Research into public attitudes to necessities in Japan finds that the items and activities regarded as necessary tend to focus on food, belongings, household good and financial matters (such as paying bills) rather than social activities (such as participating in hobbies) and obligations (such as giving gifts to family and friends).  The research also suggests that the Japanesse public have a more restrictive notion of necessities than the UK and other rich, developed countries (see Comparative Research below).

The 2011 'Perceptions of Necessities' survey

In 2011 the National Institute of Population and Social conducted a 'Perceptions of necessities' survey. It asked about 67 items and activities for adults and 30 children's items and activities. The items and activities were developed from a series of focus groups and an earlier 'Perceptions of necessities' survey in 2003. Respondents were interviewed by a postal survey (sample size 3,000, responses 1,518). The respondents were asked:

This question is about a standard of living for all people in Japan today. In order to live a modern life, what items do you think are necessary and should be able to be acquired by everybody? This question is about a standard of living for all people in Japan today. In order to live a modern life, what items do you think are necessary and should be able to be acquired by everybody? 

The responses available were: 'Definitely necessary', 'Desirable but not necessary', 'Not necessary'.

The table below shows for each item and activity for adults the percentage thinking the item is 'definitely necessary' in order 'to live a modern life in Japan'. It is important to note that the survey was conducted during July 2011, just four months after the Great East Japan Earthquake which killed nearly 20,000 people. It is quite possible that a disaster of this magnitude, whose effects are still being felt, may have influenced people’s perceptions of life’s necessities temporarily and/or even permanently. The table can be sorted by clicking the top of a column.

Attitudes to necessities for adults, Japan, 2011

Attitudes to necessities, Japan, 2011

Item Percentage seeing item as 'definitely necessary'
To be able to go to the doctor when needed 95%
To be able to go to the dentist when needed 93%
Two meals a day (for adults) 88%
Refridgerator/freezer 88%
To be able to pay rent/gas/water/electricity 85%
Clothes washer 83%
Beds and futons for everyone in the household 77%
Insurance premium for pension (or receving pension) 75%
Meat, fish, tofu or other protein every day 75%
Internet access 74%
Veg more than once a day 74%
Medicine which can be brought without prescription (colds, pain, etc) 68%
Vacuum cleaner 68%
Family's own bath (bath and shower) 68%
Family's own kitchen 67%
Family's own toilet 66%
Telephone at home (stationary or mobile) 65%
TV 65%
Room with sunshine 64%
New underwear at once a year 60%
Curtains or blinds 59%
Insurance for death disability or sickness 58%
Fire detector 58%
Comfort wear for home 58%
Savings for emergencies (>50,000 yen) 57%
To be able to fund a relative's wedding/funeral (including gifts) 52%
Money to spend on your own (>1,000 yen/week) 52%
Suits for interviews at work 51%
Transportation costs for buses and trains (not long distance) 48%
Transportation costs to see family and friends 47%
Airconditioning 47%
Winter coat 45%
Hot water boilers 44%
Table where all family can sit 43%
Fire damage insurance for home contents 41%
Microwave oven 39%
To be able to save every month 38%
Multiple bedrooms (for households with more than a couple) 38%
Bicycle 34%
Books (including used books) 33%
Automobile 33%
Going to get hair cut once a month man, once every two months women) 33%
Fruits more than once a day 30%
A place where one can be alone in the house 30%
New Year's celebrations 27%
Special clothes for weddings funerals etc 25%
Gifts for family and friends once a year 24%
Hobby or sport to mingle with people 23%
Neighbourhood clubs, women's clubs, children's clubs, etc 20%
Hairdryer 20%
Mobile phone for each adult in the household 20%
Separate bedrooms from dining room 19%
Money to use on e recreation or study eg books, dvds (>3000 yen/month) 17%
An overnight family trip at least once a year 16%
Washlet (toilet seat with automatice water heater) 14%
Computer 14%
Money to go out dining with colleagues 14%
Camera 13%
Internet access at home 13%
Veranda or garden 12%
Eating out (2,3 times a month) 12%
Money to got to movies, museums etc (more than once a month) 9%
Sofa, long chair or other relaxing chair 9%
DVD, blue ray or video equipment 9%
Audio set 9%
Autobike or scooter 4%
Mobile music player (ipod etc) 3%

Source: Presentation by Aya Abe (download below)

Twenty eight of the 67 items and activities for adults were seen as necessary by over 50% of respondents. The items with the highest percentages covered medical needs, food and a range of household goods and facilties. A range of items had gained more than 10% in the percentage thinking the item necessary compared to 2003, including'being able to go to family and friend's weddings/funerals', 'being able to save every month' and 'internet access'. The survey also found widespread agreement between different social groups.

Details of the findings of the survey were presented by Aya Abe fomr the Naitonal Institute of Poplulation and Social Securutty Research to a seminar on 'Public Perceptions of necessities in Japan and the UK' in Tokyo in 2015.  Download this presentation below.

A presentation on 'Poverty Measurement in Japan' reporting the results of the 2003 survey was made by Abe Aya at the Second Townsend Conference on International PovertyThis presentation reports the findings of a 2003 survey (sample 1,350) that asked respondents which of a list of 28 items covering various aspects of life (both material and social) they thought were ‘necessary’ to live normally in Japan.

Further details can be found in:

'Social exclusion and earlier disadvantages: an empirical study of poverty and social exclusion in Japan' (pdf), Abe Aya, Social Science Japan Journal , Vol 13, No 1, 2010. In this paper Abe Aya provides one of the first attempts in Japan to define and measure poverty and social exclusion in that country.

Comparative research

Details of the findings of this survey and comparisons with perceptions of necessities in the UK can be found in the Social Policy and Society journals themed section on 'Comparative Persepectives on Poverty and Inequality: Japan and the United Kingdom'.The comparative research found that the Japanese public tends to have a more restrictive notion of what a minimum standard of living should encompass than in the UK, even after controlling for key variables. Nevertheless, there was also evidence of a consensus on the majority of adult items in terms of whether they constituted necessities or not.  See:

Social Policy and Society Journal

Volume 13 / Issue 01 / January 2014, pp 143-154, Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S1474746413000419
Published online: September 2013
Introduction: Comparative Perspectives on Poverty and Inequality: Japan and the United Kingdom
Christina Pantazis, University of Bristol
Poverty and inequality appear to be intractable features of rich industrialised nations. It is a great paradox that despite rising prosperity in most advanced industrialised countries over the last two or three decades, poverty and inequality have remained stubbornly high and have even increased in the majority of rich countries (OECD, 2008, 2011). The United Kingdom and Japan are no exceptions to these trends. Despite having markedly different historical trajectories, there is evidence that the two societies are converging on the issue of these pressing social problems.

See also, UNICEF's report on child well being in Japan which looks at 5 different dimension of well-being including material deprivation. 'Child well-being in rich coutnries - comparing Japan', Aya Abe and Junko Takezawa, UNICEF, 2013.



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