A number of investigators have claimed that higher depression scores and higher rates of depressive disorder are found worldwide in women, unmarried persons, and people of low socioeconomic status (SES). A closer look, however, indicates that patterns for Asian countries are less consistent than claimed. As a case in point, using comparable data from the National Family Research of Japan '98 survey (N=6985) and the National Survey of Families and Households in the US (N=8111), we examine the distributions of depressive symptoms by gender, marital status, and SES, with a short form of the CES-D Scale. Bivariate and multivariate analyses show that depressive symptoms are higher in women, unmarried persons, and those with lower family incomes in both countries, but there is no association between education and depression in Japan while symptoms are inversely related to education in the US. We argue that the lack of relationship between education and depression in Japan is not an artifact of measurement but a product of Japan's distinctive stratification processes relating to occupation. Cross-national variations around "general" patterns are important because they offer clues to more specific cultural and structural factors involved in the social etiology of mental disorder.