Mar 11, 2019

Counting the okozukai: Pocket money for Japan’s workers increased in 2018

Counting the okozukai: Pocket money for Japan’s workers increased in 2018 photo

Pocket money for workers in Japan increased in 2018, according to results of a survey, with male company employees enjoying the largest rise in okozukai affording them nearly 40,000 yen a month at their disposal. 

“How much pocket money do you get?” might sound like the beginnings of a conversation between students scuffing their way home from school as they eye up a bag of sherbet lemons from the local store, but it’s one that plays out in post-work boozers and family homes, too -- especially here in a Japan heading toward a potential hike in consumption tax.  

Shinsei Bank revealed the 2018 results of their annual Salaryman Pocket Money Survey (2018 年サラリーマンのお小遣い調査) in a report published in June the same year. In the report they detailed that among male company employees across Japan spending money per month (okozukai / お小遣い in Japanese) increased by 2,408 yen to reach 39,836 yen after having remained at around 37,000 yen for the three consecutive years prior. The figure sees a return to similar amounts of pocket money detailed in the salaryman survey conducted in 2014. 

While the 2018 figures reveal something of a jump for male company employees, among their females counterparts the increase was much more slight -- an extra 903 yen seeing their pocket money increase to 34,854 yen per month. 

The primary reason cited among the 2,700 survey respondents (in their 20s to 50s for) the extra money was an increase in salary with “side-jobs” and “profitable investments” among other reasons cited. 

Male company employees in their 20s enjoyed the largest increase -- a jump of 6,641 yen to 42,018 yen per month. Female employees in their 20s and 30s haven’t fared so well in 2018 being the only demographic to see a decrease, albeit very slight, in their okozukai.

Despite 2018 having painted what looks like a pretty picture (for most) then, current numbers are still only around half what they were in 1990 when okozukai topped 77,000 yen per month, perhaps on the back of a spike in stock averages the previous year. Things have been on a, largely, steady decrease ever since. Until 2018.

Of course, available pocket money is always going the reflect income to some extent. So, to add some context to these survey results the average monthly wage of regular company workers in Japan in fiscal 2017 (the latest data available) was 335,500 yen (male - 0.1% increase from the previous year) and 246,100 yen (female - 0.6% increase from previous year), according to data from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. 

An increase in wages and spending money for Japan’s workforce appears not to have had a significant effect on lunch money. In fact, in the case of male company workers spending on lunch decreased in 2018 by 20 yen to 570 yen (per lunch sitting). Female workers show a 5-yen increase with their spending at 586 yen.

At the risk of sounding like the name of some Eton boys club garage band perhaps we could call this fiscal discipline, but not necessarily self-discipline. Afterall, behind the term okozukai is often someone else who is controlling it or at least who has a significant say in how much is made available. 

Perhaps it would have raised the eyebrows of some significant others then to know that, according to the survey, male company employees were spending an average of 12,506 yen on drink each month in 2018. An increase from the previous year. Money spent on drink by female workers, on the other hand, decreased to 9,485 yen. 

Still, it all seems to paint a reasonably positive fiscal picture but of course a consumption tax hike looms later in the year with Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga telling a regular press conference earlier in March that the government will go ahead with the planned increase from 8% to 10% in October.

While the results of local and national elections in spring and summer may yet have some say on the matter, company employees are already anticipating the burden. According to the salaryman survey, 83.9% of male respondents and 93.6% of female respondents believe the hike with impact on their pocket money to at least some degree. 

Shinsei Bank survey carried out the 2018 Salaryman Pocket Money Survey online over five days in April, targeting employees of varying status across Japan, from full-time company employees to those who work part-time.

The survey was first launched in 1979 and aside from 1991, 1993, and 1994, it has been conducted annually ever since. 

From the full-time salaried company employee to the undergraduate student.  

In February this year the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations released a summary report of their 54th Student Life Survey (第54回学生生活実態調査).

Targeting undergraduate students of private and public universities across Japan, the survey was carried out in the autumn of 2018 and gathered data from 11,000 respondents across 30 institutions. 

Of those students who reside in the family home the survey reveals that their pocket money stands at 12,780 yen per month, forming just one part of a monthly income that averaged 67,750 yen in 2018. 

Pocket money for Japan’s home-based undergrads has been on a steady decrease over the last six years having stood at 15,370 yen per month in 2013. This trend can perhaps be put down to an increase in income from part-time work which in 2013 was 31,530 per month and in 2018 stood at 40,020 yen.


Budgets still remain tight for these students though with only 550 yen remaining of any monthly income after expenses. 

For those students living in university accommodation pocket money (okozukai) is absent. Instead the Student Life Survey details shiokuri (仕送り) an allowance typically provided by parents to their undergraduate sons and daughters. According to the survey, this allowance has hovered around 70,000 yen per month since 2010. In 2018 it was 71,500 yen per month contributing to a total monthly income of over 127,000 yen (including income from part-time work as well as scholarships). Among the expenses of these students, accommodation costs stood at 52,560 yen each month.

What does your pocket money amount to here in Japan? Do you fear it will be impacted by the potential hike in consumption tax this year? Let us know in the comments.

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