When Japanese men cut spending on drinking, something is wrong. A recent survey of male workers aged 20 to 59 by Shinsei Financial Co. found that spending on alcohol has fallen to its lowest level since the survey started in 1999.

Of course, that drop has more to do with a change in the outlook of Japanese wives, who tend to manage their husbands’ income. The cutback on going out for a drink after work shows how deeply the economic downturn has sunk into daily financial worries of the Japanese.

The report found that men’s pocket money, traditionally handed out by wives who control the family budget, was the first expense to be cut and the last expense to be raised. The number of times a male worker went out for a drink after work fell to 2.4 times a month from 2.9 times a month last year.

Spending on drinking sessions fell to an average of ¥2,860 per session this year from ¥3,540 last year — significantly less than the average ¥5,000 per session spent in 2009. When the higher sales tax kicks in, male workers can expect their wives to be even more careful about spending money.

Money is not simply being cut back but also being spent in different ways. Men’s spending on lunch rose from ¥490 to ¥510.

Although the total monthly allowance rose for the first time in five years — climbing 8 percent to an average of ¥39,600 — it is still far below the peak in 1990 of ¥76,000. So, less money proportionately is being spent on alcohol.

This reapportionment shows a shift in priorities away from after-work drinking, and is perhaps a sign that drinking with colleagues is no longer the required activity it once was.

The slightly higher allowance could be a consideration by wives. Perhaps the increase was part of encouraging male workers to go out with colleagues at a time of increasing anxiety about employment stability and less certainty about salaries rising again. Or perhaps wives were tired of their husbands being under foot following a year when few workers went out and most came home to the family. It might also be recognition of the need to reduce stress by loosening the purse strings.

That difference of just a few yen may seem small, but psychologically it signals a very different outlook in Japan, one that will hopefully result in a renewed sense of seriousness and purpose, even if it is infused with anxiety about the direction of the country.

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