Not Crazy Rich! The Upper Class People in Japan

Nagoya castle lit up at night

First encounter with a high society in Japan

In 1947, soon after the WWII, the Japanese aristocracy system was abolished, but a noble class still exists even in Japan, a country with little gap between rich and poor. I learned the surprising fact when I worked for the prefectural government in Nagoya (the fourth biggest city in Japan and TOYOTA’s hometown) about 20 years ago. The fact may be surprising only to me because I’m from Hokkaido. It is the area sometimes called the last frontier of Japan with a short history of only about 150 years, and I had never seen such a class society until then. I think noble-class people are different from just rich people. In my opinion, they are modest, exclusive (loyal to their own society), and mysterious. Mind you, I had and have nothing against them but just curiosity instead.

Glimpse of a high society in Japan

She was a university student at that time. I met her in an English conversation school I attended every weekend. It took long for naïve me to realize she is from a noble class. She said her father was working for TOYOTA. When seeing her drive a TOYOTA new sports car, I pitied her father, as imagining a salesperson buying a car for his daughter to achieve his monthly quota. The truth was he was one of the executives of TOYOTA headquarters. When hearing her university is an escalator school from kindergarten to university, I then pitied her again for having such a boring school life with the same classmates for a long time. How silly was I? I didn’t know that such escalator-system schools are a symbol of celebrity in Japan.

Light brown leather made by SOMES, the only one saddle maker in Japan
SOMES luxury leather made in Hokkaido Japan.

Japanese high society stays hidden

I noticed she always wore brand items, but I didn’t pay much attention because Nagoya people are well-known as brand chasers in Japan. One day, she invited me to a dinner party held by her father’s friend. The host was an executive of Boeing. Once seeing his house, I finally understood everything. She acted so naturally, while I froze up like arriving at a different planet. I admit I was silly and naïve, but it is also true that noble-class people behave so modestly and normally. They seem to fit in very well common people’s life, though they actually live in completely different worlds.

This experience always deepens the problems of my marketing strategy. Our furniture is ranked as luxurious items in Japan. Accordingly, such noble-class people should be included in the main targets, but I can’t even imagine their values and behavior patterns even now.

Photo Credit:

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.