The 1% in Japan

   With all the talk in recent years about rising economic inequality in the U.S., I was curious to learn more about what the situation was like in Japan. In researching the issue, I came across an interesting site called heikin shūnyū ("average income", sorry Japanese only) which answers a lot of the questions people have about income and wealth in Japan. I will be translating some of my findings here, so check in on this post from time to time. 


  Ten million yen a year

   The first thing that caught my eye was the following:


   Take-home pay for someone earning ¥10,000,000 a year (or $84,873 at today's lousy exchange rate) amounts to about ¥7~8,000,000 ($59,000~68,000). Incidentally, only 3-4% earns over ten million yen a year. 3-4% of what is not clarified. I assume it is 3-4% of those who are working and earning an income.

   According to another great site, Trading Economics, the labor force participation rate is 59.9%, giving Japan a workforce of 63,660,000 people. So, if I have calculated correctly, about two million people in Japan earn over 10 million yen a year. That would put them squarely in the top 5%, something I find hard to believe as an income of ¥10,000,000 isn't what I'd call "rich". (See below for the actual stats.)


   Bragging Rights

   How much money would you have to earn for you to feel like you're really raking it in? Minna no Koe ("Everyone's Voice") an online opinion survey run, I believe, by DoCoMo, asked this very question. More than 32,000 people took part in the survey and the results are as follows: 

1. Over ¥10 million 48.8%

2. Over ¥8 million 19.3%

3. Over ¥5 million 12.0%

4. Over ¥20 million 6.3%

5. Over ¥100 million 3.9%

   Interestingly, if you look at the answers of those still in their teens, "over ¥5 million a year" drops from third place to sixth and ¥20 million rises to third place. The second most common answer for those in their twenties, however, is "over ¥5 million a year", reflecting perhaps the harsh reality of working life in Japan today.


   Who's Making What

   In 2010, 45,520,000 people in Japan received a "salary", the largest portion, or 18.1% (8.23 million people), earning between ¥3,000,000 ~ ¥3,999,999 a year. The next largest group, or 17.6% or wage-earners (about 8 million people) earned between ¥2,000,000 ~ ¥2,999,999.

   Among men, the largest wage group (19.5% of the total) earned between ¥4,000,000 ~ ¥4,999,999. 26.8% of women earned more than ¥1 million and less than ¥2 million.

¥4,000,000 ~ ¥4,999,999 14.3%

¥5,000,000 ~ ¥5,999,999 9.4%

¥7,000,000 ~ ¥7,999,999 3.9%

¥10,000,000 ~ ¥14,999,999 2.8%

¥15,000,000 ~ ¥19,999,999 0.6%

¥2,500,000 ~   0.2%

   Those earning over ¥10,000,000 account for less than 5% of all wage earners, or about 2.27 million people.


   "Kakusa Shakai"

   Kakusa Shakai (格差社会, "gap-widening society") is a term you're sure to hear on TV when the discussion is about the economic in Japan. Like America, Japan has seen growing income inequality over the past few decades, though it hasn't been as conspicuous. Rather than go into the reasons for the rise in inequality, I would like to note that as of 2010, there were some 800,000 people who could be counted among the "well-to-do", namely, those earning over ¥20 million a year. By comparison, there were more than 20 million Japanese living in poverty.

   In my next update, I'll try to look more closely into the stats of poverty in Japan. 





Nippon Ichi

   In America, when the local team wins, the town is set on fire. In Japan, however, fans burn through money at victory sales.

   Fukuoka prefecture calculated that a Japan Series win by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks would lead to an economic windfall to the tune of ¥40,400,000,000 ($345,300,000). When the Hawks beat the Chūnichi Dragons in 2011, the economic effect of the win was ¥38,800,000,000.

   Revenue at department stores and other shops alone was expected to increase by ¥25,800,000,000 ($220,000,000) thanks to victory sales held throughout the prefecture.

   The GDP of Fukuoka prefecture is about $170 billion.


A monkey on the back, a gorilla on the hood

   It was around the time of the earthquake and both Jean and I were at our very lowest. I was still depressed about the break up with Nacky, my cousin was living with me again, driving me up the wall, and money was tighter than ever.

   Jean had closed all his shops but one, The Zoo, the one down the street from mine, and was struggling to keep that. I knew money had to be tight with him, too, because every now and then he would ask me to “invest money” in his company. I couldn’t help feeling that too many banks had already invested too much in his business and that model of an ever-growing business—grow or die, he liked to say—was coming back to haunt him. His business was dying.

