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Capturing Contemporary Japan

Capturing Contemporary Japan: Differentiation and Uncertainty

Satsuki Kawano
Glenda S. Roberts
Susan Orpett Long
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Capturing Contemporary Japan
    Book Description:

    What are people’s life experiences in present-day Japan? This timely volume addresses fundamental questions vital to understanding Japan in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Its chapters collectively reveal a questioning of middle-class ideals once considered the essence of Japaneseness. In the postwar model household a man was expected to obtain a job at a major firm that offered life-long employment; his counterpart, the “professional” housewife, managed the domestic sphere and the children, who were educated in a system that provided a path to mainstream success. In the past twenty years, however, Japanese society has seen a sharp increase in precarious forms of employment, higher divorce rates, and a widening gap between haves and have-nots.

    Contributors draw on rich, nuanced fieldwork data collected during the 2000s to examine work, schooling, family and marital relations, child rearing, entertainment, lifestyle choices, community support, consumption and waste, material culture, well-being, aging, death and memorial rites, and sexuality. The voices in these pages vary widely: They include schoolchildren, teenagers, career women, unmarried women, young mothers, people with disabilities, small business owners, organic farmers, retirees, and the elderly.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3870-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Differentiation and Uncertainty
    (pp. 1-24)

    How have people in Japan lived with the nation’s growing instability and widening disparity during the 2000s? Japan was only beginning to recover from the economic recession of the 1990s and the effects of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008 when it was hit with the earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant of March 2011. The tragedies of the tsunami and the Fukushima meltdown heightened the anxiety surrounding not only the status quo but also future directions the country might take. Politically the influence of the long-standing Liberal Democratic Party had waned, and the Democratic...


    • [I. Introduction]
      (pp. 25-26)

      Part I introduces readers to the long-term socioeconomic shift since the 1980s through the eyes of the Fujiis, a blue-collar family living in Kansai and studied by Glenda Roberts (chapter 1), and middle-aged and older people studied by Gordon Mathews (chapter 2). Both scholars reinterviewed those who had participated in their earlier studies, thus giving a depth to their informants’ accounts.

      Glenda Roberts examines the marriage and work experiences of her female informant, Sachi, who is in her fifties. Hers is not a typical middle-class family, yet in the strong economy Sachi and her husband held regular jobs and achieved...

    • CHAPTER 1 Work and Life in Challenging Times: A Kansai Family Across the Generations
      (pp. 27-59)

      Japan has undergone many changes in the past thirty years. It became affluent in these years but then faced a huge economic downturn with the bursting of its property bubble in 1991 and again with the world financial crisis (known in Japan as the “Lehman Shock”) in 2008. With the increasing costs of producing goods domestically, many large firms fled offshore. In 1999, many kinds of jobs were deregulated, a move that enabled firms to hire more people for more insecure positions at lower wages and with fewer or no benefits. Youth now struggle to find stable employment. These trends...

    • CHAPTER 2 Being a Man in a Straitened Japan: The View from Twenty Years Later
      (pp. 60-80)

      In 1989–1990, I intensively interviewed fifty Japanese women and men (between the ages of twenty and eighty) from all walks of life in Sapporo, Japan, about their lives and their notions of what made life worth living (Mathews 1996). From these interviews, I gathered a clear sense of how the men with whom I spoke derived their feelings of “being a man”; it was not, for most, in having different sexual partners, nor in engaging in daring pursuits beyond work, but simply in working hard to support their families (Mathews 2003). Work consumed the lives of most of the...


    • [II. Introduction]
      (pp. 81-82)

      In part II contributors address work experiences and conditions during the 2000s. Sawa Kurotani (chapter 3) explores the lives of female full-time workers of the bubble generation, in their forties and fifties, who have never left their workplace for marriage or child rearing, as did most of their peers. Despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL), introduced in 1986, which officially opened the doors to career-track positions for women in the corporate world, the society continues to pressure married women to quit their jobs when they have children, and Kurotani’s chapter sheds light upon the ways the long-term female workers...

