Anxiety makes Japanese stingy, says psychologist

TOKYO —

“Japanese are among the stingiest people in the world,” says Josei Jishin (Aug 19-26).

It’s in the genes, it seems. Genes don’t determine character but they predispose us to certain patterns of behavior. Psychologist Eiichi Takumi, who among other things helps business firms devise psychologically effective marketing strategies, tells Josei Jishin that, broadly speaking, the Japanese have anxious, fearful genes.

It’s a question of serotonin, he explains. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of optimism, relaxation and well-being. The Japanese genetic makeup is such that serotonin tends to circulate poorly, to such an extent that 80% of Japanese have “genes that are sensitive to anxiety” – as against 45% of Americans and 28% of South Africans, who must be very easygoing indeed.

Anxiety breeds stinginess. It’s hard to be generous when you’re fearful of the future, distrustful of others, and distrustful even of yourself – another byproduct of anxiety. Anxious people distance themselves from friends who might betray them, from lovers who are sure to be unfaithful, from opportunities at which they are bound to fail. In an uncertain and malevolent world, only one thing can be depended on: money.

The trouble with an article like Josei Jishin’s is that being told you’re genetically predisposed toward anxiety and stinginess can only make you more anxious and, therefore, more stingy. Nobody wants to be stingy – it’s not an attractive trait. The proverbial vicious circle comes into play: anxious genes produce anxiety, anxiety produces stinginess, being warned that you’re stingy and can’t help yourself makes you still more anxious, which makes you still more stingy, and so on.

Just how stingy am I, and how stingy are you? Josei Jishin provides the inevitable checklist, and if honesty compels you to check five items or more, you’re “dangerously stingy,” three or four being about average for Japan.

It’s an interesting list. The first item on it is predictable: “You don’t like associating with people.” The second isn’t: “You believe in fortune-telling.” Item 5: “You’re prone to anger.” Well, naturally – a stingy person would be. But item 4 is, “You save the tastiest part of your bento for last.” Surely lots of people are “stingy” to that extent!

What’s the connection between fortune-telling and stinginess? “Psychological studies have shown that people who believe in fortune-telling tend to be worriers,” says Takumi. “Fortune-telling is an extremely effective tool for calming anxiety. If you’re anxious about the future and you get a clear reading about the good and bad in store for you, it can be a relief.”

Fair enough – but saving the choicest bento morsels for last? It’s symptomatic, Takumi explains, of valuing possession over enjoyment, and shows that, even while it’s still on your plate, or in your bento box, your anxious mind is already fast-forwarding to the time when it no longer will be.

So what to do? How to escape the vise of gene-facilitated, serotonin-challenged stinginess? Takumi’s advice is to cultivate a long-term view of things and crack your egoistic shell by means, for example, of volunteer work. Awareness that you have a problem is half the solution. Reform, Josei Jishin promises, will lead to true happiness. No doubt it will. As with much expert advice, however, Takumi’s leaves you with a nagging doubt: If the solution is so simple, how come it’s so elusive?

Japan Today

  • 16

    gaijinfo

    Another backhanded "we Japanese are special" study.

    Anxiety makes EVERYBODY stingy, not just Japanese. It's just that the Japanese economy is less hopeful (they've got the most debt/GDP ratio and the worst demographics) than most others.

  • 13

    BertieWooster

    Agreed gaijininfo.

    It's no wonder that psychologists have such a pitifully poor success rate.

    Their thinking is fundamentally flawed.

    To begin with Japanese are not stingy.

    I've lived in Tokyo (15 years), Sapporo (15 years) and Okinawa (9 years). It has not been my experience that Japanese people are stingy. They are very happy to share.

    This article tells us more about the person who wrote it, than the people it is supposed to describe.

    "Saving the tastiest morsel till last," isn't stingy.

    A stingy person would eat it first so that no one else would get it!

  • -2

    semperfi

    What a fatuous article-!!! What a crock!!!!! Honestly Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common mental health illnesses in ALL the western world ( Europe / North America) ..............In fact, i n the USA Anxiety disorders is the MOST common mental illness .,costing the U.S. more than $42 billion a year,(according to a study commissioned by ADAA - The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry).

    BertieWosster; Their thinking is fundamentally flawed. To begin with Japanese are not stingy

    Right.................... Japan is one of the highest contributor to world relief programs i n response to natural disters, hunger/faminie and other exigencies . .

