Occupy Wall Street resonates within Japan

Author Karin Amamiya gives her views on the OWS movement in the monthly media magazine Tsukuru (December) and finds many similarities between Japan and the U.S. As opposed to a U.S. poverty rate of 15.1 percent, Japan’s is over 16 percent. The number of welfare recipients in Japan has shot past 2 million, and percentage of those in the work force holding nonregular jobs is at its highest level ever — 38.7 percent.

Last Thursday, a five-page article in Shukan Bunshun (Dec. 8) gave one of the gloomiest indications yet that the prolonged recession has had a pronounced effect on the incomes of Japan’s wage earners.

According to business consultant Masao Kitami, during 1997-2007, total wages declined by ¥20 trillion. “When people say Japan is becoming a society with a widening income gap,” he writes, “I tell them, we’ve descended into a ‘low-wage society.'”

Based on surveys of major corporations belonging to Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation), Kitami provides the latest data showing significant drops in wages between 2007-2010. The declines in the greater Tokyo region — where workers typically receive the highest remuneration in Japan — have been particularly steep. For males in their 50s, for example, the mean annual compensation dropped from ¥5.58 million in 2007 to ¥4.81 million in 2010. After withholdings, monthly take-home pay by younger salaried workers may be less than ¥200,000.

Kitami warns that once the annual incomes of males in their 50s living in Japan’s three main urban areas plummets below ¥5 million, the current social welfare model, based on a nuclear family composed of husband, wife and two children, is in danger of collapse.