Japan’s Expanding Economy Hides Wealth Disparity

Many households have few financial assets or savings
The Tokyo Tower, center, and commercial and residential buildings stand at dusk in Minato district of Tokyo, Japan. Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Not everybody is celebrating Japan’s seven-straight quarters of economic expansion.

The headline-grabbing gains in exports, corporate profits and financial markets that have marked the last few years have done little to change a longer-term trend that’s brought disparity between those Japanese who hold assets, and those who don’t.

Combining these figures, a similar survey of people who live alone and the most recent census in 2015, there may be at least 14 million people in Japan with no investments or savings.

As the nation ages and more people retire, this lack of financial strength among many households is likely to become a bigger problem.

As many as 38 percent of households of two or more people are very concerned about their retirement, and another 44 percent are somewhat concerned, the Bank of Japan found in its household surveys published this month.


One class of asset holder, those who have stocks, have done particularly well since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power, with the share market up about 130 percent over the past five years.

Still, stocks only make up about one-tenth of the asset portfolio of the median household with financial investments. Japanese still have a strong preference for stable investments like term deposits.


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