Tokyo Tidbit: On the Backs of the Middleclass

For those who’ve been trying to swallow all the hype of a miraculous V-shaped recovery in post-earthquake Japan, there is a new number out:

Average wages are down 0.8% in June over last year. So, don’t expect the Japanese consumer to do any pulling.

Not now, please: Japanese love their watermelons. Smaller and sweeter than ours, they’re an absolute necessity in the battle to survive the swelter of summer, especially these days when everyone has to conserve electricity due to the meltdowns and shutdowns of various nukes. Offices are under-air-conditioned, the ubiquitous salarymen in their dark suits have been allowed to change to “cool biz” office attire, and even shorts are discussed. At night, many people sleep like in the good old days with windows wide open, hoping for some kind of breeze, and looking forward to buying that succulent, refreshing watermelon.

But, oh no! The prices. They have surged. Up 30% over last month. Up 60% over last year. ¥3,000 here, ¥3,200 there, or even ¥3,800 for a fruit of about 10 pounds. That’s a whopping $50. FIFTY BUCKS. For a frigging 10-pound watermelon!

With their declining wages, people can’t afford that. So supermarkets cut them up into ever thinner slivers … while the big investors of TEPCO, owner of the Fukushima nuke, are getting bailed out—an ongoing saga in the quiet and disciplined malaise of the Japanese.

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