Thursday, May 23, 2013

Will Miss #516 - less emphasis on money

One thing that I was aware of long before I left Japan was that the emphasis in America is largely on money. Your value as a person is determined by your ability to earn cash. Your value to the family is determined by what you bring to the bank account or what you take away. An acquaintance, whose family of origin is from a Middle Eastern culture, said that, there, family was most important, but in America, money is. Though that is not always true, I have seen plenty of families who value their material wealth more than their family relationships. While that can happen in many cultures, it happens more often here. It's not just about relationships though, people judge you by your job and how much they believe you are paid. Tell someone you are an engineer or a computer programmer and they respect you. Tell someone you are working in social services and they will not, even though you are working to help people in need. It's not about what you do. It's about how much you make.

Though Japan is also a consumerist culture, the core of the culture is not about earning potential. I miss the fact that there is less (don't read that as "no") emphasis on money in Japan than in the U.S.


  1. Interesting this, because as a Brit who's only ever been to America once on holiday, Japan seems to be all about the money.

    Weddings, births, deaths, leaving gifts. All involve little more thought on the part of the giver than sticking the requisite amount in the correct envelope. On my generous days this is actually fairly refreshing and mature, but if I'm in a less forgiving mood it comes across as crass and impersonal at times which more than any other shouldn't be. And that's before you even get into the custom of crime victims receiving 'compensation' from the perpetrators.

    Guess how you view that as 'more' or 'less' is all about where you're coming from, as ever.

    1. My post is more about overall emphasis on lifestyle rather than specific situations like gift-giving. As you say, there certainly are a lot of hands out and obligations to give cash, but in at least some of those situations, you'd be expected to give a gift in the U.S. (e.g., weddings).

  2. I'm not sure what it's like in the US but compared to Australia, I found there was much more emphasis in Japan on designer goods. I don't know many people who care about having designer label handbags or other shit here and those that do are considered wankers.

    1. There absolutely is more emphasis on designer goods in Japan. However, I was not talking about status-related goods, but about the role of money in a more generalized fashion as something which one sacrifices family or other priorities for. The Japanese are into brand names, but the money spent on them is not the primary reason why. It's because they associate it with status. It's the status they seek, not the indication of wealth.

    2. I agree that the admiration of the rich and famous only based on their wealth in the US is probably unique and of course, has run completely out of bounds. It might have to do with the lack of a "social net", i.e. if you're broke in the US, your health (and life) immediately is in danger.

      I am not sure though if Japan is much better. At least during the last couple of decades, the fact that Japanese fathers were basically never home during the week and sleeping or golfing with colleagues on weekends is a pretty big sacrifice. And at least in Tokyo, the main goal for many seems to be the acquisition of status symbols like Vuitton Bags, German cars, or expensive trips abroad. The well-off in Japan are more like nouveau riche who want to show off their wealth, while those in the US have a more postmodern attitude and have seen through the phoniness of luxury brands and conspicuous consumption in general.

      In Japan as well, the long working hours and dedication to the company don't
      leave much time for anything else, so the mother and child are basically on their own. At least for this demographic, family life has been sacrificed, and the divorce rates and lack of new babies might be an indicator that the Japanese prioritize money just as much.

    3. You are right about the long working hours and the fathers never being home. However, that doesn't translate into more money. It's connected to identity and company culture, but the person who puts in copious hours is often the person at the bottom of the pay scale, not the top. My experience has shown that the more money you make, the less likely you are to work like a dog.

      I would beg to differ about the main goal being status goods, particularly among people in the modern age. I think that is largely a remnant of the boom period and I tended to see much more of that among women who grew up as teens during that era. Young women these days tend to do a lot less of that. In fact, most under 35 aren't really into that and being too conspicuous with wealth is seen as incredibly tacky and in poor taste. I think that may be why they tend to concentrate on very expensive single purchases rather than an array of high profile items.

      It's interesting that you talk about those who are well-off in Japan because I consider them a very small minority relative to that in the U.S. Because there is less income disparity, there are few really wealthy people at all, and high status people (like Princess Masako or various company presidents) are less likely to flaunt the trappings of wealth. You don't find so many people who are in the Trump lifestyle in Japan even among those who have the scratch to be there.

      Americans do see through the phoniness of "luxury" brands, but they still practice conspicuous and copious consumption. Instead of Coach bags and platinum wedding bands, they have Cooper minis, iPads, and Bluetooth headsets. What they once accomplished with brands, they now accomplish with volume.

      I don't think the dedication to company has anything to do with money, as I said before. It really doesn't translate into more money or more rapidly rising through the company. It translates mainly into job security for those who play ball, and, even then, not for all of them.

      Thanks for your interesting comment.

  3. Good point about the long working hours being mostly about loyalty to one's work place. But I am still not sure if the final motivation for the Japanese to land a job at a well-known company in Tokyo isn't actually money, after all.
    Do you mean that, while in the US, being wealthy is admired almost in disregard as to the means how that wealth is acquired, which leads to the adulation of extremes such as "the gangster lifestyle", in hierarchical Japan it is still also important what position you hold at what company, and money isn't that openly worshipped?
    I have the feeling that this is just another example of tatemae, where it is culturally not accepted to brag, but only because it is universally understood that behind the scenes, it is of course all about the figures in the bank. American directness vs. Japanese opaqueness. I'm from Europe which is completely different from both the US and Japan, but if I had to choose, I would always choose directness and transparency, as in the end honesty, however crass it might be, is very important to me as a cultural trait (one of the major reasons I am looking forward to leave Japan forever).
    Also, young women being addicted to luxury goods can be observed in the hundreds in Ginza every day. Twenty-somethings decked out in Louis Vuitton, Coach, what have you, as if the bubble never burst.


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