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Capturing Contemporary Japan

Differentiation and Uncertainty

edited by Satsuki Kawano, Glenda S. Roberts, and Susan Orpett Long

Publication Year: 2014

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book was conceived in a dark restaurant/bar on one late autumn evening in New Orleans in 2010, during the 109th American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting. After a long day of attending panels, seeing colleagues, and inspecting new books, we needed to enjoy the music for which the city is known—jazz. The result was not a release from work, however. We...

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Introduction: Differentiation and Uncertainty

Satsuki Kawano, Glenda S. Roberts, and Susan Orpett Long

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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...

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Part I: Change Over Time

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...

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Chapter 1: Work and Life in Challenging Times: A Kansai Family Across the Generations

Glenda S. Roberts

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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...

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Chapter 2: Being a Man in a Straitened Japan: The View from Twenty Years Later

Gordon Mathews

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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...

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Part II: Work Conditions and Experiences

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...

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Chapter 3 Working Women of the Bubble Generation

Sawa Kurotani

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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...

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Chapter 4 “Making an Ant’s Forehead of Difference”: Organic Agriculture as an Alternative Lifestyle in Japan

Nancy Rosenberger

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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...

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Chapter 5 Shelf Lives and the Labors of Loss: Food, Livelihoods, and Japan’s Convenience Stores

Gavin Hamilton Whitelaw

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pp. 135-160

At 8 p.m. in Daily, a konbini (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)...

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Part III: Exploring New Roles and Identities

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...

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Chapter 6: Single Women in Marriage and Employment Markets in Japan

Lynne Y. Nakano

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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 book The Age of Parasite Singles (Parasaito shinguru no jidai) (1999) by the well-known sociologist Yamada Masahiro, who...

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Chapter 7: The Aging of the Japanese Family: Meanings of Grandchildren in Old Age

Susan Orpett Long

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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...

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Chapter 8: Barrier-Free Brothels: Sex Volunteers, Prostitutes, and People with Disabilities

Karen Nakamura

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pp. 202-220

In 2004, journalist Kawai Kaori shocked Japan by writing Sex 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...

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Part IV: Making Social Ties

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...

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Chapter 9: Recreating Connections: Nonprofit Organizations’ Attempts to Foster Networking among Mothers of Preschoolers

Satsuki Kawano

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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...

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Chapter 10: The Divination Arts in Girl Culture

Laura Miller

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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...

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Part V: Persisting Patterns and Continuities

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...

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Chapter 11: Education after the “Lost Decade(s)”: Stability or Stagnation?

Peter Cave

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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...

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Chapter 12: Lightweight Cars and Women Drivers: The De/construction of Gender Metaphorsin Recessionary Japan

Joshua Hotaka Roth

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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...

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Chapter 13: The Story of a Seventy-Three-Year-Old Woman Living Alone: Her Thoughts on Death Rites

Satsuki Kawano

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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?”...


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pp. 339-346


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pp. 347-348


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pp. 349-361

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780824838706
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824838683

Publication Year: 2014