Does Marie Kondo spark joy in Japan?


I can’t be living in Japan and not write about Marie Kondo. I even started a free Netflix trial to see what she is all about. Ok you got me, that was not the only reason ;-). For those who haven’t heard about her yet: she is the new tidying guru, very small in size, but big in entrepreneurship.

Kondo is the author of the bestseller ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidy Up’  and since the new year she has a series on Netflix. For what my opinion is worth: I’ve seen only one episode of ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ and the format seems a little old to me: declutter people’s homes and minds along the way, it’s not the first time we see this. I couldn’t help but finding her a caricature when she exclaimed: ‘I love mess’ or when she needed a moment to greet the house or thank the clothes that were about to be thrown away. This exaggeration is no coincidence and is no doubt key to her (American) success. Let’s not forget she specifically chose to reorganise American homes in an English spoken show. This of course evokes a bigger contrast with the Japanese lifestyle, concepts and values she (supposedly) stands for.

How Japanese is all of this? Trust me, no Japanese I know greets houses. It is yet another gesture – in addition to that apparently useless interpreter accompanying her – that emphasises the contrast between the Japanese way of life/thinking and Western society. Japan is associated with health, tradition, respect, spirituality and empathy. On her website her method is not described as decluttering, but as ‘cultivating empathy for the things that surround us’. These associations are very appealing to the West, because it is everything it fails at or thinks to be failing at. So the concepts and products of the East sell well, think of Zen, eastern cuisine with e.g. the boom of the ramen shops, the concept of ‘ikigai’ (‘a reason for being’, in other words our life values), just to name a few. No surprise Marie Kondo strikes when the iron is hot, with a patent on her method, a network of ‘KonMari’-consultants and the launch of a way overpriced organising box set on her U.S. online store. I already told you she is a smart business woman.

ikigai marie kondo
Remember this graphic? It is mostly accompanied by the question ‘What is your ikigai’?


What do the Japanese themselves think about this brand new ‘American sweetheart’? I’m not saying the book wasn’t popular here. When I asked my friend about Marie Kondo, she answered ‘Marie who?’. The name didn’t immediately ring a bell, but after some explanation of my part, it turned out she had heard of the book. There’s little coverage in the Japanese media on the Netflix show and online comments on Marie Kondo are minimal compared to other parts in the world. Most Japanese don’t seem to be caught up in the hype. After all, it’s no surprise that ‘Japaneseness’, or doing it ‘the Japanese way’ is not a unique selling point in Japan.

So, what about you? Has your home already been KonMarie’ed? And does it spark joy now? Should I read her book and give her a second chance?



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