Thursday, July 10, 2014

poverty in Japan

This post was contributed by Carol Walden and Earl Venne, students in my undergraduate social stratification class.

Hidefumi Ito was an art gallery director, selling high-priced items to the richest people in the world. The economic recession quickly killed the business and his job. Ito lived in a five-bedroom house and owned two cars, an incredible level of financial wealth in space-starved Japan. He lost his home in months to bankruptcy. Disgraced, his wife divorced him and now his three children won’t speak to him (Lah, 2009).  

Due to his extreme downward mobility, Ito faced several dilemmas including the loss of side bets. He lost his family, his house, and vehicles. Additionally, Ito’s identity stake was challenged; he lost his place in society and is no longer able to convince others that he is who and what he once claimed to be (Schwalbe, 2008).  

Many individuals in Ito’s position reside at night hotels, such as Tsukasa which costs about 20 USD per night. The net rooms are small closet-sized spaces of about 100 square feet. The rooms are designed for the unemployed in the sense of having a computer and an internet connection. Several companies have jumped into the market and are taking advantage of the economic turmoil and the huge profits to be made off them. Net rooms like those of Su Casa are always at maximum capacity.

In today's Japan, staffing agencies are on the rise, and corporations are less likely to employ full-timers than ever before. In an economy where there is a much greater supply of workers than there is demand for them, this type of action by employers no doubt causes employees to fear for their jobs, given the fact they can be quickly replaced by temps. It may also contribute to the lesser likelihood that employees will blow the whistle on unfair or unsafe employment practices. Given the poor job situation, only one-third of college graduates are now able to find work.  

The crash of the economy and resulting downward mobility for many also have exacerbated suicide. Government statistics indicate that 30,707 people committed suicide in Japan in 2009, with the largest numbers between the ages of 45 to 65. The Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mt Fuji has earned the nickname "suicide forest." Another favorite place is the Cliffs of Tojimbo, where volunteers patrol the area to keep people from diving off. The suicide rate is currently 24 per 100,000 people, the second highest in the world. According to public-health researcher Yutaka Motohashi, suicides today are strongly linked to unemployment and bank-loan request rejections. The government has been running campaigns on television to educate people about depression and suicide, but suicide is still seen by many Japanese as the honorable way out (Motohashi, 2012). 


Lah, K. (2009, February 27). Net rooms boom with Japan’s jobless. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from 

Motohashi, Y. (April, 2012). Suicide in Japan. Lancet, 379, 1283. Retrieved from
Schwalbe, M. (2008). Rigging the game: How inequality is reproduced in everyday life. New York: Oxford University Press.

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