Affluent Ladies shop in Ginza, a glitzy area of luxurious boutiques and department stores.

The gap between rich and poor Japanese is widening, spurred by economic and social changes. People are living longer and accumulating more wealth. Increasingly, pay is being set by performance rather than seniority. Lifetime employment is crumbling. Tax laws have been changed to let the rich keep more of their money, and loopholes once exploited by the middle class are closing. Whereas once everyone seemed to be treated more or less the same, merchants and marketers are focusing on the affluent. And it is paying off even during Japan’s recession. Luxury brands are selling at a brisk pace and private banking services offered to the wealthy are also proliferating. Increasing income stratification raises a potentially troubling question for Japan, where sameness, or the perception of it, contributes greatly to social harmony. Japanese concede that greater income disparity is inevitable as the economy becomes more competitive. But they fear that differences between the rich and poor will lead to more theft, more petty crime in general, and a host of other social problems. Already job losses and other economic hardships have added to
the ranks of homeless.