Consumption in Japan
University of Leeds, UK
Japanese people are famed as hard workers and heroic savers, and until relatively recently little attention was paid to their lives as consumers of the products of their labor and frugality. A long Marxist tradition in Japanese historical studies viewed ordinary people as too poor to engage in anything beyond subsistence consumption, while modern economists concentrated on trying to understand a savings rate that appeared to contrast so sharply with that of the spendthrift West. However, by the 1980s, Japanese consumers, wielding the financial resources afforded them by the “miracle” economic growth of the postwar decades, were too visible in the global centers of luxury shopping to be ignored any longer. Anthropologists and sociologists led the way in exploring their use and enjoyment of goods – in forms sometimes similar to those of their Western counterparts and sometimes distinctive – and eventually even economists began to recognize that domestic markets for consumer goods must have played a role in Japan's remarkable rise to economic superpower status. Analysis of the role of consumption in mediating Japan's response to Western modernity has opened up new research fields in areas such as gender, material culture, and fashion, and it is clear that many of the challenges now posed by the growth of consumption in, for example, China and India had already been confronted by the ...