Japan's culture of not spending crimps economic rebound

Meet the Kimuras, who haven't bought a major appliance in 10 years and who have made being thrifty an art form.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

  • close
    To save money, Kumi Kimura (l.) shops at discount stores while her daughter, Yuko (r.), works twice a week to help pay for clothes and concert tickets.
    View Caption

Japan's "lost decade" has turned a nation of savers into one in which people are even more reluctant to part with their yen – which holds lessons for the US.

Normally, a healthy savings ethic is an enviable trait: Witness how much trouble Americans have gotten in by spending beyond their checkbooks. But Japanese thriftiness has gone so far that it is undermining the nation's ability to surmount a deepening economic slump. It presages challenges consumption-oriented nations may face in getting people to reopen their wallets.

Consider the frugality of Kumi Kimura. She drives a decade-old compact car and shops at discount stores. Her family doesn't eat out unless there is something to celebrate. "Many homemakers are very aware of bargains, carefully checking advertisements," says Kumi, a mother of two who works at an elder-care facility.

Recommended: Beyond the 'fiscal cliff': 6 reasons to be optimistic about America's future

The global recession has hit Kumi's hometown hard. Obu, a city of 85,000 in central Japan, is a "corporate castle town" of Toyota, which recently posted its first loss in 70 years. With Toyota subcontractors dotting the region, the carmaker's slump has had an "enormous economic and psychological impact," says Hiroto Kimura, Kumi's husband.

Certainly much of Japan's reticence to spend stems directly from its economic woes. In the last quarter of 2008, the nation's gross domestic product fell at an annual rate of almost 13 percent. The deepening malaise is forcing firms to cut back workers' hours. More than a third of the workforce is now part-time or temporary employees.

Japan's problem is that "people's income is depressed," says Richard Katz, editor in chief of The Oriental Economist. "If they had more money, they would spend more."

Yet, there is evidence that the slump of the 1990s has changed buying patterns. Even when the nation began to emerge from the "lost" decade, per capita consumer spending remained virtually flat between 2001 and 2007. Young people don't seem inclined to buy as much either. Surveys show Japanese in their 20s saving more.

The elderly have become more miserly because of concern about shrinking retirement funds and the solvency of the nation's Social Security system. "As the country ages, sales of consumer durable goods don't go up," says Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist at Credit Suisse in Japan.

Kumi and her family benefit by having no mortgage. After Hiroto became ill and had to quit his job eight years ago, the family moved in with Kumi's mother. Since then, Hiroto has worked as a temporary mail carrier and, more recently, as a full-time bus driver.

To save money, the family rarely shops at major department stores, and Hiroto admits to wearing the same sweat suit for three decades. The family has put off buying major appliances. "The TV and refrigerator are more than 10 years old," says Kumi. "So is the air conditioner."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
Module start 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 13:57:16
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 13:57:16

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0131 sec 1,285.6406 KB1,162.1328 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0131 sec0.0044 sec 2,447.7734 KB721.2422 KB
Module end 'content' 0.0175 sec0.0414 sec 3,169.0156 KB3,145.0938 KB
Before parse_includes 0.0589 sec0.0349 sec 6,314.1094 KB390.5156 KB
After parse_includes 0.0938 sec0.0012 sec 6,704.6250 KB-170.8438 KB
End 0.0951 sec  6,533.7813 KB 
Total runtime:0.1040 sec
Peak memory usage:6,974.0391 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
Load cache0.0057 sec5.3781%310.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.0395 sec37.3206%590.0007 sec
Looping result0.0013 sec1.2175%560.0000 sec
Template Total0.0464 sec 43.8% 7 0.0066 sec
Template load0.0039 sec3.7114%70.0006 sec
Template processing0.0447 sec42.2810%70.0064 sec
Cache load0.0023 sec2.1337%70.0003 sec
state_id_array0.0020 sec1.8816%50.0004 sec
state_identifier_array0.0020 sec1.9089%50.0004 sec
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0187%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0004 sec0.4229%190.0000 sec
View Extra building0.0245 sec23.1849%20.0123 sec
Total script time:0.1058 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:


Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 3
 Number of unique templates used: 3
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0001 secs