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Gambling with Virtue

Gambling with Virtue: Japanese Women and the Search for Self in a Changing Nation

Nancy Rosenberger
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Gambling with Virtue
    Book Description:

    Gambling with Virtue rings with the voices of women speaking openly about their struggle to be both modern and Japanese in the late twentieth century. It brings to the fore the complexity of women's everyday lives as they navigate through home, work, and community. Meanwhile, women fashion selves that acknowledge and challenge the social order. Nancy Rosenberger gives us their voices and experiences interspersed with introductions to public ideas of the last three decades that contribute significantly to the opportunities and risks women encounter in their journeys. Rosenberger uses the stage as a metaphor to demonstrate how everyday life requires Japanese women to be skilled performers. She shows how they function on stage in their accepted roles while effecting small but significant changes backstage. Over the last thirty years, Japanese women have expanded their influence and extended this cultural process of multiple arenas to find compromises between the old virtues of personhood and new ideals for self. They conform, maneuver, and make choices within these multiple stages as they juggle various concerns and desires. By the 1990s their personal choices have made a difference, calling into question the very nature of these multiple arenas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6261-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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

    How has the notion of self changed in Japan over the last three decades of the twentieth century? This is the question that drives this book. Through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, Japanese people have felt strong pressures both to globalize and to remain strong as a nation. Popular global ideas push toward increased independence and leisure at the individual level, while ideas of national morality pull toward virtues of productive, cooperative citizens. Despite global trends, different groups of people bring varying conceptions of self to the experience of modernity and often create fascinating hybrid versions of personhood—indigenous ideas...

  5. Part I Glimpses into the ’70s:: Reworking Traditions

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 11-20)

      The ’70s was an era of strong institutions that gave people limited latitude. I was impressed with this fact as soon as I arrived at Second High School, the public girls’ school in a northeast city where I would teach for two years in the early ’70s. After coming through the stately trees in front of the school and entering the large entry hall, I took off my shoes and slipped into the green plastic slippers that awaited my arrival. An office woman in a blue-and-white uniform sighted me and alerted the others in the office as she scurried to...

    • 1 Institutional Selves: Women Teachers
      (pp. 21-43)

      Sasaki-san drew her brush in an orange spiral of ink to mark the well-rounded corner of a large, black Japanese character drawn by a first-year student. She flew across the classroom to pin it up among the rows of characters in the back of the room. The mothers would be coming tomorrow to see the students’ work and she wanted to let them know how hard the students and she had been working. She glanced up at the large characters she had written above: “Persevere with strong spirit!” Meant for the students, they were an encouragement for her too.¹


    • 2 Virtuous Selves: Housewives
      (pp. 44-60)

      Public discourses established the middle-class housewife as an enviable position in the ’70s. In the northeast, women who fit this description showed me the difficulties and joys that professional housewife-ism brought to their lives. Despite the standard category, one housewife’s situation rarely equaled another’s: variables such as husbands, incomes, occupations, and responsibilities to elders evoked different choices and strategies from women. What kinds of selfhood or personhood did women construct in various circumstances?

      Through Sasaki-san, the calligraphy teacher in chapter 1, I met her mother, a woman in her mid-forties at the time, who extended as far as possible the...

  6. Part II Glimpses into the ’80s:: Individuality and Diversity

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 61-74)

      The ’80s were an era of subtle but important changes in the lives of Japanese women. Hopes for greater inclusion in Japan’s economic miracle were high in the northeast as the bullet train was extended north from Tokyo. A trip that used to take six to eight hours now took three. Social change came with it; the women introduced in chapter 2 had engineered compromises between local customs and new urban trends.¹

      Mother Sasaki’s strong mothering strategies had worked, though the result was not quite what she had planned. Contrary to prewar legal and social traditions her daughter rather than...

    • 3 Backstage Selves: Housewives
      (pp. 75-98)

      Middle-aged women in the ’80s responded with cautious enthusiasm to the idea that middle-class housewives not only could but should get out of the house to pursue hobbies, work, and consume. They made choices and strategies to develop personhood in new directions, but were always aware that like a pattern in a kaleidoscope, their movements could look different with a turn of perspective. Their own lives had passed through a multilayered history. As a northeastern woman of 50 said:

      When I was younger, we recited the Imperial Rescript on Education. It taught us that country comes before family, elders before...