   Shortly before the earthquake, Jean had to give up his übercool apartment in the tony neighborhood of Hirao. That must have hurt. He had always made such a big deal about how he had been living for years “like a monk” in a very simple apartment with very few things cluttering up his life. But then, when business was going exceptionally well, Jean’s real estate agent told him that he needed to be living like a shachō, like the company president he was. He bought the Mercedes, got the apartment with the rent double my own apartment’s, and when I commented once about the running cost of keeping a car, the cost of say parking in it in town every day, he said, “Rémy, I never ask how much something costs. No, I ask myself, how can I afford it.”

   I don’t know if he lifted that from a movie or a self-help book, but it sounded awfully cool to me. That was Jean, though, he could sum things up in one sentence, create a maxim you couldn’t easily disagree with. After that, I remember trying the same philosophy, but every time I asked myself, “How can I afford it?” It always sounded panicked, as if I were saying, “How in God’s name can I ever afford this?”

   Jean was now asking himself the same thing and the answer was: he couldn’t.

   He kept the car, but gave up the apartment. He closed most of his shops and even let go of his office building in Yakuin, moving into a more modest apartment in Imaizumi out of which he was now working. When I visited him, shortly after the move, the place was a disaster area. Products lay in disarray, furniture—his wonderful mid-century modern furniture—remained in boxes, a futon was thrown on one of the floors.

   It wasn’t long thereafter that Nori left him. When I asked why, he told me that she had said it just wasn’t fun being around him anymore. “I tried to talk to the bitch about my problems, and they aren’t little, and she got tired of hearing it. Can you believe that? Excuse me for trying to confide in you! Forgive me for caring so much about you that I thought you’d be interested!”

   He acted as though losing Nori was like water off a ducks back. It didn’t bother him, or so he claimed. He was, after all, now screwing a skinny 18-year-old American girl with huge tits.

   “Hey, I’m going to getting together with Shinji later this week. Interested?”

   I told him I wasn’t. I was pretty much off drugs by then, even the modafinl that had kept me going for years after quitting shabu was history.

   I think it hurt losing Nori. The two of them had been together for almost five years and had had some very good times together.

   Several months later, he would tell me that Nori and he had got back together and were going to get married.

   “That’s great news!” I said.

   It didn’t last, of course. The two of them were together for only a few months and then Nori split to never be heard from again.

   And, so I started putting distance between myself and Jean, too. Where we once met two, three, even four times a week, we were now meeting only once in a blue moon. And every time we did I saw a man who was slowing falling apart. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was the stress of trying to do business in a struggling economy.

   I met him one time and seeing that his hand was swollen and purple asked what had happened.

   Oh this, he said, laughing. Then he told me how he was coming back from Itoshima where he had spent the day at the beach with a Russian chick. Some jerk behind him was on his tail the whole way back, riding his tail the whole way back. Jean let him pass, but when he did, the guy then slowed down to a crawl. When the two cars came to a red light, Jean jumped out of his car and ran to the driver’s seat, opened the door and started whaling away on the asshole’s face.

   “You should have seen the look on his girlfriend’s face,” Jean said laughing. “Tell you one thing, that is the last time the bastards pulls something like that.”

   At about the same time Jean told me another story.

   He had been riding his bike in town and had stopped at an intersection, waiting to cross the street when a car, one of those sedans with the dark windows that the yakuza like to cruise around in, pulled up behind him and started honking its horn. Traffic was heavy, so there was nothing he could do but wait until it cleared up before he crossed the street but the bastard in the car behind him kept honking its horn.

   “When I didn’t get out of the way, the car moved forward to nudge my bicycle, can you believe that? And get this, when it did so a second time, the car’s bumper rode the rear wheel of my bike and got stuck there. Well, I lost it then. I got of my bike, and it was still standing. Still standing! I started yelling at them, ‘Get the hell out of the car!’ But they wouldn’t get out. There were four of them, yakuza punks, and they wouldn’t get out of the car and that pissed me off even more, so I banged my hand down hard on the hood, and yelled, at them, ‘Get the fuck out of the car!’ But they still wouldn’t get out, so I kicked the headlight. Still they wouldn’t get out. Four tough yakuza pricks and they’re afraid of me, can you believe it? Well, I lost it, and I must confess, I was pretty high at the time and hadn’t been sleeping for a few days. So, finally, I yanked my bicycle free and tossed it onto the hood of their car. And when I was doing that, the road cleared up and they drove off. Pussies! They ran away.”

   I’d probably run away, too, if a gorilla like Jean were attacking my car.

