Monday, January 6, 2014

No Otoshidama for Jiro

The Japanese New Year season is nearly over (it really closes on January 7th with the traditional Matsuake ceremonies, but in reality most people are back to work as of the first working day after January 3rd) and most Japanese children are grinning all the way to the bank...or the toy store.

Over the New Year period, it's traditional for adult relatives to hand out cash gifts called "otoshidama" to children as part of the celebration, and depending on the family some otherwise ordinary children can be staggering under the weight of envelopes filled with money - often tens of thousands of yen worth if there are a lot of relatives to collect from.

In most cases, the money is taken and mostly banked by parents on the children's behalf, but it's inevitable that some sticky little fingers end up with a nice haul and the chance to buy themselves a few presents to show off when school starts again.

Sadly, this is not true for everyone:

According to UNICEF's recently published report on conditions for children around the world, Japan scores quite poorly in a number of respects.

The issue is simple: contrary to outward appearances, and despite the Government's boast that Japan is a thoroughly middle class nation, there is a persistent underclass here.

It's sad. In a nation that glitters with new technology and experimental architecture there should be no children who go without the basics that will ensure they can grow up with at least the opportunity to break the cycle.

Granted, Japanese children of nearly any income bracket are better off by orders of magnitude than many children elsewhere. But Japan's failure to soften the rather sharp break between the middle-class haves and the impoverished have-nots should be an enduring source of shame for a country where it's considered de rigeur to discard disgusting quantities of produce just because it's not visually perfect.

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