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Businessmen walk through an office complex in Tokyo. (YURIKO NAKAO/REUTERS)
Businessmen walk through an office complex in Tokyo. (YURIKO NAKAO/REUTERS)

Japan’s ‘salarymen’ out of pocket Add to ...

Japan’s “salarymen” have suffered a sharp cut in personal disposable income over recent years, says a survey by Shinsei Bank.

The bank’s report underlines Japan’s economic decline over the past three decades.

Salarymen, envied for their stable job and benefits in the 1960s and 1970s, have seen their pocket money fall to ¥39,756 ($500) a month this year, nearly half the peak of ¥77,725 in 1990.

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The pocket money is traditionally handed to the salaryman in an envelope by his wife after his monthly wages have been paid into the family’s bank account which she controls.

The salaryman’s average monthly wage has also fallen over the past 14 years but not by as much as his personal spending money.

Average monthly wages in Japan have fallen 15 per cent since peaking at ¥348,750 ($4,385) in 1998, to ¥295,583 in 2010, according to the Shinsei study which used figures from the national tax agency.

“Japan started losing global competitiveness in the early 1990s and employment as well as incomes, have shifted outside Japan,” says Masaaki Kanno, an economist at JPMorgan in Tokyo. “It’s a structural and persistent decline.”

“But it seems that father’s pocket money has fallen even as a percentage of his total income,” and it is only due to Japan’s mild deflation over the years that people have not had to lower their living standards too much, says Mr. Kanno.

During the same period, the Nikkei average has also fallen back to levels more commonly seen before 1984, at under 10,000, or nearly a quarter of its all time peak of 38,916 in 1989.

To cope with their dwindling fortunes, salarymen have adjusted their lifestyle in a variety of ways.

“Twenty years ago I used to play golf, pachinko (a kind of pinball) and mahjong and I smoked and went to the horse races. I love sake and went out drinking” says 60-year-old Hidekazu Ohtake who works in the construction industry.

Mr. Ohtake’s pocket money has fallen nearly 30 per cent from ¥97,000 a month in the 1990s to ¥70,000. He has given up his past hobbies, except for the occasional visit to the horse races, although illness has also played a part in his change of lifestyle. Nowadays, he mostly drinks at home.

But perhaps the biggest victim of the salaryman’s financial plight has been his lunch.

Many now seek out the “one-coin lunch,” which can be bought for a ¥500 coin, a 33-per-cent drop from the average ¥746 spent on lunch in 1992.

A growing number are resorting to bringing their lunch to work complete with a thermos, says Toru Emoto, a Shinsei manager who worked on the survey.

With Japan’s income tax set to rise next year and consumption tax scheduled to double in the next three years, the outlook for the salaryman’s wallet looks to be grim for some time yet.

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