When “Ms Maeda” wants water, she doesn’t turn on the tap. She can’t afford that. She goes to the park with a bucket, filling it at the tap there. On weekends she takes her two kids, age 11 and 8. The younger boy thinks it’s rather fun. The older one, she admits, is rather embarrassed.
To the poor, says Spa! (Aug 28), every yen counts. Stagnant salaries, rising costs and rising taxes make it more and more of a challenge to make ends meet. The Maeda family income is actually marginally above the health ministry’s poverty line, but the husband, father and wage earner is a gambler whose 5 million yen debt burden makes the strictest economy necessary. They save a yen here, a yen there – as do many others these days, says Spa! The people the magazine speaks to are for the most part not bitter. On the contrary, they seem able to make a game of it. Every yen saved is an achievement, a point on the score card, a source of satisfaction.
The Maedas have no choice about water. Their taps are dry; they didn’t pay their water bill. Fortunately the park is only a two-minute walk away. Ms Maeda, 43, tries not to abuse the privilege. Bath water is changed only once a week. Nor is water the only resource that’s tight. To save lighting and air conditioner costs, the family all live in one room – appropriately called the living room.
“Mr Yoshida” is 33, single, a factory worker paid by the hour, his take-home pay roughly 140,000 yen a month. His health is not good. That didn’t start with his barely-getting-by lifestyle, but living on discount onigiri and bread approaching or past their sell-by dates probably doesn’t help. It’s a source of pride that he manages three meals a day. “Ms Takada,” 42, makes do with two – and doesn’t mind. She, too, is in poor health. She had to quit her job. “No problem!” she says cheerfully. Once you get used to it, living cheap is oddly satisfying: “I’d rather save a few yen than have a big meal. I don’t even feel I want meat or fish any more.” Two slices of bread twice a day is enough.
“Don’t you get tired of it?” asks Spa!
Not at all, she replies. “On one slice I spread mayonnaise, on the other peanut butter.”
“Ms Furusawa” is a 42-year-old single mother. Her daughter in Spa!’s photo looks about 11. By the standards prevailing here, they are comparatively well off. Furusawa owns her own home and so pays no rent. She receives 40,000 yen a month in child support payments from her estranged husband. All the same, it’s a tight squeeze. Air conditioning in a summer like this one is a virtual necessity – a costly one. What to do? Let someone else pay for it. Two options presented themselves, and mother and daughter avail themselves of both. One is to spend hours a day at the local public library. The other is to spend hours a day at the local shopping mall.
At the mall is a blood donor clinic. Donors can partake of all the snacks they can eat and all the juice, tea or coffee they can drink. Once every two weeks – the maximum permitted – she does just that.
At the library they charge their smartphones. “All we do at home is sleep,” says mom, to all appearances aspiring to nothing more.
Be careful, Spa! warns readers tempted to follow the Furusawas’ example. Stealing electricity is a criminal offense.© Japan Today