Archive for the ‘Family matters’ Category

Money for education ends up in the toilet

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Every elementary school student’s dream

Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released statistics from 2009 related to the cost of education in 31 developed countries. For the third year in a row, Japan was the lowest in terms of portion of GDP spent on education and schools: 3.6 percent, which, while being 0.3 percentage points higher than in 2008, is still much less than the average, 5.4 percent. (Denmark, for the record, spends the most: 7.5 percent.) Not surprisingly, Japanese families spend more for college than anyone else in the world, and in terms of how much of the money spent on education was from private individuals, Japan ranked third at 31.9 percent (after Chile and South Korea). The world average is 16 percent.

In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that in 2010, the year the ruling Democratic Party of Japan did away with tuition for public high schools, the average family with a full-time salaried head of household still spent 5.7 percent more for education than it did the year before. In the same class of households that had high school or college students, the increase was 9 percent.

On average, a household spent ¥1.91 million a year on education, down ¥700,000 from the previous year probably owing to the tuition break. That’s about 37.7 percent of the average family’s yearly income, and the poorer the family, the greater the burden: for families that earn ¥2 to ¥4 million a year, the portion spent on school is 57.5 percent. And if you wonder where all this money goes, don’t blame teachers, whose average salary over the past ten years has decreased by 9 percent.

It also doesn’t seem to be going to school infrastructure. The education ministry says that 60 percent of all public elementary and junior high schools in Japan are at least 30 years old and have never been renovated. In major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, the portion is 70 percent. The part of the physical plant that tends to show its age the most are the restrooms. In fact, Japanese public school lavatories are infamous, as evidenced by all the J-horror movies that take place in them. Invariably they are described with “the 3 Ks” — kusai (smelly), kitanai (dirty), kurai (dark).

Continue reading about public school lavatories →

New stats about old folks

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

With the rapid aging of society it pays to pay attention to all the latest economic statistics regarding old people, and lately we’ve come across quite a few. Here are some new numbers about households in which the designated head-of-household is 65 or older, carried in the Asahi and Tokyo Shimbuns.

Keep on pushin’

  • The average monthly income in 2011 was ¥185,000, which is about ¥3,000 less than the average in 2010.
  • About 90% of total income is in the form of government and company pensions.
  • Average spending is ¥221,000 month, meaning that the average household is ¥36,000 in the hole.
  • However, in 2011 average savings for households when there are at least two people stood at ¥22.57 million. Savings among seniors has been increasing gradually since 2008, but the statistic may be misleading since it is heavily weighted toward upper income households newly entering the senior demographic. Median savings is ¥14.6 million.
  • 5.44 million people over the age of 64 worked in 2011, which represents 27.6 percent of the nation’s population over that age; 46 percent of men and 26 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 69 worked.
  • Total number of people over 64 exceeded 30 million in 2011, with 50,000 over the age of 100.
  • As reference, in 2005, when the number of elderly was slightly over 26 million, about 2.2 percent were collecting welfare. The average monthly welfare payment for two-person elderly households in Tokyo was ¥122,000 and for outside of Tokyo ¥94,500. About 47 percent of elderly who received welfare also received some sort of government pension, at an average of ¥46,000 a month.

Package funeral services take the (financial) sting out of dying

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Funeral hearse

Your ride’s here

The Tokyo metropolitan government  has launched a jumokuso service for individuals. Jumokuso means “tree funeral.” For a fee, a person can have his or her ashes buried at the foot of a tree planted in a special park in Kodaira. The financial advantage of this particular burial model is that the person pays only once. Most remains are interred in family graves located in graveyards that are managed by either local governments or religious entities. Graveyards require kanriryo (administration fees) in perpetuity.

In principle, a jumokuso customer will have his ashes mixed with other customers. It costs ¥134,000 for roughly cremated remains and ¥44,000 for remains that have already been reduced to ash (a more involved and thus more expensive process). Enough space for 10,700 people is being planned for the park, and the first group of 500 “plots” was recently sold via lottery. There were 8,169 applicants.

Obviously, many people are not attached to the traditional Japanese style of burial any more, and it probably has a lot to do with the traditional funerals that go with it, which can be extremely expensive. A recent Asahi Shimbun article described a woman in her 60s who was shocked when she received the bill for her husband’s funeral. The funeral service company had quoted ¥1.7 million for the whole thing, but the invoice came to ¥2.6 million.

Continue reading about the funeral business in Japan →

Summertime blues: no place to go or no money to spend?

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Last week, the research department of Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance released the results of its annual summer vacation survey. For the second year in a row, projected spending for summer vacation dropped from the previous year’s spending. On average, households say they plan to spend ¥82,974 this year, down from ¥84,848 last year. It is not the lowest amount on record, however. In 2008, households said they would spend ¥76,955, but that was the year after the subprime crisis and the Lehman Brothers “shock.” The next year, spending recovered but has been declining ever since.

What the roads won’t look like in the middle of August.

Yasuda hasn’t analyzed these findings, so it’s not entirely clear if the reason for the decline is lack of disposable income due to the ongoing recession or fear of spending any money because of an uncertain future. However, the amount of spending jumps considerably when children aren’t involved. Households consisting only of couples said they would spend on average ¥100,191, which is much more than it was last year. A relatively large number of couples say they will be traveling overseas.

In any case, the majority of all respondents said they would stick close to home this summer, 62 percent, to be precise. It’s the seventh year in a row that “staying at home” topped the list of answers to the question, “What do you plan to do?” Other answers (respondents can tick more than one) included “return to my home town” (39.4 percent), travel domestically (37.4 percent), and visit theme parks, public pools, camping sites, etc. Among the reasons given for staying at home this year, the most common was “to recover my strength,” followed by “it costs too much to travel.”

