Is Japan a spiritual-oriented or materialistic society? The answer is definitively spiritual, according to the most recent national livelihood survey by the Cabinet Office. The highest percentage of Japanese ever — 64 percent — said they are now placing priority on “spiritual fulfillment” rather than “material richness.”
The survey also found the lowest percentage ever, 30.1 percent, pursuing wealth as their main priority in life. The percentage of those pursuing spiritual matters has led the annual survey since 1979. However, the relative difference between spiritual and material values reached its highest gap this year.
Watching the tragic destruction caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 surely changed many people’s life priorities. The sustained economic downturn has also shown many people, whether they wanted to see it or not, that they can enjoy their lives with less money than they once imagined.
The turn away from affluence showed up in another result of the survey. According to 66.5 percent of people, what is most in need of improvement in Japan is the economy. That doesn’t necessarily mean they seek affluence. The ideal of the Japanese economic miracle is receding even further into the past, replaced by the realities of the current economic situation. People do not want to get rich; they want the economy to function.
The ongoing trend in Japanese life also involves a revaluation of lifestyle issues. More of those surveyed, 37.7 percent, said they preferred pursuing leisure and recreational activities, rather than a higher income (33.3 percent). Personal fulfillment and human relations have begun to receive greater attention and concern.
Unfortunately, government policy and foreign relations do not always reflect this national mood. It is not that the government should interfere in spiritual matters, much less promote them, but the economic engines should not be repaired simply to pump up the level of affluence, but to allow people to get on with their other interests.
The survey indicates that people now have concerns that go past the limits of material acquisitiveness.
Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum would do well to understand this ongoing shift in public values. The survey indicates that Japan is moving beyond the past overemphasis on economic and material growth, both individually and nationally, to a more balanced view of what life entails, a view that includes more nuanced and complex aspects of human experience.
That change can only be for the good.