Friday, August 24, 2012

Kakeibo: The Japanese Household Account Book

A time honored tradition of housewives across Japan, the kakeibo (家計簿), or "household account book" is as ubiquitous as a television or microwave in many Japanese houses.

While keeping a household expense ledger is by no means unique to Japanese households, the meticulous way in which housewives hang on to and, come pay day, tabulate up every last receipt and bill is quite amazing.

Origins of the Kakeibo
The kakeibo has gained particular prominence in Japan due to a variety of cultural and economic factors. First and foremost, a traditional nuclear Japanese household relies on a stay-at-home mother to manage everything from cleaning to child rearing. An archetypical family is typically supported by a working father who is either too busy to worry about the trivialities of home finance, is adverse to doing what is traditionally considered "women's work," or lives half way across Japan on company assignment (known as tanshin funnin 単身赴任). 

This situation is compounded by a banking system that does not allow for more than one account holder per bank account. Therefore, hubby generally leaves his earnings in the hands of his wife, from which she gives him a monthly or weekly kozukai (小遣い), or "allowance", for drinking, eating out, gambling and so on. The wife is expected to take care of his entertainment budget in addition to any other financial obligations. Add in the sky-high cost (in both time and yen) of educating and raising kids in Japan, and the job of household accounting can become a formidable challenge.

Finally, Japan has never embraced the use of personal checks, which make for easy record keeping. Instead, most families use direct withdrawals to pay for everything from school lunches to electrical bills. Since the debit card has never really caught on in Japan either (although credit card use has been on the rise), expenses such as gas, food, and clothing are generally all paid for with cold, hard cash.

Modern Day Kakeibo
With the rise of the smart phone, laptop, and personal computer, you would think that keeping a kakeibo would be a fool's errand. But that is far from the case. As a matter of fact, many traditionally-minded housewives prefer handwritten ledgers since they can be easily adjusted on the fly. They also contain space to separate and save receipts, write up monthly and yearly savings goals and budget for unforeseen expenses. Also, as you'd expect of Japanese consumer goods, they come in super-cute colors and are chocked full of cute characters.
A Miffy themed kakeibo found on Rakuten

That being said, there are plenty of computer programs, excel templates, and mobile phone apps floating around out there for the technology savy housewife. Internet provider OCN even has a fairly comprehensive online kakeibo service and accompanying iPhone app available for free!

While bookkeeping might not be as popular as it once was due to a whole slew of cultural and economic factors, it hasn't faded out completely. The recent economic downturn, for example, has encouraged cash-strapped families to economize as much as possible, often with help of a kakeibo. As a testament to the continued popularity of the kakeibo, take a quick look through the Japanese blogosphere or peruse your local bookstore's collection of housekeeping magazines; you'll undoubtedly find yourself face-to-face with plenty of how-to guides and great tips on how to start and better keep your own.


  1. I want you to know that this post got me to buy a ledger here in the U.S. I hope that I become disciplined enough as to not crash and burn in Japan.

    Going from being paid once a week to once a month is probably quite the mental adjustment so I think preparing early is best.

  2. Anon- That is a great plan. If you are preparing for your first salaried job then keeping a ledger or excel sheet is a great way to see where your money goes. Nothing like being destitute and pay day is still a half a month away.

    I managed to break a pretty bad convenience store habit just by looking at how much money went into onigiri and bento boxes per month.