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Consumer Politics in Postwar Japan

Consumer Politics in Postwar Japan: The Institutional Boundaries of Citizen Activism

Patricia L. Maclachlan
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Consumer Politics in Postwar Japan
    Book Description:

    Providing comparisons to the United States and Britain, this book examines Japan's postwar consumer protection movement. Organized largely by and for housewives and spurred by major cases of price gouging and product contamination, the movement led to the passage of basic consumer protection legislation in 1968. Although much of the story concerns the famous "iron triangle" of big business, national bureaucrats, and conservative party politics, Maclachlan takes a broader perspective. She points to the importance of activity at the local level, the role of minority parties, the limited utility of the courts, and the place of lawyers and academics in providing access to power. These mild social strategies have resulted in a significant amount of consumer protection.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50561-1
    Subjects: History, Business, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Since the early postwar period, the hopes and frustrations of Japanese consumer organizations have been conveyed through rich and revealing metaphors drawn from Japanese history. In one of the oldest and most colorful examples, housewives in their consuming capacity are compared with the distressed wives of feudal times who would seek refuge from their oppressive husbands and await divorces at special Buddhist temples known as kakekomidera.¹ Like the hapless wives of old who had been abused by their spouses, early postwar consumers frequently fell victim to the unscrupulous practices of powerful business interests. Unlike their historical counterparts, however, disgruntled consumers...

  5. Part 1: Japanese Consumer Advocacy from Theoretical, Comparative, and Historical Perspectives

    • 1 Toward a Framework for the Study of Consumer Advocacy
      (pp. 13-30)

      Consumers are the bedrock of modern capitalist systems. By spending and saving, they provide both the demand according to which goods and services are supplied and the resources needed to fuel the production process. As such, consumers have significant power, for to ignore their basic wishes is to invite a drop in profits or, in the case of governments, defeat at the polls.

      Consumers are not interested only in spending and saving, however. Many are also concerned about the impact of the production and consumption processes on the environment and the health and welfare of their families; how economic and...

    • 2 Consumer Advocacy in the United States and Britain
      (pp. 31-57)

      The phenomenon of consumerism has given rise to a rich and varied literature on the political development of consumer advocacy organizations in the United States.¹ Few of those works, however, systematically address the impact of political institutions and policies on the historical trajectories and political fortunes of those organizations; fewer still compare their American subject matter with organized consumer movements abroad.² This chapter aims to partially rectify this gap in the literature by comparing how governmental policies and the institutional configurations of consumer protection policymaking in the United States and Britain have influenced the strategies and political impact of their...

    • 3 The Politics of an Emerging Consumer Movement: The Occupation Period
      (pp. 58-84)

      So proclaimed Oku Mumeo, the founder of Shufuren (Japan Federation of Housewives’ Associations), before an assembly of 700 consumer advocates from around the country at the first annual National Consumer Rally (Zen nihon shōhisha taikai) in Tōkyō. Resonating with the incendiary rhetoric of the times, Oku’s words expressed a deep-seated frustration among consumer representatives with the pro-business policies of the early postwar conservative establishment, the failure of both business and government to respect consumer interests, and the lack of consumer representation in the decision-making processes of both business and government. At the turn of the twenty-first century, this sense of...

    • 4 Consumer Politics Under Early One-Party Dominance: 1955 to the Late 1960s
      (pp. 85-110)

      In 1956, after GDP growth rates had finally matched prewar highs, the Japanese government officially announced the end of the period of postwar reconstruction and the beginning of an era of economic expansion (Bronfenbrenner and Yasuba 1987:95). For consumers, the ensuing years were ones of increasing consumption and unprecedented economic affluence, dual phenomena that were both sources and side effects of Japan’s economic catch-up with the West. As often happens in countries that grow rapidly, this veritable revolution in consumption patterns both transformed Japanese living standards and led to a profusion of consumer problems that lent a new sense of...

    • 5 The Post-1968 Consumer Protection Policymaking System and the Consumer Movement’s Response
      (pp. 111-140)

      Nineteen sixty-eight was a year of symbolic anniversaries and new beginnings for the Japanese consumer movement. First, it marked the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Shufuren and the enactment of the Co-op Law, two events that have come to represent the early postwar upsurge of consumer activism and the laws and political institutions that have simultaneously constrained and provoked that activism.

      Nineteen sixty-eight was also the 100th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s entry into the “modern” world. In the parlance of the organized consumer movement, it had been a century of public support for economic growth, producer...

  6. Part 2: Case Studies:: The Impact of Japanese Consumer Advocacy on Policymaking

    • 6 The Right to Choose: The Movement to Amend the Antimonopoly Law
      (pp. 143-174)

      There is a commonly held perception on both sides of the Pacific that Japanese consumer advocates care little about high price levels or the economic forces that contribute to them.¹ This is not true. Consumer advocates may be willing to tolerate high prices for the sake of protecting domestic markets and ensuring high-quality products, but they have been quick to oppose price increases that do not fulfill those objectives. There is plenty of evidence to support this observation. Recall that many of the movement’s most prominent consumer organizations were established during the Occupation in order to combat inflation, the black...

    • 7 The Right to Safety: The Movement to Oppose the Deregulation of Food Additives
      (pp. 175-200)

      Hiwasa Nobuko is in many ways a typical Japanese consumer leader. Like thousands of other housewives, she joined a consumer cooperative during the mid-1970s out of concern for the nutritional well-being of her children. Troubled by what she termed the “distortions” (yugami) of rapid economic growth and the dearth of information about the food she and her family consumed, Mrs. Hiwasa was attracted to the co-ops by their commitment to foods that were free of agricultural chemicals and synthetic additives (interview, Hiwasa, February 1994). Drawn to political activism by interest in these and other consumer issues, she was soon playing...

    • 8 The Right to Redress: The Movement to Enact a Product Liability Law
      (pp. 201-232)

      In October 1982, a Tōkyō housewife took a can of spray detergent to a particularly noxious case of mold and mildew on her bathroom walls. Pleased with the results, she remained loyal to the product for about a year. Then, one day, she began coughing and feeling a painful burning sensation in her throat while using the detergent and was eventually rushed to a hospital in severe respiratory arrest. Suffering permanent lung damage and chronic bronchitis, the housewife sued the manufacturer of the “mold killer” (kabi kiraa) in 1988 for 13 million yen in damages.

      The Tōkyō District Court ruled...

    • 9 The Right to Be Heard: The Past, Present, and Future of the Japanese Consumer Movement
      (pp. 233-254)

      In June 1999, in preparation for the final chapter of this book, I traveled to Tōkyō for a round of follow-up interviews. Although I had arrived with an inkling that the organized consumer movement was once again in flux, I was unprepared for the actual extent of those changes. Japanese consumer organizations, I think it fair to say, are in the midst of yet another “formative moment” in their postwar history, a moment that may be no less significant than the ones experienced during the immediate postwar period and following the 1968 enactment of the Consumer Protection Basic Law.


  7. Notes
    (pp. 255-276)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-304)
  9. Index
    (pp. 305-320)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-322)