Young women are obsessed with taking the perfect photos and videos for the social media application Instagram and fulfillment through "likes." The economic effects of these young people, who have been called "bad consumers," who rush to photogenic restaurants and vacation spots hungry for social media attention, cannot be ignored -- but will the trend last?
Even as Tokyo heads into September and temperatures drop to around 20 degrees Celsius, a long line still stretches out before the entrance of the Tokyo Prince Hotel's night pool in Minato Ward. The location gained recognition as the most "instabae," or photogenic for Instagram, place of the summer.
Admission to the pool is 4,200 yen for women, 1,800 less than men but still comes at quite a price tag. Even then, roughly 20,000 visitors have come to the pool in the two months since the beginning of July. Even with the unstable weather conditions in August, tickets were sold out for days in a row.
Standing by the poolside, a perfect view of Tokyo Tower at night transports one to another world as colorful balls lit by LEDs float in the water. In photos, the reflections of the lights on the surface of the water add to the illusionary quality of the scene, but make no mistake: No one in this pool is swimming, instead keeping their smartphones tightly in their grip.
"It's just cool enough that I don't have to worry about my makeup being ruined by sweat. Just tonight I've taken 500 pictures, and I'm going to post only one after careful selection," said a 23-year-old woman who came all the way from Fukui Prefecture. She poses as she takes selfies while riding an inflatable unicorn. "Of course getting likes on Instagram makes me feel fulfilled. Even if someone were to try to pick someone up, no one would even react. Everyone is so focused on taking pictures -- this isn't the place for that kind of thing."
Two female Tokyo residents in their 20s often visit "Instagram holy site" Tokyo Disney Resort for the views of castles, parades and photo opportunities with popular characters. "We were so caught up taking pictures, we didn't even go on any rides," one remembered.
"Whenever I see a woman with a tired expression after smiling for a photo at a theme park, I always end up wondering if she's actually happy," says columnist Nameko Shinsan. "I heard there are also women who buy the newest fashions just to take photos, and then sell the clothes right after." The same can be said of uneaten "too cute" ice cream confections, recently filling trashcans uneaten. Perhaps after a photo is taken, it no longer has value.
"They only upload the most amazing parts of their life, chasing some superficial version of happiness, like they are in some war over who can post the best picture," continues Shinsan. "When you compare your life to that of someone else, you can't help but start to feel jealous and have other negative feelings as a side effect. Even then, people can become addicted to the feeling of receiving likes on social media, so they probably can't quit." Shinsan refers to this phenomenon of women seeking self-pleasure via their Instagram posts as "instabation."
"The desire to connect with and receive recognition from other people has always existed, but the fact that we can now quantify it is very interesting," says writer and blogger Ha-chu, who currently has 33,500 followers on Instagram. "Instagram is like the world of women's magazines. We get a glimpse of an idealized lifestyle and then want to go to the same places and wear the same clothes. There is comfort in a worldview that only allows for beautiful things."
"I like women who are trying to approach their lifestyle goals despite being called 'like collectors.' Am I too flashy thinking that I want to increase the number of likes on my own life? I would like to find happiness, and I would also like to appear happy to others. There's nothing wrong with Instagram being a medium for increasing my happiness," continues Ha-chu.
Of the women flocking to the Tokyo Prince Hotel night pool, she adds, "There are probably women who worked hard dieting in order to take good pictures, allowing them to make irreplaceable memories. The hotel and swimsuit businesses also benefited, so isn't it a win-win situation all around?"
Instagram has over 700 million users worldwide. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, this includes roughly half of Japanese in their 20s, and one in every three people in their teens and 30s. Many young people decide to buy products or embark on trips after seeing pictures on the service, and companies are taking advantage of this popularity for advertisements. One such company is Snapmart Inc., which promotes the business of customer companies by contracting users with a high number of followers as professional "Instagrammers" to upload product advertisements.
Many of these "Instagrammers" are housewives and female company employees. One is user "sherry_1113," with 30,000 followers, who not only advertises high-end accessories and watches fit for celebrities at the request of companies, but also takes photos of idols -- all as a side job.
"The ideal Instagrammer is not only beautiful and charismatic, but has to be someone who others want to imitate, someone who is a little ahead of the trends. The photos of a woman with 10,000 to 30,000 followers can easily influence purchases among viewers," says Snapmart president Miho Eto. But where is the future of Instagram heading?
"In this perfectly polished world, even those making the posts are overextending themselves, and this world is getting difficult to maintain," says Eto of Instagram trends.
"In America, it has already started to shift toward being bad taste to show off that you are living a fulfilling life through social media. Even celebrities are shying away from showing off an extravagant lifestyle," she points out. "Sooner or later, Japan is bound to go down that path as well."