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My life as a bridal fashion designer in Berlin. Volume 4

Happy Easter everyone!

After posting the last issue, I was asked about my family's finances.

Of course, I find the question invasive, but I see the need for it to put things in context. So, here it goes.

My family were tight lipped about money. I find it a shame. I wish they taught us what it's like to manage family finances.

So, I can only talk about it from what I observed as a child.

As you can imagine, we were well off, but I'd say we were middle class. I assumed we all were. Now I can see that my friend's families might have had struggles that want to keep it themselves.

Back in the 80s and 90s, Japan was in so called “economic bubble”. The government’s slogan was “Every citizen is middle class”.

On the news, I heard daily how Japanese companies were buying up land all over Japan and the world, especially in the US to develop golf courses. Even as a child, I thought it was absurd why they believed developing so many golf courses was worth it.

I was also uncomfortable with the rhetoric of “Japan is the best at everything”. Made in Japan was considered superior to anything else, and it came with an attitude.

Anyway, my dad was an electrical civil engineer and was working for the company building large projects like international airports, dams and bridges.

Before he was married (in the mid-late 70s), he was living in Singapore and Saudi Arabia for airport projects. Such kinds of projects are now done by Chinese companies. After I was born in 1979, he was in Kuwait and late 1990, he had to be flown back by government-chartered flight when the Iran-Iraq war broke out.

Since then he only worked on national projects like Kansai International Airport. He was always away for work for 3 months and then came back for a week's break.

When I was a year old, he built a family home on the land we owned and my grandparents grew vegetables as a hobby. I remember the celebration with a special sushi takeaway as he paid off the mortgage when I was 10 years old. He then toyed with the idea of building a second home nearby on another land of my grandparents. He wanted the Canadian log house as it was in fashion at the time, and they were imported as a kit, kinda like Lego. At the start of 1991, we were also looking for a family car, because by then, I was the oldest of 4 siblings and the youngest, the twins were getting bigger.

At the car showroom, my mum fell in love with the latest Nissan Micra and my dad bought it on the spot. We returned with a wand of cash and paid it off in one instalment.

The idea was that she'd drive that and he'd drive a larger family carrier when he was home. My mum didn’t have the confidence to drive a large car or ride on motorways.

We went to the Toyota showroom and ordered the car that fit a family of 6 or more. We were to collect it, but my dad unexpectedly passed away. It was March 1992, I was 12, my sister 10, and the twins, a boy and girl just turned 6 and about to start school.

My mum was good at managing finances. But in reality, in Japan, it was super easy to grow your assets. She always had some life insurance etc that would give you pretty good interests. They were in effect investment accounts. You didn’t have to be financially educated. You just had to go to some insurance companies, and they’d advise you on the insurance that gives you the best return.

 The stigma of losing a “breadwinner” meant that by taking up work, she'd face gossip and humiliation, so, it wasn't an option. The phrase "Keeping up an appearance" comes to mind but, back then, it was a matter of survival.

We had child support X 4, widower's support and company payoff.

I was just lucky to be born at the right time to be able to afford education abroad, and I didn't have to ask for my dad's approval. My mum was the type that would travel and open one's horizon.

UK schooling was a lot more affordable back then as well.

To put it in context, back in the 90s and 00s, the annual international tuition fee was €6000. 2024, it's £28,570. Japan hasn't had inflation in the last 30 years. So, you can look at €6000 in today's money, which I find affordable, even when you add the living expenses, it was little compared to now.

About ⅓ of my classmates were Japanese in 1999. Most were middle class.


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