    • CHAPTER 3 Working Women of the Bubble Generation
      (pp. 83-104)

      This chapter is an ethnographic study of professional Japanese women of the bubble generation (baburu sedai) who entered the full-time workforce in the 1980s and early ’90s, at the height of Japan’s postwar economic miracle. During the economic boom, Japan’s strong economy and the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) suddenly opened up professional opportunities for Japanese women, who had been marginalized for decades in the Japanese corporate world. Then, in the 1990s, they experienced a drastic change as the bloated economy collapsed and a decade-long recession put into doubt the efficacy of Japan’s postwar economic regime in an increasingly globalized...

    • CHAPTER 4 “Making an Ant’s Forehead of Difference”: Organic Agriculture as an Alternative Lifestyle in Japan
      (pp. 105-134)

      My first glimpse of Kana was at a discussion of organic agriculture techniques in Tokyo. In a roomful of male panelists and mostly male audience, she was the only woman who offered a technical suggestion. Standing against the wall, her long hair pulled back from her narrow face, she said, “My friends and I are doing a rice paddy on a hill, and we thought that the water coming from the hills above was polluted from fertilizers. We built a filter of stones and some purifying plants that the water has to flow through before it gets to our paddies.”...

    • CHAPTER 5 Shelf Lives and the Labors of Loss: Food, Livelihoods, and Japan’s Convenience Stores
      (pp. 135-160)

      At 8 p.m. in Daily, akonbini(convenience store) in central Tokyo, a young clerk places a shopping basket at his feet and begins examining the prepared foods arranged inside the store’s open refrigerated cases (see figure 5.1).¹ His task is to comb the shelves and remove all “loss” (rosu)—food products nearing expiration. The clerk starts with the packaged rice balls (onigiri). He turns the first item over and scrutinizes the consume-by date (shōhikigen) printed in bold on the white label stuck to the back of the package. Methodically but with considerable speed, he works his way through shelf...


    • [III. Introduction]
      (pp. 161-162)

      Part III consists of three chapters that examine formerly uncharted or underexplored roles and identities. Nakano (chapter 6) analyzes single women and their perceptions of themselves during and after their marriageable years. In postwar Japan the life course was highly standardized, but with the growing number of singles in today’s Japan, how are they scripting their lives? In a society that expects women to play the role of wife-mother and care for others, how do single women see themselves, and what meanings do they find in their lives? How do their experiences of pressure to marry change over time? Nakano...

    • CHAPTER 6 Single Women in Marriage and Employment Markets in Japan
      (pp. 163-182)

      Single women are described in remarkably negative terms in the Japanese mass media. One such term, for example, “parasite singles” (parasaito shinguru) refers to adult single women who live with their parents. The term became popular following the publication of the bookThe Age of Parasite Singles (Parasaito shinguru no jidai)(1999) by the well-known sociologist Yamada Masahiro, who argued that single people were enjoying a comfortable life and consuming luxury products because they were living with their parents without paying rent or household bills. Although Yamada explained that both single women and men were parasites, the term has been...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Aging of the Japanese Family: Meanings of Grandchildren in Old Age
      (pp. 183-201)

      One of my favorite feel-good stories after the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan was that of the rescue nine days after the quake of eighty-year-old Abe Sumi and her sixteen-year-old grandson Abe Jin. Not only was their survival seen as a metaphor for the ability of Japan to come through the disaster and begin to rebuild, but also the story had a happy ending for the Abe family. After five days recovering in the hospital, Mrs. Abe was reported to be out looking for missing acquaintances, carrying her own bags, and claiming that she was fine. She told...

    • CHAPTER 8 Barrier-Free Brothels: Sex Volunteers, Prostitutes, and People with Disabilities
      (pp. 202-220)

      In 2004, journalist Kawai Kaori shocked Japan by writingSex Volunteers, a book that chronicled how people with disabilities were being sexually “serviced” by the eponymous sex volunteers for lack of romantic/sexual partners. This sparked a national conversation on the intersectionality of disability and sexuality—and a flurry of books with scandalous titles such as “I Was a Sex Worker for People with Disabilities.” Feeding into this moral panic were deeper concerns over disability and the family, democracy and social responsibility, and the future of the national health-care system. Various elements within disability communities used this opportunity to push a...


