In Self Reflections and Refinements

Consumerism and Spending Money in Japan

This post is not meant to talk about the general state of consumerism in Japan, but rather my own experience with it. The former is a whole different beast!

In my American lifestyle I consider myself a frugal person. I have developed a good gauge of what my needs vs. my wants are which leads me to being a good saver and a pretty conservative consumer. I rarely used shopping as therapy and I would go days and days without spending a dollar.

However, that changed  when I moved to Japan. Much to my discomfort, I find that I spend money just about every single day here. I know this because I have a habit of tracking all my spendings. Each day I hand write what I spent on what, just to keep myself accountable for where my money is going. I hate looking back at this log and seeing nearly every single day have an entry.
I attribute these reasons to this habit:
  1. Food and other groceries are sold in small portions here in Japan. This means that people make daily or almost daily trips to the supermarket, thus spending money frequently.
  2. Convenience stores and vending machines are absolutely everywhere. Want a quick snack? Something to drink? Those things are never far from your reach. The temptation for things like these is never far.
  3. For the first several months I was shopping as entertainment. Even frequenting the nearby drug store offered a fun time. Seeing and trying different products had an exotic feel to it.
  4. I am missing several elements of a life that fill me up emotionally. Easy and frequent access to close friends, family and familiar places that give me peace and joy began to be replaced by consumption.
  5. New and different foods are still novelties to me. I enjoy buying and trying new things while I have the chance.
  6. Japan is full of consumer goods. I've never been surrounded by so many high quality malls before. 
 All this being said, I am still saving more money here in Japan than I was saving in the U.S. It didn't seem so at first, because of the high cost of food, but not owning a car and my low rent costs means I have more money left over at the end of a pay period.

In this way it's less about the money being spent, but rather the hold that the need to consume has over me. I keep saying that once I am out of Japan I think this will stop. I hope that it does. I think I can easily return to my grocery visits that will last me a week to 10 days and getting by with the same basic foods that I enjoy.

What this has taught me is that consumption can sometimes fill emotional gaps in a person's life. This is the first time I've felt empty and lost enough to try and fill those spaces with consumption. What I know to be true is that consumption will never fill me up, but at times I still find myself doing it.


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