AbstractThis paper addresses a set of questions concerning the relationship between welfareâits level and its distributionâand economic development in Japan between the 1880s and 1940. Did average levels of welfare improve or decline? Did welfare steadily change, or did it improve during certain periods, only to decline during others? Did the distribution of welfare change? Were some people made worse off while other people prospered? Or did welfare improve for everyone, but at differential rates, so that the gap between rich and poor widened? In short, did the degree of inequality change as Japan developed; and, if so, were the changes continuous, or were they subject to sharp fluctuation? For instance, was there a period when inequality markedly worsened? Of course, we are not only interested in what happenedâwe are also interested in why. So, the paper attempts to pinpoint key causal factors shaping secular trends and fluctuations in welfare and its distribution.