One of the bedrock beliefs that Japanese society has about itself is that everyone belongs to the middle class. This isn’t to say pronounced social classes don’t exist. A middle-aged woman once expressed to me her fear that her adult daughter would never get married and move out. Since the daughter worked as a nurse in a large hospital, I said that maybe she’d meet a nice young doctor. The woman looked at me as if I were crazy. In Japan, doctors never marry nurses.

For the most part, the Japanese have been fairly successful at keeping such class distinctions out of sight. Every young woman owns a Prada bag. Every family sends their children to cram schools. Everybody eats top-of-the-line koshihikari rice.

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