Ayoung woman confessed recently to spending 500,000 yen ($36,700) of her savings in the past three months, although she is unemployed and already has debts of 1.2 million yen. One month, for example, she blew 100,000 yen on beads and crystal ornaments. 'There is no way of stopping my spending, and I feel that I want to die because of it,' she said. Another woman says she has accumulated 3,000 pairs of new shoes, and admits that she is like the former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, except that she is not rich. A third tells how she has spent more than 3 million yen online in one year on jewellery, bags and designer clothes. These revealing conversations, from Japan's largest online bulletin board last week, indicate that many Japanese women are still shopaholics, unable to control their spending even when they have to take out loans. One friend, a middle-aged mother, used to be addicted to shopping. Now, 20 years later, her daughter, in her late 20s, is following in her footsteps. I thought this problem was long gone. But surfing the net, I realise that it has just gone underground. An addiction to shopping was first recognised as an unprecedented social problem in Japan during the economic boom of the 1980s. Psychologists, counsellors, consumer specialists and educators have since uncovered many findings about such behaviour. They learned that many addicts often suffer excessive stress or other emotional conflicts, frustration or grief - and they find an escape through shopping. My friend says that she used to buy fur coats, jewellery and dozens of expensive bags out of frustration and helplessness; her husband worked hard and was rarely at home, leaving her feeling worthless. Now, her daughter is constantly under pressure in her work at an investment bank, and seeks comfort all the time. To reward herself, she heads off on lavish spending sprees. Today, addicts are advised to carry only a small amount of cash and no credit cards. They should take up a hobby, tell family and friends about their 'sickness', and seek counselling. Yet, many women still seem to be stuck in the same environment, with husbands rarely home, discrimination at work, sexual harassment, and pressure to have a baby as soon as they wed, for example. Unless this changes, women will keep looking for happiness elsewhere. In fact, many find comfort in the occasional spree, and are not addicted. One wonders if it might have made a difference to Crown Princess Masako, who has an 'adjustment disorder' brought on by royal life and pressure to produce a male heir, if she had been given the freedom to hit the shops occasionally.