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Gambling with Virtue

Japanese Women and the Search for Self in a Changing Nation

Nancy R. Rosenberger

Publication Year: 2001

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Acknowledgments go beyond the written word. My heart goes out in gratitude to the many Japanese women who have given of themselves for my research. They have tried hard to help me understand their lives, hoping that the truths they have to tell would emerge. I humbly offer this book to them as one way of getting at least part of their stories across to...

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pp. 1-9

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...

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

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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...

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Chapter 1. Institutional Selves: Women Teachers

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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...

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Chapter 2. Virtuous Selves: Housewives

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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...

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

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pp. 61-73

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...

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Chapter 3. Backstage Selves: Housewives

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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...

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Chapter 4. Fulfilled Selves?: Working Women

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pp. 99-121

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...

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

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pp. 123-135

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...

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Chapter 5. Centrifugal Selves: Housewives

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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...

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Chapter 6. Compassionate Selves: Women and Elder Care

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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...

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Chapter 7. Selves Centered on Self: Young Single Women

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pp. 182-213

A junior college graduate, Suzuki-san made $2,600 a month plus bonuses as a teacher at a private kindergarten, and spent $350 a month on entertainment and clothes.1 She lived in a high-class suburb with her widowed mother to whom she paid $500 a month rent...

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Chapter 8. No Self, True Self, or Multiple Selves?

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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...

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pp. 233-239

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....


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pp. 241-252


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pp. 253-265


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pp. 267-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862619
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822620

Publication Year: 2001