    • 4 Fulfilled Selves? Working Women
      (pp. 99-122)

      Tokyo, 1983. A woman in her mid-forties sighed over tea with friends on her way home from work on Saturday afternoon. Eyes a bit red, hands rough, she spoke slowly: “I get up before 6 and work until 5. I feel sorry when the train gets to the station near the cafeteria where I work because I have to wake up. I want to sleep a little longer … once I did go too far by mistake! I’d quit if I didn’t have to work for money.”

      Tokyo, 1983. A woman in her late forties spoke briskly over tea in...

  7. Part III Glimpses into the ’90s:: Independent Selves Supporting Family

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 123-136)

      Japan had new worries in the ’90s: domestic recession as economic growth slowed to a crawl, and population shifts as the number of elders grew and the number of children shrank. Talk of economic restructuring filled the air as first-rate banks and companies went into the red, long-term employees were laid off, and people with fewer assets suffered.¹ The fertility rate hovered around 1.4 in the ’90s, one of the lowest in the world. In 1995 each person over 65 was supported by 5.8 people, but by 2050, this would decrease to 2 (Gaimushō 1997).² Government bureaucrats painted a grim...

    • 5 Centrifugal Selves: Housewives
      (pp. 137-159)

      In the spring of 1990, three friends whom I had befriended in Tokyo in the early ’80s visited me in Oregon. Hiraki-san had left her husband and two college-age boys to cook for themselves; Uchino-san’s husband was stationed overseas with his company; and Tanaka-san was divorced, her children with their father. (The reader met them briefly in chapter 3.)

      Although they found small-town America charming, nothing was more fun than shopping for dresses, furniture, and antiques. Western styles carried images of status for them, and the uniqueness of things bought here conveyed individuality. Uchino-san shipped an oak tea cart home,...

    • 6 Compassionate Selves: Women and Elder Care
      (pp. 160-181)

      Letters from Japan give testimony of the growing number of elders and the personal choices that surround their care; we will return to Muratasan later in the chapter. Up to this point, we have discussed women forming personhood in spite of or outside of elder care, especially the care of in-laws, which has represented subordination and distasteful emotional dependency to many women in recent Japanese history. Yet elder care by women does not seem likely to end because 15 percent of the population of Japan was over 65 in 1995, and the government has predicted a crisis by 2025 when...

    • 7 Selves Centered on Self: Young Single Women
      (pp. 182-213)

      In 1993 Suzuki-san, a 32-year-old single Tokyo woman, drove her flashy sports car to my small hotel. Her deep tan, gold jewelry and casual, high-quality clothing heralded her as one of the so-called “single aristocrats.” Suzuki-san was eager to talk about her off-work life.

      I get off at 5 o’clock and take cooking class, flower designing, and English, or go to a sports club. Otherwise I meet with my friends or watch TV with my mother at home. On weekends or vacations, I go skiing or diving. I’ve been scuba diving for ten years. I go to Okinawa or somewhere...

    • 8 No Self, True Self, or Multiple Selves?
      (pp. 214-232)

      1993. Sitting on one of the departmental couches in the office of a Tokyo university, I heard an interesting debate between a department secretary and a graduate student over the pros and cons of marriage and children in Japan. The secretary, Negishi-san, a 30-year-old junior-college graduate who had come up to Tokyo only two years before, argued for married life against the doubts of the more highly educated women students who planned life-time careers. Yanagi-san was a 24-year-old graduate student, also raised in a regional city, but educated in Tokyo and soon to enter a job at a research firm.


  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-240)

    We have listened to women’s voices and public discourses from Japan to discover the opportunities, limitations, and risks that women experienced during the rapid changes of the late twentieth century. We have seen women creatively maneuvering and making choices to forge a personhood that accommodates both the local and the global in their lives. Anthony Giddens, famous for his theorizing on modern society, writes in general terms about how the concepts of self and relationship have changed in an era of “high modernity”—when local worlds become intertwined with distant events and ideas around the globe. To varying degrees, people...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 241-252)
  10. References
    (pp. 253-266)
  11. Index
    (pp. 267-278)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)