Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Yūji married his college sweetheart, and late in 2012, their son was born. Yūji's employment circumstances, too, have changed. He was able to obtain a new job at a larger tree and shrub nursery, where he is a regular employee with bonuses and benefits. Ami has had two jobs since she quit her regular position in 2011; currently she is a part-time worker at a bridal attire rental shop. Sachi, however, lost her job at the boxed lunch factory as it went bankrupt. She has now found a new irregular position making hand-sewn local craft goods at a tourist shop in northern Kyoto, an hour's commute from her home. She is hoping to learn how to work the cash register and convince the company to hire her full time.
I would like to thank Minja Choe and ronald rindfuss of the east-west Center's Program on Population and Health and the niH grant on innovations in early Life Course transitions for their generous support of my research and writing for this chapter. In addition, i am grateful to my co-editors, as well as Peter Cave and two anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter. Most of all, i give my heartfelt thanks to the Fujii family for the time and trouble it took to make this chapter come to light.
1. For a comprehensive understanding of the place in social science of what Michael Burawoy terms the “extended case method,” see Borowoy (1998).
2. For further reading on blue-collar workers, see Cole (1971), Kondo (1993), roberson (1998), and roberts (1994). In sachi's day, most women quit upon marriage, but nowadays, many wait to quit at childbirth. For reading on the “M” curve in women's employment and women's position in Japan's political economy, see Macnaughton (2006), and rosenbluth (2007). For reading on social class formation in Japan, see ishida and slater (2010), and in particular slater's chapter, “the 'new working Class' of Urban Japan,” in that volume.
3. In my earlier study of blue-collar women workers in the mid-1980s, i did find that some of the women's husbands, in contrast to what we knew of white-collar men, did quite a lot of the household labor and child care. This was more than a decade before the Japanese government campaign to get men to actively participate as fathers (see roberts 2002).
4. By the time sachi graduated from junior high in 1969, most Japanese children were matriculating on to high schools rather than entering work. In 1970, the proportion of all new junior high graduates entering employment was 16.3 percent, while by 1975 it had fallen to 5.9 percent (Ministry of education, Culture, sports, science, and technology of Japan 2008), illustrating the trend for children to continue on in their education through high school as the economy improved. These statistics give us an indication that sachi's family was struggling economically as compared with the majority at the time.
5. “Golden eggs” (kin no tamago), a term popular in 1964, referred to fresh junior And senior high school graduates from the countryside during the labor-short high economic growth period (Hatena Kī-wā-do 2012).
6. Haken is one of the many types of irregular employment that enables firms to save on labor costs. According to Fu (2012, 19), “Haken workers are employed and dispatched by haken agencies to work at the facilities of client firms. They are remunerated by the agencies but receive day-to-day job supervision from client firms.” (in english, a haken agency is a kind of “labor subcontracting agency.”) Sachi's point here is that because haken workers are not trained within azumi as regular employees, they are harder to manage and they have less loyalty to the firm.
7. It is a huge accomplishment that a single woman with a junior high school level of education could manage to achieve independent security and purchase her own home. It would be impossible at azumi nowadays since the company no longer even hires high school graduates, and one could never afford a home with the wages and conditions of an irregular worker.
8. Hence she followed the typical “M” curve of women's employment and wound up earning a fraction of sachi's wages, although with the same employer.
9. Although i did not ask sachi directly, i got the strong impression from our conversation that she and Masaji did not want to ask her parents to cover these costs because her parents were not well-to-do. They wanted to do it themselves.
10. The presence of one woman who sets an example by taking maternity leave and returning to work is enormously important to others following later. I heard comments to that effect from women over and over again during my studies of white-collar women and work-life balance. See roberts (2004, 2007).
11. This mentor, a division chief, also recommended that sachi participate in several overnight trainings in the course of her years at azumi; these, she reported, were extremely helpful to her in her work. But such opportunities were not systematically offered to all regular employees. Sachi's sister, a pattern maker, has had an equally long career at azumi but has never had such an opportunity. Sachi noted that she learned a lot about work especially from this particular mentor and a few other people who were division chiefs. It is probably through such interactions and training sessions that sachi became so enthusiastic about improving the work flow (kaizen), something that she subsequently practiced at every job she ever took on and that undoubtedly led to her achievements at work.
12. I discuss women's difficulties in personal relationships on the factory floor in roberts (1994, 105–108). See Ogasawara (1998) for an analysis of similar structural frictions among women in a white-collar setting.