  • 12

    Frungy

    Far more likely explanations for seratonin deficit would be lack of sleep, climate, diet and office conditions (too much fluorescent lighting, not enough natural light). These are all fixable (well, apart from climate) but it is far easier to claim it is genetic, exclaim shouganai! (It can't be helped!) and go back to the same unhealthy habits... After all it isn't like the media has any sort of social responsibilities is it?

  • 0

    jerseyboy

    I can kinda believe that stinginess and anxiety could be related, regardless of race. And also give the idea that Japanese have less serotonin some credence, as Japanese supposedly cannot process alcohol as well as some other races, and then there's the "fact" that Japanese have a shorter intestine, or something like that. But how any of that would relate to someone believing in fortune-telling, or the order in which you eat you bento, is way passed my BS test.

  • 8

    Reckless

    Japanese are generous but generally not to strangers. Once you are "their responsibility" they will give like crazy, but I rarely (but not never) see the Good Samaritan here.

    As an anecdote more than 30 plus years ago I attended a Cleveland Browns football game in Cleveland with my friend. We were both about 12, and 90% of persons around us were African American. As we were at the hot dog stand counting our quarters we were talking how we were short a few dimes and completely out of the blue a young African American girl said something like "how much do you need?" and gave us a quarter. I never forgot that. They are obscenely generous.

  • 4

    Mocheake

    Semperfi, you are confusing the country vs. the general population. Japan as a nation contributes a lot to relief programs but the average citizen does not. I have never seen one of my Japanese friends or associates put money in the boxes in the convenience stores, talk about sending aid to the poor, or sponsoring a child from a poor country, etc. Most of them talk about how 'poor' they are without even realizing they are some of the richest people on the planet.

  • 0

    FightingViking

    @jerseyboy

    I can kinda believe that stinginess and anxiety could be related, regardless of race. And also give the idea that Japanese have less serotonin some credence, as Japanese supposedly cannot process alcohol as well as some other races, and then there's the "fact" that Japanese have a shorter intestine

    You are right about the first point and the Japanese DO lack the extra "enzyme" that breaks down alcohol however, as for the intestines, the Japanese have much longer intestines - hence the "lower down" waistline and a greater tendency towards constipation.

  • -2

    turbotsat

    FightingViking: You are right about the first point and the Japanese DO lack the extra "enzyme" that breaks down alcohol however, as for the intestines, the Japanese have much longer intestines - hence the "lower down" waistline and a greater tendency towards constipation.

    How does that work out with Hafu?

  • 2

    borscht

    The crapola you can learn if you read JapanToday's articles. After reading that we Japanese have less serotonin than the rest of the world, I thought BS. So I checked it out.

    Asians (of which the Japanese nation is a part, much to their dismay) have just as much serotonin as the rest of the world but the distribution is hampered by the relative lack of Long Genes to transport the serotonin. From the Economist (which was a heck of a lot easier to read than the academic articles I read) http://www.economist.com/node/21532247:

    On average, the Asian Americans in the sample had 0.69 long genes, the black Americans had 1.47 and the white Americans had 1.12.

    That result sits comfortably with other studies showing that, on average, Asian countries report lower levels of happiness than their GDP per head would suggest. African countries, however, are all over the place, happinesswise. But that is not surprising, either. Africa is the most genetically diverse continent, because that is where humanity evolved..

    And

    Joan Chiao and Katherine Blizinsky of Northwestern University, in Illinois, found a positive correlation between higher levels of the short version of the gene and mood disorders (China and Japan have lots of both) and with collectivist political systems. Their hypothesis is that cultures prone to anxiety tend towards systems that emphasise social harmony and away from ones that emphasise individuals' independence of each other.

    Now that is an interesting observation and explains a lot about the detailed plans we Japanese need in order to have a relaxed weekend.

  • 5

    GW

    Reckless nailed it imo! After 2+ decades I find Japanese to be a cold bunch to people they don't know, but can be generous to a fault to those they do know.

    This is pretty much is due tot he ole uchi/soto thing

  • 0

    Spanki

    >

    How does that work out with Hafu? >

    That's quite a good point Turbotsat. While my daughter has some Japanese looks, the doctor said her body seems to have stronger western genes, so it seems it depends on which is the more dominant hafu.

    • Moderator

      Back on topic please.

  • 1

    lucabrasi

    I wouldn't say Japanese people were "cold" towards outsiders, they're just crippling shy.

