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Japan Why It Works, Why It Doesn't

Economics in Everyday Life

James Mak, Shyam Sunder, Shigeyuki Abe, & Kazuhiro Igawa (eds.)

Publication Year: 1998

This collection of twenty-six essays furnishes concise explanations of everyday Japanese life in simplified economic terms. They begin with such questions as, Do Japanese live better than Americans? Why don't Japanese workers claim all their overtime? Why don't Japanese use personal checking accounts? Why do Japanese give and receive so many gifts? The essays are written in non-technical, accessible language intended for the undergraduate or advanced placement high school student taking an economics course or studying Japan in a social science course. The general reader will find the book a fascinating compendium of facts on Japanese culture and daily life.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xii

Japan has fascinated visitors for centuries. Historically, its ethnic homogeneity, isolation, and rugged terrain inspired a deep sense of community in its people. At the end of the twentieth century, Japan’s thoroughly urbanized population lives in the coastal plains and travels to all...

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pp. xiii-xiv

We have gathered many debts in this endeavor. Many friends and colleagues have contributed their precious time and expertise to write contributions to this volume, and persisted through several stages of editing and rewriting. Lucien Ellington, Christopher Grandy...


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pp. 1-70

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1. Do the Japanese Live Better Than Americans?

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pp. 3-10

Gross domestic product (GDP) per person is a common measure of a country’s standard of living. It is simply the total value of all final goods and services produced in a certain economy within a given period of time...

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2. Why Avoid the Altar?

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pp. 11-19

The decline in marriage and the disintegration of the traditional family are some of the most widely discussed changes affecting U.S. society. By comparison, Japan seems to be a country of remarkable social stability. But surprisingly, the status of marriage is changing...

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3. Why Go to School after School?

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pp. 21-26

In Japan, it is not unusual to see groups of young schoolchildren riding trains or walking along city streets as late as 10 p.m. on school days. What are these young people doing out so late? They are going home, tired after spending long evening hours at their after-school private...

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4. Why So Many Gifts?

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pp. 27-32

The doorbell rings; you open the door to receive a beautifully wrapped parcel from one of Japan’s prestigious department stores. What is it? Excitement fills the air as you carefully remove the wrapping paper—nobody tears open parcels in Japan—to reveal . . . several months’ supply of laundry...

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5. Why Is Pachinko So Popular?

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pp. 33-38

Pachinko, the Japanese version of the pinball machine, is one of the most popular leisure activities in Japan. Fifty percent of the Japanese have played it. In 1995, over 28 million Japanese played pachinko, an average of nearly twenty-five times during the year. Foreigners, seeing the...

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6. Why Are the Japanese Obsessed with Luxury Brand-Name Goods?

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pp. 39-43

Japanese tourists abroad are welcomed by shopkeepers because of their notorious free-spending sprees at famous boutiques and duty-free shops. They are more likely to choose a product based on brand recognition than on price...

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7. Why Are There So Many Small Shops in Japan?

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pp. 45-50

Strolling around Motomachi in Kobe and along Shinsaibashi-suji in Osaka or near Kawaramachi-dori in the historic Imperial capital of Kyoto, a visitor to Japan is impressed by the large number of small specialty shops and restaurants that...

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8. How Do the Japanese and Americans Spend Their Money?

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pp. 51-58

Japanese and American households use their incomes very differently in terms of amounts of savings and ways to spend money. First, Japanese households save a larger percentage of their after-tax incomes than American households...

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9. How Can the Japanese Manage without Personal Checking Accounts?

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pp. 59-66

In Japan, don’t expect to pay your bills by check. There are no personal checking accounts! Businesses can have checking accounts, but not individuals (except for a few very wealthy individuals). You’ll have to find some other way...

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10. What Are Most Japanese Doing on Tax Day?

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pp. 67-70

Definitely not working on their tax returns. Each year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sends out nearly 8 billion pages of forms and instructions to nearly 100 million American taxpayers. If placed end to end, those pages...


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pp. 71-120

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11. Why Do Students Take It Easy at the University?

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pp. 73-81

Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Its industrious and educated labor force accounts for the high volume, variety, and quality of its industrial products, and are the base of its postwar economic success. Yet...

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12. Why Do Japanese Companies Hire Only Spring Graduates?