   And that’s kind of the way it was for a while with Jean. Getting into fights with Nori and breaking up with her for good, bashing in the heads of strangers for riding his tail, smashing up a car that had bumped into him, chewing his staff out and firing them. 




© Aonghas Crowe, 2010-2015. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The complete version of No. 6 is now available for a variety of devices at Amazon's Kindle store.


On DJs

Found this in my notes for Rokuban, the rewrite of which I've been laboring over for the past year. Almost done, thank God. Time to move on to other works.*


Dé Dale would still call me up every now and again to tell me that there was a good party going on here, or that a famous DJ was performing there, but my heart wasn’t into it anymore. I had spent years with him going to the clubs and to what end? I hardly ever met women I was interested in, and I couldn’t for the life of me get what it was the DJs were doing?

“They’re just spinnin’ vinyl right?”

“It’s more than that,” dé Dale would try to explain. “They read the crowd; they control the mood.”

“Yeah, but in the end all they’re doing is putting LPs on a turntable, right? It’s not as if they’re making the music themselves? They’re just nerdy guys with massive record collections.”

“Some of them are musicians, too,” he replied.

“So what you’re telling me is that most of these guys are not musicians. They’re just guys playing other musician’s records. I don’t get it. Look, I’m feeling tired. I’m going home.”

“Oh, don’t be such an old man.”

“I am an old man and I’m outta here.”

“Let’s go out for drinks later in the week.”

“Fine, see you then.”



*The present version of Rokuban will no longer be available at the end of this year. A new version, the eighth draft, will be available for download in the new year. Selected chapters will be posted at that time.


Up the wall

   If I read another sentence using the word "crafted” to describe cupcakes or careers or wedding vows or anything that is not made by the skilled hands of a craftsman, I swear I am going to "craft" an "artisan" club and brain the writer. And, yes, it "actually" will be “literally” "stunning" and "awesome", and the hack will be “epically owned”, and everybody will "be like", “Dude, he 'nailed it'!"

   People, English is a beautiful language with one of the world's largest vocabularies--over 250,000 distinct words by some estimates--and yet many writers and speakers of the language today have an atrocious habit of describing the world around them with the most trite, banal, and clichéd words and phrases. 

   Stop it.





  In my writing class a student wrote that she had been cooking a lot recently and tried to make kara'agé. The sentence looked something like this:


            Recently I challenged KARAAGE.


  I asked her if she knew how to say kara’agé in English. She thought about if for a while, thought about it some more, gave it some more thought, then shrugged.

  “How do you make kara'agé?”

  “Meat . . . fry . . .”

  “You fry the meat?”


  “What kind of meat?”




  “What kind of bird? Suzume(sparrow)?”

  “No, not suzume! Tori. Bird!”

  “You know the restaurant KFC?”


  “What does KFC stand for?”

  “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

  “So . . .?”

  “Fried chicken!”

  “Yes! So, you had better write: ‘I tried—not challenged—I tried to make fried chicken.’”

  As she was writing this down, I asked her what the difference between fried chicken and kara’agé was.

  “Bones,” she answered.

  “You mean, fried chicken has bones and kara’agé doesn't?”


  “Well, actually, fried chicken and kara’agé are pretty much the same thing. Sometimes fried chicken has bones, sometimes it doesn’t. What I mean to say is the presence of bones is not a determining factor in fried chicken.”


  Moving on, I asked the girl if she knew what the kara (唐) of kara'agé meant.

  She replied with a guess: “Karatto (からっと)?”

  “No, no, no.”

  Karatto means “nice and crisp” or “dry”. Several of the students told me that they had thought the same thing. 

  I then asked one of the students from Kagoshima how to say sweet potato in her local dialect. She thought about it for a moment and answered:


  “No, no, no. ‘Satsumaimo’ (lit. “Satsuma (the former name for Kagoshima) potato”) is standard Japanese. Don’t you have another word for satsumaimo?”

  She gave this some thought and then said, “No.

  “How about kara imo?”

  Her eyes lit up, and, nodding her head, she said, “That’s right, we do say kara imo?”

  “So what does kara mean? It’s written with the same kanji.”

  Another student had the answer: China.

  “Yep,” I said. “Kara means China. Satsumaimo are called kara imo in Kagoshima because they—the potatoes, that is, not the people—originally came form China.” 

  Kara (唐) actually refers to the Táng cháo (唐朝), or Tang Dynasty (618-907). “So . . . kara’agé means ‘Chinese-style fried chicken’.”

  “Why does he know this?” someone in the back muttered.

  “Why don’t you?” I asked back.