    If you ask, they'll give you the shirt off their back, but they won't offer it to you spontaneously; that would too high a level of interaction with a stranger. And if you're a foreign stranger, well....

  • 2

    shallots

    @borscht What is a mood disorder? It's a relatively new concept driven by the American drug manufacturers. The idea of "culture" needs explication. That some groups are prone to what amounts to a poorly understood supposed pathology needs to be shown. Let me try to be as explicitly on-topic as I can: This article does little to provide useful information on a complex problem. Depression and anxiety are not as well understood as the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries would like us to believe. Labeling oneself as suffering from a disorder is a choice that will impact one's life. I think it's a good thing to take all this into consideration. It's also good to be very skeptical of claims that specific behaviors are simply the product of genes. This article is lazy and irresponsible in that it is more likely to generate misunderstanding or unfounded claims than it is to produce a better-informed public.

  • 0

    Brainiac

    Anxiety about one's financial future could make one stingy, I suppose, especially if you are living on a tight budget. It doesn't leave much disposable income for charity.

  • 2

    Sensato

    The original article had the sentence "我々日本人は、世界有数の「ケチ民族」だという。" which is translated here as "“Japanese are among the stingiest people in the world," with the word "kechi" (ケチ) translated as "stingy." But, given the article's content, I might argue that a better translation would have been "Japanese are among the pettiest people in the world."

    "Kechi" is one of those words with a very broad meaning that is not always readily captured in a single English word, and the J-E dictionary gives dozens of English words as possible translations for it.

    So, this article is referring to much more than stinginess in terms of a person's unwillingness to share time/possessions/money/resources. It also refers to "kechi" in terms of pettiness, anal retentiveness, and just an overall nit-picky attitude.

  • -1

    smithinjapan

    I don't think Japanese are any more stingy than the people of any other nation, and while there seem to be a lot more people that suddenly snap here, anxiety is not a genetic trait in terms of WHAT you worry about. Peopl may well be easy-going, but not overly well off, so naturally if they're worried it'll relate to money, and that perhaps to stinginess or reliance on others. If I worry about tests or disease, for example, how does that relate to stinginess? And I'd be more apt to spend more money on friends/family to curry favor if I were worried about our relationship, not be stingier.

    As for the five questions the shrink asks to judge stinginess, they are a crock. Are fireworks organizers stingy because they "save the best for last"? Should directors be criticized if they don't put the climax of a movie in the opening scene? You can interpret the answers to the questions he asks in any way:

    1. "You don't like socializing with people".

    Reason: you have anxiety and are stingy!

    Reason: you enjoy leisure time by yourself.

    Reason: you are vastly superior and have no need for them.

    Reason: you're calm, cool, and generous. Being with others can be fun, but you don't want to show them up as they are stingy and need each other's affections.

    Reason: you're a spy from another planet... Humans smell funny.

    Reason: you're training yourself for the zombie holocaust, and in case your fall and become undead, you don't wish to eat others due to your generous nature.

    1. "You believe in fortune telling"

    reason: it's not that you necessarily believe what you are told, but the custom is silly and fun to try at least once. And no... No other nation has things like horoscopes, palm and tarot readers, etc.!

    reason: you can see the future, so why not be generous and give your fellow psychic a hand out and thumbs up?

    Reason: you're an alien spy, and have no trouble doling out cash for information from the planet's visionaries!

    Reason: you're waiting for one to tell you you are unhappy in your love life so you can blame the break up on the fortune teller and fate.

  • 0

    Thunderbird2

    Absolute rubbish.

  • 5

    Ah_so

    Absolute nonsense - you do not need to be a scientist to identify this as pseudo-science.

    The psychologist behind this is also pushing the belief that there is a Japanese race, whereas we know that Japanese are a mix of slightly different Asian peoples, but are genetically little different from their neighbours, such as the Koreans. Characteristics common among Japanese people should be common amongst other N.E. Asian people, as well as people of Japanese heritage born abroad, such as Hawaii or Brazil.

    In case anyone is taking him seriously, remember that he is the author of a pop psychology number of books including "Mystery of the identity of the sixth sense - close to the secret of the mysterious ability that everyone has" according to Amazon. Not to be taken seriously.

