- Youth Deviance in Japan: Class Reproduction of Non-Conformity
No matter where you start to read this book—from the conclusion or the beginning, the descriptive case studies or the more theoretical chapters—the parts will eventually combine to offer a complete picture of young people and a reasonable understanding of their lives. When reading about differences between the living and schooling situations of divergent social classes, you might forget that the location is the highly urbanized area around Tokyo, which sometimes is still introduced as a homogeneous city culture. Then again, you might be reminded where you are because the deviant acts of these 14- to 19-year-olds are smoking, drinking alcohol, reading pornographic magazines, dating, and staying out late—all activities, at least in many European countries, now accepted as ordinary parts of youth culture. Interestingly enough, in Japan this process is reported almost exclusively for youth in low-level high schools, while in higher-level schools the pupils seem to be busy with studying, high school clubs, and other extracurricular activities, such as tennis, kendo, volleyball, photography, and English conversation classes.1 [End Page 451]
Yoder analyzes how labeling processes contribute to the establishment of general knowledge on juvenile offense. Through the presence or absence of adults watching out for such behavior—in the name of crime prevention, for example—some youth populations are labeled as delinquent at a very early stage while others do not come under surveillance. Yoder criticizes: "Too often researchers have made the mistake of equating juvenile delinquent behavior with police arrests of youths for violation of juvenile criminal laws" (p. 17). Such a perspective seldom takes into account that many "predelinquent" offenses such as drinking, smoking, and staying out late are everyday parts of adult social conduct.
We learn about adolescents of the early 1980s, who have grown up and, surprisingly or not, lead lives close to what their parents did or might have expected for their children. A slight upward educational mobility can be observed, but this results from educational expansion and demographic factors rather than from social mobility. On the contrary, the most challenged subjects also have the highest probability of being stigmatized as deviant.
Throughout his book, Yoder develops his view that labeling adolescents is the most relevant measure for the preservation of the status quo of youth deviance. He sees the main reason for deviant behavior in the tracking of the school system. Nonconformity is the outcome of a hierarchically structured education system, where students of the same class are grouped together in ranked high schools. "Class tracking of students had the obvious effect of reinforcing the negative labeling and stigma associated with attending a low ranked high school by grouping all non-conforming students in such schools" (p. 87). While presenting his impressive data, he follows this approach by taking up his argument from different angles. "Exclusion from the conformist group helped the non-conformist students to identify themselves as such .... If deviance were the norm, then to conform would, paradoxically, be deviant" (p. 130).
The real strength of Yoder's book lies in the data, gathered over two decades through extensive fieldwork. The initial study began as dissertation research with fieldwork and interviews in 1983, and "A Pattern of Predelinquency for Youth in Two Suburban Japanese Communities" was submitted three years later at the University of Hawai'i. The study was carried out in Kanagawa Prefecture in two different neighborhoods, which were chosen because of their contrasting features of predelinquency. "Hoku" (North) in the city of Kaigan and "Minami" (South) in the city of Shonan are only a 30minute train ride apart, but while in Shonan delinquency rates were about double the national average, misbehavior rates in Kaigan were "more than two times lower" (see p. 11). Minami, surrounded by industrial sites and next to an entertainment district, is a lower- and middle-working-class community. In Minami, many posters promoted prevention of youth delinquency. Hoku is located in the mountains not...