It’s unfortunate that Yasuda didn’t get even more detailed in this line of inquiry. For example, of the people who said they would visit their home towns, 52 percent also said they would get there by automobile. Considering the monumental “u-turn rush” traffic jams that occur during the specified holiday period, it might have been interesting to find out how many people decided not to go home because of traffic jams and crowded trains. It’s easy to blame apathy about summer vacation on economics, but logistics has a lot to do with it, too, especially when they’re qualified by financial considerations. These things all go together.

Wag the dog: Pooch tax more than just a source of revenue

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

You talkin’ to me?: Sign asking apartment residents to clean up after their dogs

Like a lot of Japanese cities, Izumisano, in Osaka Prefecture, has a problem with dog doo. People aren’t properly cleaning up after their pets, and last year the city government passed an ordinance that would levy an immediate ¥1,000 fine on people who didn’t. The ordinance has gone into effect but there’s one problem: No staff to patrol and issue the summonses. So far not one fine has been levied much less collected. Obviously, the city needs to hire people to carry out the patrols, but like almost every other municipality in the country, Izumisano is short of funds, so the mayor proposed a tax on dog owners to pay for the patrol. The idea was met with overwhelming support from the citizens.

No one bothered to break this support down into people who own dogs and those who don’t, but according to the magazine Aera, these days almost any tax proposal is met with automatic opposition, even from those it doesn’t target. But everybody in Izuminosano thinks this tax is a good idea, including animal welfare groups, which would conceivably shoulder an extra financial burden if the tax is carried out unless it specifically excluded organizations such as private shelters. One such group told Aera that it’s important to enlighten people to the responsibility attendant on dog ownership, especially with regard to a dog’s impact on the environment and public sanitation. The group thinks that a dog tax would be a good way to raise such awareness, in addition to collecting money that can be used for animal welfare.

Continue reading about a proposed tax on dogs →

Boomer boom: Businesses tapping consumption where they can find it

Friday, July 20th, 2012

It’s 10 a.m. Do you know where your grandmother is?

In July, the Bank of Japan released the results of its quarterly tankan survey of business sentiment for April-June. The most notable, and hardly surprising, result was the drop in confidence among major manufacturers. Less was said about the fact that domestic demand and individual consumption appear to be stabilizing. The numbers get even more encouraging when you look at specific industries.

In the tankan, an index of “0″ means no change in sentiment, with minus numbers indicating a loss of confidence and positive numbers a gain in confidence. The index for hotels and restaurants was +3, the first positive rise in five years, and a substantial one. Even more impressive was the index for “individual services,” such as travel agents, a category launched in 2004. The most recent tankan showed an index of +25. These numbers are at once heartening and baffling. Average income did not rise during the same period, which means consumption shouldn’t have risen, so why the increase in confidence?

The report’s authors credit these hopeful signs to people over 60, and smaller businesses’ resourcefulness in tapping this demographic. A recent article in Tokyo Shimbun profiled an izakaya (drinking establishment) chain called Hokkaido, which has an outlet in Kokubunji, Tokyo, that offers a special hiru enkai (daytime party) plan: If each member of a party orders at least ¥3,500 in dishes, then the party can drink as much as they like without paying extra.

Continue reading about senior citizen consumers →

Japanese laws make abortion an economic issue

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Women’s clinic in Chiba Prefecture

Contrary to what most people believe, abortion in Japan is not legal. The reason abortions are performed freely in Japan — 210,000 were reported in 2010, but the number is probably higher — is that shortly after the war the dataizai (illegal abortion) law was exchanged for the Eugenics Law to address the population boom. This law allowed for a pregnant woman to abort her child only if the pregnancy threatens her life or health, or if the woman is financially unable to raise the child. It did not make abortion a right available to any woman who wanted one.

It is thus assumed, for legal purposes, that the vast majority of women who undergo abortions do so for economic reasons. However, since there is no real provision for having women state their reasons when seeking abortions, and no woman in Japan has been prosecuted for aborting a fetus since World War II, abortion is considered effectively legal. It is also quite expensive. Unless the procedure is being carried out specifically for health reasons, national insurance will not cover it. This situation has lead to a paradox: Most women in Japan who seek abortions ostensibly do so because of financial hardship, but are nevertheless forced to pay a great deal of money to have those abortions performed.

According to our own Internet survey of gynecology services and comments on various blogs and websites, the cost of an abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy ranges from ¥80,000 to ¥150,000, which is only the cost of the procedure and does not include consultation fees and medication. However, after the 12th week of pregnancy, the cost increases considerably. Abortions performed between the 12th and 22nd week of pregnancy are between ¥300,000 and ¥500,000. Also, if the patient suffers from a chronic condition that could complicate the procedure, such as asthma, she is required to undergo the procedure at a general clinic, which tends to be more expensive than a women’s clinic or a gynecology office.

Of course, if a physician concludes that the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health, insurance can be used for the abortion; and if the cost of the operation goes above a certain level, she can receive a refund for any money she pays out of pocket. Even if the cost does not rise above that designated level, if she files an income tax return she can deduct the cost of her abortion on her return, including money she paid for sanitary napkins and even the taxi fare to the clinic. But this is only if the procedure was done for health reasons. Other costs that apply but usually aren’t mentioned have to do with the aborted fetus. If an abortion (or miscarriage) takes place after the eleventh week of pregnancy, the attending physician has to fill out a death report which the mother then files at the local city office. After that she has to pay for cremation. There is also mizuko kuyo, or memorial services for aborted babies, which are completely optional, though some parties have tried to make a business out it.

Continue reading about the price of abortions in Japan →

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