  • 1

    lasolitaria

    Saving the best piece of a meal for last has nothing with to do with stinginess or "valuing possession over enjoyment" -what a far-fetched load of bull! It has to do with delaying the pleasure so it becomes more rewarding, so it's actually all about enjoyment. It's a widespread custom in my homeland, which is probably the farthest you can get from the Japanese culturally. As someone who's been exposed to a steady flow of tourism, I've also come across lots of people from everywhere who do that. Actually, based solely on my experience, I'd say people who don't save the best piece of a meal for last are the exception. It just seems like the natural thing to do.

    And this is some fine study, drawing "scientific" conclusions from such trivial observations. But hey, Psychology is not even science.

  • 2

    interuni321

    Japanese people are not stingy at all, Japanese companies are rather stingy though.

    As for the "science" around serotonin, sounds like utter rubbish to me. All humans are extremely closely related, so such a large difference in brain chemistry is highly unlikely.

  • -1

    Ali Khan

    This is easy way out to put every thing on genetic makeup

  • 4

    JTDanMan

    broadly speaking, the Japanese have anxious, fearful genes.

    Possibly one of the stupidest statement made this month. In the entire world.

  • 0

    turbotsat

    They still sell Blood Type books at Daiso in USA. At least they did a few years ago. Looks similar to the Chinese Zodiac birth sign books they sell in Chinatown. I guess most of us know how the blood type thing played out, but I still get asked "what's your blood type" sometimes, as a serious question.

    Maybe in the future, when total gene map tests become more cheaply available to individuals, and people can supposedly see how long or short their "anxiety genes" are, Daiso will sell Gene Map books.

  • 0

    ipone

    This article say that Japanese are usually stingy because of the effect of much serotonin.

    However, I doubt the fact.

    Do you know the big earthquake March 11 in 2011 ?

    In the disaster, Japanese people helped each other without any compensation. People shared the food they have with others. Even children helped parents clean the toilet.

    Now, I believe that Japanese people certainly tend to worry about the future, but we don't stingy at all. It depends on situation.

  • 0

    igloobuyer

    This is not very scientific since there is no such thing as 'Japanese genes' - the people of Japan are genetically mixed so how can there be specific gene traits?

  • 1

    Juanjose Santibañez

    ¡¡¡Great notice!!!. Now I'm able to understand the happiness of mexican people. They are optimistic and not so anxious.Thanks to Japan Today.

  • 0

    wtfjapan

    Anxiety makes Japanese stingy L+OL what a load of BS, its lower wages and bonuses compared to 25 years ago that make Japanese stingy now compared to then. and now the higher consumption tax. less disposable income = stingy

  • -2

    tinawatanabe

    the people of Japan are genetically mixed so how can there be specific gene traits?

    Because gene traits can be traced even genetically mixed.

  • -1

    Fox Sora Winters

    Hmm. This doesn't actually seem to be a Japan-only trait, if it is even true that anxiety leads to stinginess. The only stinginess I've ever encountered stems from greed, not anxiety. That's not a genetic factor, but a psychological one. But, that's just my personal experience. I can't say that I see how anxiety would lead to stinginess though. Introversion, sure. I can understand that. An unwillingness to share would naturally result from that introversion, as sharing would be seen as an act of bonding, something introverted people aren't comfortable doing. I've heard it said time and again that Japanese people (generally speaking) can be slow to open up to new people, to form friendships with strangers. So it sounds like introversion is a common trait amongst Japanese people. Again, that's a psychological factor, not genetic.

    On the subject of Serotonin however, my biochemistry is a little rusty, but I believe Tryptophan will counteract the low Serotonin levels. Tryptophan is found in milk, particularly highly in goat's milk. I believe you can also get Tryptophan supplements as well. If this supposed stinginess was the result of anxiety, which was in turn the result of low Serotonin production, then the remedy is readily available in abundant quantities. Such abundance should surely mean that the problem therefore shouldn't exist, right? So that would poke holes in the whole "anxiety is genetic" theory. Assuming my biochemistry is accurate of course. I can't say for certain that it is.

  • -2

    Serrano

    “Japanese are among the stingiest people in the world”

    Ishihara was right! lol

  • 0

    turbotsat

    I wouldn't have thought Japanese genetics were that mixed compared to the mainland, given that they're on an island.

  • 0

    shallots

    The original article and the Times repackaging are junk plain and simple. The studies that this is based on are one thing. The conclusions being drawn are another. The psychologist from the original article is a crackpot, in the tradition of street-side hair-oil salesman. This is something that the gullible will imbibe to make them stupider. The rest of us can just shake our heads at the falling standards of "news," and as well as what is taken to be the health profession.

