In a July 5 installment of the popular "Shabekuri 007" program broadcast Mondays on the Japan TV network, show hosts and audience alike gasped in astonishment when Mitsuyo Ota remarked she paid her entertainer husband Hikari a "kozukai" (monthly allowance) of 50,000 yen. This figure, only slightly higher than that of the average wage earner, appeared unusually parsimonious for a man at the peak of his showbiz career.
In Japan, salarymen's monthly "kozukai" and discretionary spending patterns function as a useful economic barometer, and Shukan Post (July 23) has picked the brains of sociologist Masahiro Yamada, who tied up with a market research firm to conduct international comparisons in five countries.
Based on data from wage earners living in major cities in the U.S., UK, Italy and China, the Japanese came out rather poorly.
"Japanese males came out second to Americans in terms of hours worked, but in contrast to about 80,000 yen per month for Americans, Japanese only averaged half that, about 40,000 yen," says Yamada. "Considering the consumer price differentials, Japanese are even lower than Chinese males in the major cities."
The survey also determined that the percentage of the husband's annual income devoted to discretionary spending was 12% in the U.S.; 19% in the UK; 14% in Italy; and 35% in China.
"In Japan, the figure was only 8%," Yamada notes, adding that the practice of men handing over their entire pay packet to their wives is not widespread outside Japan.
The average "kozukai" is down by nearly half since the bursting of the bubble economy. The figure peaked at 76,000 yen in 1990. This year it dropped to 40,600 yen -- down by 35,400 yen in two decades and by 5,000 from just last year.
What does this imply for the average man in the street?
"I get 40,000 yen a month," a 48-year-old worker at an auto manufacturer moans to Shukan Post. "I can only afford to respond to invitations to go golfing with my boss perhaps one time out of four. Once, when I had to play two consecutive weeks, all I had left for lunch right before payday was a 100-yen hamburger, washed down with coffee at the office."
The custom of "kozukai" appears to have taken root in the Edo era (1603-1868). An old ledger saved by the Inoyama family of Kaga-han, present-day Ishikawa Prefecture, confirms this.
"Even though Naoyuki earned the largest income, his allowance was unbelievably small -- only 19 monme per year," Yamada points out. The Inoyama's total household income for the same year was 4,356 monme.
Other old records indicate a pattern of budgetary behavior remarkably similar to Japanese households of today.
By contrast, American husbands of a century ago were less generous with their discretionary income. In "A Daughter of Samurai," Etsuko Sugimoto (1873-1950) voiced surprise when her American female host confided she had raided her sleeping husband's trousers pockets for coins to donate at Sunday church services.
"Before the Pacific War, Japan was primarily an agricultural nation and family members pooled their income. I suppose the custom of apportioning out an allowance to the husband became entrenched," says Yamada. "After the war, when the work shifted from farming to salaried wages, the practice continued."
Before the bursting of the bubble, wage earners were able to supplement their "kozukai" with generous outlays from their employers. But due to cost cuts, entertainment budgets and other perks enjoyed by these "shayo-zoku" have gone the way of the Brontosaurus.
Economist Takuro Morinaga notes that while family income declined 8% from 2000 to 2009, wage earners' average "kozukai" dropped by 38%. This suggests the "kozukai" system may be a key factor in Japan's stagnant consumption.
Yamada agrees, noting that while boutiques proffering male-oriented goods have been springing up in foreign countries, in Japan it remains females who dominate consumption.
The future prospects appear even gloomier as the eventual increase of the consumption tax from 5% to 10% is almost certain to cause more draconian budgetary measures. What to do?
"At the very least, try showing this article to your wife as a hint to raise your stipend," Shukan Post recommends, humorously adding, "but please don't blame us if it stirs up a hornet's nest."© Japan Today