13. This remark was in reference to the money sachi would receive from her husband's life insurance policy.
14. One way to put sachi's income in perspective is to consider the average yearly income for household heads aged 47.3 years in workers' households in 2010; it was
¥4.17 million. Note that household heads are overwhelmingly male, and women on average earn only 66 percent of what men earn in Japan (Ministry of internal affairs and Communications 2011).
15. Sachi had earned a qualification as a care provider for the elderly (kaigo fukushishi nikyū), for which she took sunday classes for six months while her husband
Was still alive. After she finished at the dyer's, she had an offer to work as a care provider, but her children did not want her to do this sort of work. Nor did they Want her to do night shift work. They told her, “why don't you work someplace where the work is easier?” She had thought of working at an after-school day-care program as a helper, but the hours are short and the income would be insufficient, she noted. She might consider that line of work after age sixty.
16. Otsukaresama is a standard phrase exchanged by colleagues or joint participants of some endeavor, after it has finished, to thank each other for their hard work.
17. According to sachi, most of her co-workers, who are almost entirely irregular and female, work 21–24 days per month, and most are older than fifty-five, with the oldest being seventy. She noted that boxed lunch factory work is very attractive to older women because unlike most jobs, these do not have an age cutoff for hiring. But she noted it would be unusual for someone over seventy to work there because one has to write and remember, and there are many things one has to keep track of. Furthermore, one has to stand all day long on concrete floors.
18. Sachi's uncanny ability to effortlessly spot a defective product is an example of “embodying labor” in anthropology. See Pretence and whitelaw (2008) for analyses incorporating this concept.
19. Sachi was stressing the word “wife,” perhaps a bit sarcastically, to indicate that full-time homemaker wives in the postwar years did all the housework for their families themselves, as part of their bargain in the gendered division of labor in a salaryman household. She did not consider herself to be this sort of woman.
20. For a similar story of a youth whose social class background prevented him and his mother from understanding how to negotiate and adjust to the rigors of junior high school, see David slater's “the 'new working Class' of Urban Japan: socialization and Contradiction from Middle school to the Labor Market,” in ishida and slater, Social Class in Contemporary Japan, 137–169.
21. A day-care worker's license, like a beautician's license or a nursing license, is considered te ni shoku, a license that leads to a skilled job. In contrast, a certificate from a two-year junior college, such as the one from which ami graduated, became increasingly less marketable as businesses ceased hiring such graduates in regular secretarial jobs as the economy worsened in the 1990s.
22. This is in stark contrast to the employees at atsuko's government day-care job, who, she reports, are not at all frank and who are highly hierarchical and bureaucratic.
23. Atsuko's parents rarely told their children what to do or suggested possible pathways to follow. This seems to have been the first time her father gave her some career guidance—albeit in a very circumspect manner. Lebra (1987) mentions the importance of silent communication in Japan. Atsuko picked right up on it and realized that her father wanted her to get on with her career.
24. After-school day-care programs are provided at subsidized rates in some public elementary school districts to care for children whose parents are working. They generally care for children through the third grade, although some programs also allow older children to drop in to play. Their staffs hold professional credentials from specialized two-year colleges such as the one atsuko attended.
25. Atsuko also concertedly made efforts to meet a mate through dating parties, through which she found her husband.
26. I recently learned that one way to become employed by a cosmetics firm is to obtain technical school training in cosmetology and hair styling. The Fujiis had no idea of this route.
27. Ami is able to get by on this income because she lives at home. She pays her Mother a token amount each month for board, sachi told me. Neither ami nor her brother has any significant savings, sachi noted.
28. Ami's penchant for buying things may be a sore point with her mother, who told me that ami has a wealthy girlfriend with whom she is always comparing herself and wanting to compete, although ami does not have the means.
29. Atsuko, at age thirty-two, married a high school graduate who has contract employment at a factory; yūji, at age twenty-seven, married his college sweetheart, who works as an irregular employee. Atsuko is about three years beyond the average age for women at first marriage (which was 28.8 in 2010), and yūji is 3.5 years younger than the average age for men (30.5 in 2010) (Cabinet Office 2011). Atsuko took her time to marry because she had promised her father she would look after him and forgo marriage, but after he passed away in 2005, she gradually came to the realization that she was not strong enough to live alone for all her life. Masaji's death affected the Fujiis greatly, but i will leave that topic for another book.
30. The character-building aspect of sports illustrates the value of extra-curricular clubs (bukatsudō) in Japanese junior high schools and beyond. For an in-depth understanding of the bukatsudō system, see Cave (2004).
31. Graduating without a license is another indication of yūji's easy-going nature. He would have had to study for a test in order to obtain this qualification.
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