom on the open road. PHOTO: REUTERS

For those who suspect that the prolonged trauma of the deflation generation has been overstated, and that its caution with money will soon be vaporised by Abenomics, the answer is kuruma banare.

The phenomenon - seen as "a loss of interest in cars" - has prompted Japan's car industry to produce designs specifically aimed at the young.

Kuruma banare is particularly felt among younger urban adults who see little reason to buy cars. Some have decided that public transport will serve them perfectly well, others make an environmental argument, still more refuse to fall for the narrative of freedom on the open road so successfully pitched to their parents.

Many 20-year-olds, according to the survey published this month by car insurer Sony Sompo, link the phenomenon with their deeper, deflation-driven feelings of financial insecurity. Some 77.6 per cent of urban Japanese 20-year-olds agreed with the statement: I do not have the cash to buy a car.

The results are a blow for Abenomics. The percentage of 20-year-olds saying they do not have the money for a car has been rising since 2014, the second full year with Mr Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister.

Analysis of the answers by Sony Sompo suggests that even when people can technically afford a small car with their savings, the prospect of ongoing costs, such as road tax, tolls, fuel and maintenance, presents them with the financial commitments that Japan's two decades of stagnation has taught them to fear.

Academics who have assessed the impact of deflation on Japanese society say answers to the survey reflect a form of rationalisation: People say they are uninterested in cars to disguise their discomfort at being unable to buy one. In the survey, fewer than half of city-dwelling 20-year-olds agreed with the statement, "Friends of mine who have cars are cool".

FINANCIAL TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'For Japan's young urban adults, there's little reason to own a car'. Print Edition | Subscribe