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pp. 83-90

New graduates pour forth from Japanese universities in March of each year and officially begin their employment in April. This phenomenon is also the culmination of several months of concentrated, large-scale hiring efforts of Japanese companies and governments. Only the most...

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13. Why Don’t Workers Claim All Their Overtime?

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pp. 91-97

Japanese workers have a reputation for working long overtime hours. Curiously, they don’t usually ask to be paid for all the extra hours they work. Imagine an employee who leaves the office one night at 11 p.m., six hours after...

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14. How Do Workers Get Paid?

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pp. 99-105

A midsummer visitor to Japan will be impressed by the throngs of people in boutiques and department stores shopping for presents. Japanese shoppers are observing their custom of buying midyear gifts for customers, supervisors...

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15. Do the Japanese Work till They Drop?

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pp. 107-114

The stereotype of the Japanese male worker is the workaholic who spends long hours at work, frequently works on weekends, and hardly ever takes a long vacation or spends much time with his family. Some are believed to die suddenly from overwork...

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16. Why Do the Japanese Save So Much?

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pp. 115-120

According to official government statistics, Japanese households saved one-sixth of their after-tax incomes on average between 1960 and 1994. In some years the savings rate was almost one-fourth of their incomes. By contrast...


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pp. 121-204

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17. Why Is Japan a Paradise of Vending Machines?

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pp. 123-129

Hike to some of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples secluded among dense alpine forests, stroll along the shores of Okinawa’s coral islands, or indeed go anywhere in Japan and it soon becomes clear that, regardless of all the clichés and stereotypes about the country...

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18. Why Do Doctors Prescribe So Many Pills?

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pp. 131-136

A visit to the doctor in Japan is rarely complete until the doctor has prescribed large amounts of medicine to treat the patient’s condition. Chances are good that the patient will leave the doctor’s office with several prescriptions...

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19. Why Do Bank Automatic Teller Machines Shut Down at 7 P.M.?

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pp. 137-147

The day after I arrived in Kobe, Japan, in May 1995, I opened a bank account. My English-speaking secretary patiently explained to me the routine rules of banking. She informed me that the weekday service hours of the...

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20. Why Is Rice So Expensive in Japan?

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pp. 149-155

The Japanese written character for “rice” (gohan) is the same as for “food.” Surprisingly, this staple of the Japanese diet is far more expensive in Japan than in the rest of the world. In 1995, the producer and retail prices of rice...

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21. How Can the Japanese Spend So Little on Health Care?

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pp. 157-165

Many Americans are unhappy with the U.S. health care system but they do not agree on how it should be reformed. Americans cherish their personal choice of high-quality health care but are unhappy with unequal access and soaring costs...

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22. How Does Japan’s Largest Bank Work?

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pp. 167-171

According to Fortune magazine, the three largest banks in the world in 1995 were Dai-Ichi-Kangyo, Tokyo-Mitsubishi, and Sakura. Not many outside Japan know of an even bigger bank—the Japanese Postal Savings Office...

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23. Why Do So Many Japanese Contribute to Public TV?

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pp. 173-177

In Japan, public radio and television broadcasts are provided by a semipublic monopoly popularly known as NHK (Nihon Hoso Kyokai), the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. As in public broadcasting in the United States...

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24. Why Are So Few People on Welfare in Japan?

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pp. 179-183

In January 1995, the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Kobe City and the surrounding areas, killing more than six thousand people and making more than three hundred thousand people homeless. Yet news reporters covering the disaster noted that large numbers...

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25. What Are Keiretsu and Why Do Some U.S. Companies Dislike Them?

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pp. 185-193

General Motors, General Electric, General Tire, and General Dynamics are well known U.S. corporations. Similarly, Mitsubishi Bank, Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Mitsubishi Motors are well...

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26. Is Japan an Egalitarian Society?

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pp. 195-204

Early one morning while walking in Shinjuku, Tokyo, I saw cops waking up the homeless sleeping on the sidewalk in front of a big department store. The cops ordered them to pick up their blankets and cardboards and get...

Glossary of Japanese Terms

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pp. 205-207

Sources for Statiscal Data on Japan

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pp. 209-210

About the Contributors

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pp. 211-213


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pp. 215-219

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863050
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824819675

Publication Year: 1998