  • 4

    Athletes

    Japanese are among the stingiest people in the world,

    Once I l dropped my smart phone and wallet outside of the shop near the Kamagasaki, Osaka(Slum Area), luckily, I got back everything from honest homeless man. Even he is frail, unemployed and hungry, he is still generous enough for repaying all of my money back. They may be enough for him for buying meals for a few days. Even I tried to give him some, he refused with pride.

    I feel embarrassed and ashamed because I am from Myanmar which has never repaid the Japanese oversea aids and development assistance. If Japanese are stingiest people, the Sun will rise from the West. There will be no more earthquake in Japan. Every day will be Cherry Blossom.

  • 2

    JTDanMan

    Every time someone argues that this or that complex human trait is 'in the genes,' then they are using, or at least trying to use, scientific to bolster their prejudice. Scientists do not talk that way.

    About that science stuff. See, it requires evidence. A lot of it. Evidence then is amasses to support a model. Then, when possible, that model is tested.

    Genes code for proteins. When someone says 'in the genes', well, they better be able to show the genes, explain the coding, explain the proteins, and explain how the proteins contribute to the complex trait.

    Because we cannot, at this time, do that, they are just chanting

    *Mendel, Watson, Crick and Hubble

    Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble.*

  • 0

    klepinger

    I believe that most people call saving the best part of a meal until last - dessert :o)

    Lawrence Klepinger

  • 0

    semperfi

    klepinger

    I believe that most people call saving the best part of a meal until last - dessert :o)

    Sweet ! .........................................and incontrovertibly, anxiety also is the trigger for over-spending, splurging, shopaholic-syndrome bc spending money give s an endorphin rush.

  • 0

    how to get gimelim

    Having travelled and lived in different countries around the world, I would agree that Japanese people tend to be extremely adversely over-anxious and worried about the future and what might happen as whole. Many poorer communities and nations have much more fun, smiles on their face and open-mindness in their daily lives despite economic and lifestyle hardships they face on day to day basis.

    Not that Japanese can not relax, they just do not allow themselves to do so. More of the illnesses they suffer are from lifestyle choices - like let's save 15 yen on moyashi by walking/cycling for two hours around the neighborhood without questioning the nutrition value of the said moyashi in the first place, when combines with deep fried pork and a huge bowl of rice, and the wasted time, which might have been used for one hour part time job and earning them thus an income.

    They are many blogs in Japanese on household keeping, written in majority by women. You would be surprised to what lengths some of them go to save a yen from having a healthy nutritious meal for their children when they had just received a great bonus or whatever.

    I would like to point to the fact that when the general public talks about "genes", as a sequence of DNA, what they have in mind is an "allele", probably.

  • 0

    pablo944

    Did somebody pay this guy for his research and opinions? Obviously a very generous person because he/she has paid for a complete load of nonsense. I can't imagine how anybody could have reached these riduculous conclusions from the observations listed. Stingy to save the best til last! What?

  • 0

    FernandoUchiyama

    I totally disagree with author's opinion.

    I am a third generation japanese descendent living in Brazil and lived in Japan for almost 4 years working as an IT consultant.

    Maybe it is true that the japanese people are one of the most anxious people in the world, and also fearfull of everything. But definitly these are not related to genes.

    In Brazil, full blood japanese descendents are loosing this characteristics in each new generation.

    To me it is related to japanese culture. In the West you have more freedom. As soon as you get 18 or 21 you are respected by the old people. They let you do things your own way and you can commit your own mistakes. The old people only observes your acts and try to help when convenient.

    In Japan, the old rules. A japanese father controls every movement of their son life even after he becomes an adult. You have lots of rules. In Japan you are not respected by the old people, instead you have to respect them. You only begin to live your own life and do the things your own way when your father die or get sclerotic.

    Thats why a western 21 years old guy is much more assertive than a japanese 21 years old.

    But again, in Brazil, full japanese descendents are loosing those characteristics and are becoming more normal westerners as each new generation born. We are learning the western way of doing things.

  • 0

    tinawatanabe

    In Japan, the old rules. A japanese father controls every movement of their son life even after he becomes an adult. You have lots of rules. In Japan you are not respected by the old people, instead you have to respect them. You only begin to live your own life and do the things your own way when your father die or get sclerotic.

    FernandoUchiyama Before the war? I think what you are saying is illegal, against Japan's Civil Code.

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