Japan’s economic recovery not felt at street level

Like every day for the past 40 years, Kunihiko Kato dusts down the shelves at his electrical goods shop and meticulously lays out his selection of batteries. But the customers have long since gone as Japan’s economy languishes.
“We used to sell a lot of TVs, but now…” tails off the 76-year-old glumly, as he recalls Japan’s world-beating “bubble” economic boom in the 1980s. “We have been going downhill for a long time,” Kato said. Reviving the once-great Japanese economy is the key domestic battleground of Sunday’s election, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touting his trademark “Abenomics” policy as the best way to secure the country’s future.
Abe says his “Abenomics”, a combination of ultra-loose monetary policy and big fiscal spending, has resulted in strong growth and solid business confidence in the world’s third-largest economy.
On the face of it, the Japanese economy is in relatively robust health, enjoying its longest period of expansion in more than a decade, with low unemployment and the stock market at a 21-year high. But this masks a seemingly unwinnable fight against deflation and a mountain of debt twice the entire economic output of the country.
And at Kato’s shopping area in Tokyo, there is precious little sign of the benefits of “Abenomics”.
One shop owner, 67-year-old Kozo Ito, says that visitors to the “Shotengai” — or traditional Japanese shopping street — think there is a bank holiday because so many shops are shuttered.
“I tell them: ‘No, they have just shut down’,” he says.
Like Kato, Ito reflects wistfully on the post-war boom times that extended into the 1970s and 1980s. Ito said that he now makes in one month what he used to make in a day at his butcher’s shop, opened by his father in the year he was born.
He snorts at the idea that “Abenomics” has improved lives for ordinary people. “I don’t feel it’s real. There is a widening gap between workers at big companies and those on temporary contracts.”
Throughout the street, elderly shopkeepers said the same story, of a steady decline, reflecting a pattern seen in the wider economy.
Michiko Hachiman, 72, said her clothes shop used to be packed in the evenings but complained that young people cannot afford her boutique offerings, preferring to pick up fashion items at cheaper stores.
“On a good day, when I was just married, we had lots of customers here in the evening because there were many meat and deli shops. I miss those days but they will not come back,” she said.
She said the effects of “Abenomics” were not trickling down to street level. — AFP