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Tough Economic Times Mean Less Pocket Money

October 15, 1999

According to Nikkeiren (Japan Federation of Employers' Associations) data on new employees who joined their companies in 1999, more than 60 percent of the businesses queried responded that starting salaries were frozen at the previous year's level. The average monthly wage for a newly hired white-collar worker fresh out of college was 201,787 yen (1,922 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar), while a person working in a technology- or engineering-related field was a slightly higher 203,256 yen (1,936 dollars).

Workers traditionally received annual pay raises as a matter of course. But due to the prolonged recession and companies' ongoing efforts at restructuring, management has been adopting more strategies aimed at holding down personnel costs to the greatest degree possible. Since a system of seniority-based pay is still in place at most Japanese firms, many have lowered their starting salaries. While this may be unavoidable in the private sector, where wages are affected by business performance, even public servants were asked to take a cut in pay for the first time ever in fiscal 1999 (April 1999 to March 2000).

One result of this has been a cut in pocket money, or kozukai. For Japan's male wage earners, this allowance goes toward everything from lunch to books and magazines, soft drinks and snacks, outlays for items of apparel and golf equipment and--after the workday is over--pachinko sessions and drinks with coworkers.

How Much Do They Get?
A recent survey determined the average monthly amount actually received by the 229 married salarymen was just 50,800 yen (484 dollars). This amount is unsatisfactory for about three-fourths of those surveyed, who said their idea of an "ideal" figure for their monthly allowance should be 76,900 yen (732 dollars). Many said they had suffered cuts in their kozukai, with the average dropping by 11,000 yen (105 dollars) from the previous year.

With a kozukai of only 50,800 yen, male office workers complain that they will probably use nearly half that amount just to eat lunch. To stretch their budgets, one of the most common ways these office workers and others have been adopting has been to cut down on consumption of canned soft drinks (120 yen, or 1.14 dollars) and cigarettes (around 250 to 280 yen, or 2.38 to 2.67 dollars). They are also buying fewer magazines, books, and CDs (about 3,000 yen, or 28.57 dollars, for an album-length recording). And while they still manage to indulge themselves by going out for drinks after work, they no longer generously treat the junior employees--as was once customary. Now, the younger fellows are expected to pay for their share of the tab.

Methods of thrift run the gamut of borrowing books from the public library and thumbing through magazines on the rack instead of buying them to visiting the barbershop less frequently; cutting back on the size of traditional monetary gifts at weddings and funerals; and reducing outlays on their life or motor vehicle insurance. To make ends meet, a small number have taken to moonlighting after work or on weekends. Others try to rake in a windfall from betting on horses or playing mahjongg.

Declining kozukai have also led more high school and university students to seek part-time work, but the average hourly part-time wage in the Tokyo metropolitan area also declined for the first time since 1994 (to 1,016 yen, or 9.67 dollars, in December 1998, edging down 1 yen from the year-ago figure), when the figure began to be calculated.

Generous Grandparents
And primary school children? Their main source of income, from otoshidama (cash gifts presented from relatives, etc., at New Year) appears to have declined as well, but in spite of this nearly 80% say they save some or all of their annual windfall.

The most generous providers of such funds, in the order of amount, have been grandfathers and grandmothers. In many cases older people have comparatively large savings. Perhaps with an eye to get more money out of savings and in circulation, where it can help the economy pick up, an association of department stores designated the third Sunday of each October has been designated as "Grandchildren's Day."

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.