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Dilemmas of Adulthood

Japanese Women and the Nuances of Long-Term Resistance

Nancy Rosenberger

Publication Year: 2013

In Dilemmas of Adulthood, Nancy Rosenberger investigates the nature of long-term resistance in a longitudinal study of more than fifty Japanese women over two decades. Between twenty-five and thirty-five years of age when first interviewed in 1993, the women represent a generation straddling the stable roles of postwar modernity and the risky but exciting possibilities of late modernity. By exploring the challenges they pose to cultural codes, Rosenberger builds a conceptual framework of long-term resistance that undergirds the struggles and successes of modern Japanese women. Her findings resonate with broader anthropological questions about how change happens in our global-local era and suggests a useful model with which to analyze ordinary lives in the late modern world.

Rosenberger’s analysis establishes long-term resistance as a vital type of social change in late modernity where the sway of media, global ideas, and friends vies strongly with the influence of family, school, and work. Women are at the nexus of these contradictions, dissatisfied with postwar normative roles in family, work, and leisure and yet—in Japan as elsewhere—committed to a search for self that shifts uneasily between self-actualization and selfishness. The women’s rich narratives and conversations recount their ambivalent defiance of social norms and attempts to live diverse lives as acceptable adults. In an epilogue, their experiences are framed by the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which is already shaping the future of their long-term resistance.

Drawing on such theorists as Ortner, Ueno, the Comaroffs, Melucci, and Bourdieu, Rosenberger posits that long-term resistance is a process of tense, irregular, but insistent change that is characteristic of our era, hammered out in the in-between of local and global, past and future, the old virtues of womanhood and the new virtues of self-actualization. Her book is essential for anyone wishing to understand how Japanese women have maneuvered their lives in the economic decline and pushed for individuation in the 1990s and 2000s.

Nancy Rosenberger is professor of anthropology at Oregon State University.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-10

Inexpressible thanks go to the Japanese women who have continued to open their hearts and minds to me and have made this book possible. I am also very grateful to the people in Japan who support me beyond the call of duty in my work there; I value their friendships and insights: Ogawaguchi Teruyo, I extend my appreciation to the Japan Foundation, the Northeast Asia ...

Major Characters

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pp. x-xvi

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Chapter 1 What Is Long-Term Resistance?

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pp. 1-27

A cultural anthropologist like me talks with many people, in this case over many years. Her main aim is to give voice to these people?s stories and experiences through a process of listening closely and thinking about them in relation to almost everything else she reads and does. The final result is her tale of these stories, for in their retelling the anthropolo-gist also recounts a tale of herself, of her encounter with these people, and ...

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Chapter 2 Ambivalence and Tension: Data Meets Theory

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pp. 28-53

I finished scribbling down blurbs from the ads for women?s mag-azines hanging in the center of the subway car and ran for the door. As I made my way through the surge of bodies in the downtown Tokyo station, passing shops and restaurants in the underground mall, my eye was caught momentarily by a young woman in a deep-purple jacket, not a common color in 1993. Wouldn?t it be interesting if she were my next interviewee, I thought. ...

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Chapter 3 Living within the Dilemma of Choice: Singles

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pp. 54-79

...?Every corner of my house is me. It is an extension of myself.? Baba-san, a freelance interpreter of forty-five, waved me into her Tokyo apartment in 2004. Only fifteen minutes from a main Tokyo station, it could not have been cheap. The apartment smelled like oden, a Japanese stew. ?I got so much interpreting work when I came home from London that I really hit the money and paid this off! Now I am trying to have a normal life. I ...

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Chapter 4 No Children despite Running the Gauntlet of Choice

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pp. 80-99

Serious, straight-backed, and dressed in dark colors, Yama-mura-san held her hand on her chest as we talked in a Tokyo family restaurant in 2004. She had married quickly at thirty-five to a man she had once refused, and against the advice of her mother, sister, and superiors at the bank where she worked. Her work had lost its meaningfulness, she said, and ?I think it is important to marry.? She appreciated the fact that this man ...

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Chapter 5 Planning and Cocooning: Mothers at Home

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pp. 100-128

Minam.sci-san?s husband was playing a game with his eight-year-old son on the shrine stairs as we climbed up on our sightseeing tour.?Two!? said the son, and he went down two. I glanced at Minami-san, who was looking on with a smile in her eyes. When we reached the top of the hill, we rang the bell and gazed out to sea while the son swung on the railing.Minami-san had married a professor whom she met through an arranged ...

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Chapter 6 Working and Raising Moral Children

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pp. 129-156

As I.sc w.scalked down the broad sidewalk in Tokyo, neck craned upwards to spy ?Toyota? above the towering stone entrances, I felt curious, as if in by looking into the life of the woman working nineteen floors above me I would find out something about myself. Of the three Toyota sec-retaries whom I interviewed in 1993, only Matsui-san had remained at the company, still an ?office lady? after twenty-five years of work, but now married ...

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Chapter 7 The Nuances of Long-Term Resistance

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pp. 157-176

In this book, I have traced the paths of Japanese women who in the beginning of the 1990s were single, over the accepted marriage age, and participating in their generation?s form of resistance against the cultural code of postwar modernity. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, these women have struggled both with external contradictions between historical and global influences in Japan and with internal contradictions between their ...

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pp. 177-184

I w.scas not able to interview these women again until 2012, almost exactly a year after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant explosion of March 2011 in Japan. Although the results are not fully analyzed, I want to share some of the women?s experiences and thoughts connected with these tragedies. This brief report serves as a fitting epilogue to this book, because for many women, the quake, tsunami, and radiation marked a high tide of risk ...

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pp. 185-186

In an attempt to represent the ideas that constitute the movement of long-term resistance used in this book, I have developed two sets of double axes of intersecting continua. One represents psychosocial movement at the individual level and revolves around the concepts of ambivalence and tension. The other represents cultural political movement at the societal level and revolves around...


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pp. 187-194


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pp. 195-204


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pp. 205-210

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About the Author

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pp. 228-234

Nancy Rosenberger, a professor of anthropology at Oregon State University, has been conducting research in Japan for more than three decades. Since doing her dissertation research at the University of Michigan on experiences and conceptions of menopause in Japan, she has written numerous articles and several books: Gambling with Virtue: Japanese Women and Sense of Self ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824839024
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836962

Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Self-perception in women -- Japan -- Longitudinal studies.
  • Women -- Japan -- Longitudinal studies.
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