    • [IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 221-222)

      Although the Japanese media have coined the phrase “a society without ties,” referring to the waning family and community ties of the 2000s, the two chapters included in this section explore the ways in which people make connections and networks. Kawano’s contribution (chapter 9) illustrates attempts by nonprofit organizations to foster networks among mothers of preschoolers, as such networks among kin and neighbors had shrunk significantly by the 2000s. The life course is more diverse, families are smaller, and marriage rates are lower, changes that imply that it is more difficult for a young mother to find a married sibling...

    • CHAPTER 9 Recreating Connections: Nonprofit Organizations’ Attempts to Foster Networking among Mothers of Preschoolers
      (pp. 223-246)

      Unlike in early postwar Japan (1950s-1960s), mothers of preschoolers in Tokyo today neither have a sense of belonging in their communities nor can easily find support for child rearing among their neighbors. Their communities no longer maintain strong networks of older child bearers who transmit their knowledge of child rearing. Such networks have weakened partly because an increasing number of people remain unmarried, and thus fertility rates have declined. New mothers often stop working in order to rear their children, and as former commuters they tend to be poorly integrated into their communities when their first child arrives. Yet mothers...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Divination Arts in Girl Culture
      (pp. 247-268)

      Two young women, both wearing high school uniforms, were browsing in an accessory shop in the western section of Tokyo. The girl with the short hair and ready smile was a Sagittarius, and she was looking for something very specific: “One of my Lucky Goods for this month is a gold-colored hair ornament. So I’m getting this one,” she told me, holding out the sparkly gold clip with a tiny pink skull on it. She had read an astrological horoscope inPopteenmagazine (one of hundreds of teen magazines with an English name) and wanted to get one of the...


    • [V. Introduction]
      (pp. 269-270)

      Despite the shifts toward differentiation and an amplified sense of uncertainty that have been examined in this volume, people’s lives remain embedded in some persistent patterns of culture and of social interactions. Yet these patterns are more than cultural remnants; they are incorporated into the experiences of everyday life and reinterpreted in the new contexts of globalization, recession, and mass longevity. Part V features three chapters that highlight certain enduring institutions, practices, and ideas in Japan’s twenty-first century. Despite the state’s efforts to “internationalize” Japanese education by introducing English classes in elementary schools and encouraging more individual and exploratory learning,...

    • CHAPTER 11 Education after the “Lost Decade(s)”: Stability or Stagnation?
      (pp. 271-299)

      Stories of change generally attract more attention than narratives of continuity. But as Baker Street’s fictional detective once said, sometimes the remarkable event is what did not happen. Over the last twenty-five years, there have been significant attempts to change Japanese education, as might have been expected, given the new challenges that have arisen during that time; yet these have had limited success. This chapter examines how far new departures and challenges have affected schools and considers what the state of education can tell us about the state of Japan. At the elementary and junior high levels, I focus especially...

    • CHAPTER 12 Lightweight Cars and Women Drivers: The De/construction of Gender Metaphors in Recessionary Japan
      (pp. 300-315)

      Let me start with a vignette from the mid-1990s, when I was a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student doing dissertation research on Japanese Brazilian migrants in Japan. My fieldsite was Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture. I had rented a car to drop a friend off at Narita Airport and was returning to Shizuoka, passing through the mountains around Hakone late on a Saturday night. I forget what I had rented—a Nissan Sentra or a Toyota Corolla. It was not a sports car, but it was managing the winding road reasonably well when out of nowhere a car raced up behind me and passed...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Story of a Seventy-Three-Year-Old Woman Living Alone: Her Thoughts on Death Rites
      (pp. 316-338)

      “I’ve decided to have my cremated ashes scattered at sea. I have had a contract drawn up and deposited the fees,” Mrs. Noda, a seventy-three-year-old woman living in a city near Tokyo, told me as we enjoyed tea and sweets one afternoon in February 2003. She felt relieved that everything had been set up. I asked her, “What did other people say about the scattering?” Mrs. Noda replied, “No one said, ‘That’s so nice.’ Everybody was, like, ‘Why would you or should you?’ But when I told my kids, my son agreed to take care of it. He did not...

    (pp. 339-346)
    (pp. 347-348)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 349-360)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)