The Times has a piece on breaking silence about poverty in Japan:
After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, this once proudly egalitarian nation is belatedly waking up to the fact that it has a large and growing number of poor people. The Labor Ministry’s disclosure in October that almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty in 2007 stunned the nation and ignited a debate over possible remedies that has raged ever since.
The article goes on to point out that Japan's official poverty rate is only a couple of points behind the U.S. This revelation seems less shocking to me than it might have been, if only because I've been that much more exposed to it through the channels I go to. Oddly enough, it was reading Natsuo Kirino's Out that brought the lower-rung hangers-on in Japan to my attention most vividly. Japan may not have the "high crime rates, urban decay and stark racial divisions of the United States" (as the article puts it), but it is shot through with divisions and riddled with problems of its own that are all the harder to confront when they're concealed not only from outsiders but itself.