The position of ethnography in business

There are many cases in which ethnography has been applied to business overseas, and it is well known that ethnography is incorporated in P&G and Lego blocks.


The trend to use ethnography in marketing in Japan is said to be brisk, but many believe that the environmental factors which are only unique to Japan limit the method from spreading extensively. 


In this article, we will explain why ethnography is difficult to establish in Japan.


Japan is more difficult to enter the field than overseas


One of the major differences between Japan and overseas when doing ethnography is the ease of entry into the field. A field means a place to observe the target consumers, and one of the most desirable places to enter in a business is the "home".


The ease of entry into "home" is quite different between Japan and abroad. For example, have you ever thought how many Japanese people say “Yes” when they were asked, "Please let me observe your home for a couple of hours"?


Moreover, if you do ethnography in the mainstream, the ethnographer will live with the person who is being surveyed.


In the case of foreign countries, the house is larger than in Japan, so it is possible to live in the house by giving the ethnographer a dedicated room. By being a member of a family like a homestay, you can become an ethnic member similar to an academic ethnographer. 


On the other hand, in the case of Japan, the house area is small and there are few homes where there are excess rooms, so it can be said that the hurdle for ethnographers to live with each home is quite high.


Therefore, business ethnography in Japan is likely to be in the form of “going to observation for the time being”, and even if ethnography is performed, because the context before and after cannot be traced, there are some problems where one will have an analytical point of view and the ultimate goal becomes vague.


Also, in Japan, even if you say "Please show me the usual life," it tends to be like "to treat the guests" as makeup is thicker than usual and there are more dishes on the table than usual. 


As a research that made it clear in particular, the book that is called Kazoku no katte desho : shashin nihyakunanajūyonmai de miru shokutaku no kigeki” released in 2012, is famous. In this book, they are investigating to follow the dishes at the dining table of the home.


The dining table, in the beginning, is very luxurious, but it does not continue, and it shows a very realistic dining table, such as the color of dishes becoming less colorful or the number of dishes decreasing


This survey shows that in Japan, the surveyed people try to show themselves better than usual. In addition, there are multiple problems that the survey period is short and the frequency of meeting with ethnographers is low, hence it is impossible to act as “usual”.


In the United States, there was a necessity to do ethnography


The United States is a multi-ethnic country, and it was inevitable to investigate different cultures. In order to create services and products for different people,  they have to understand them at first, so the need for ethnography has emerged.


Japan is also a multi-ethnic nation, but the Japanese people are confused with ethnic differences such as the Yamato and Ryukyu people.


Japan also used to have a similar lifestyle until the 1990s, so it would be nice to do a quantitative survey even if you don't go through a part of the survey and go into deep insights. The survey results were obtained.


Recently, the importance of ethnography is beginning to be recognized again in Japan. The reason is with the passage of time, there is a diversification of values and the background of like-minded groups with the same large-scale values no longer exist in society.


Today, there is a new era that there are innumerable media for various ages, genders, hobbies, and preferences, and everyone is looking at something different. So it is very important to know "groups defined by new values", and this type of people is named “Tribes”, defined by SEEDATA.


However, as mentioned above, first of all, there is a background of Japanese society where it is difficult to put others (ethnographers) at home as a premise, so when it comes to business, there are these following problems.


・ Personnel cost and survey period (background factors also affect the survey period)


・ There are few clear results by ethnography in Japan now and few companies invest in ethnography


・ Employee costs cannot be calculated, and ethnographers are not suitable


・ The company side does not know whether the result as expected can be obtained


For this reason, in Japan, it is thought that the utilization of ethnography is difficult to advance from previous approaches such as quantitative research.


At SEEDATA, we conduct our own ethnographic research. If you would like to incorporate our research into your business, please feel free to contact info@seedata.jp with the company name, name of the person who is in contact with the title "About the ethnographic research"