Not Crazy Rich! The Truth of the Upper Class People in Japan

Gold bars are aligned in two rows on somewhere in gold color.

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 this 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, while Japan has a history of about 2600 years. In Hokkaido, I had never seen such a class society until then. By the way, 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 was from a noble class. She said her father was working for TOYOTA. When seeing her drive a TOYOTA new sports car, I just pitied her father with all my heart, imagining a salesperson buying a car for his daughter to achieve his monthly quota. The truth was, though I found out later, her father was one of the executives of TOYOTA headquarters. When hearing her university is an escalator school from kindergarten to university, I again pitied her for having such a boring school life with the same classmates for a long time. How silly was I? I didn’t even 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 like Hermes, Luis Vuitton, etc., 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. It was like a castle. She acted so naturally there, while I froze up like arriving at a different planet. Of course, I admit I was silly and naïve, but it is also true and the reason why I took long to notice: Japanese noble-class people including her behave so modestly and normally. They seem to fit very well in 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.

A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

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.