Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Kana has found a way to buck the system and to forge a path with values that are the opposite of the consumer-centered, competitive values followed by the mainstream in Japan. She has found a way to model and bring others into a different relationship with the local land and the land of Japan.
Kana's life as an organic farmer illustrates one viable way for young Japanese in the 2000s to resist the postwar status quo of living as mainstream housewives or company workers, dependent on the Japanese economy. As a young adult, she has refused those identities because they are inextricably linked with the degradation of the earth. Her path is not easy because, raised to play the game of a typical Japanese adult throughout school, she was trained to plan for a career that would then give way to marriage, motherhood, and a home that would require a husband's income. Her difficulty in now agreeing to be tangentially part of this system through marriage shows the distance that she has come in her thinking. She has played a different game with different rules and has forged a new identity as a young, woman farmer, for which there has been no easy script.
Kana's chosen lifestyle is full of contradictions because she must practice it within a system that espouses and operates by the very capitalistic, competitive principles to which her life is designed to provide an alternative. At every turn—ecologically, economically, socially, politically—she confronts institutions and people who disagree with her. Her organic practice is a voice in the global consumer wilderness that continually must compromise and negotiate with contemporary Japanese ways. Her resistance requires a strong inner spirit shored up by firm relationships with distant JOaa friends and the JOaa as an organization. She is not a stranger to psychological stress, she admits, particularly in the creation of her own farm and development of her own consumer group. Although part of a larger movement, she must build her own structure and spirit of resistance in her local setting, testing how far she can go at any one time.
Furthermore, Kana holds within her the habitual ways of thinking and Acting of her upbringing, as well as those she has developed through organic farming. Her identity is fragmented and mixed—to some extent, a result of the coincidences, contradictions, and ambivalences that exist between these two games of life in which she plays, the slowly changing dominant ways of postwar Japan and the alternative world of organic farming (Ortner 2006). Marriage and children, as well as owning private property, are hopes of hers even as she is committed to the calling of an organic woman farmer living and working with the land outside of the market system. She is like her generation in her wish for a man who will respect and honor her opinion, but because the resistant nature of her career infuses her lifestyle, she has brought strong demands to her impending marriage. She is willing to compromise up to a point in that she is marrying a salaryman whose company is embedded in the fate of Japan's market system, but she must be able to continue her anti-market, agricultural-based activities.
Resistant as her life is, several situations have made Kana's path easier. First, the dissatisfactions of her generation with their parents' lifestyles and the difficulties in getting jobs in recessionary Japan have infused the air along her journey. Her choices are not completely strange within her generation. Many of her generation have reacted by refusing to take on adult identities— working part time, continuing a dependence on parents, and taking on childlike manners. Others have quietly opted for different identities than they were trained to fulfill—women opting for careers and avoiding marriage; men working part time and investing in full-time hobbies. Kana is part of a group of people who have demanded a more complete independence that is free from both economic dependence on markets and companies and psychological dependence on others. Indeed it is a higher level of independence and maturity that allows her to accept the idea of having children.
Second, the path of organic agriculture offers a lifestyle and identity that link with certain residual virtues that Japanese value from their agrarian past (Kelly 2006). For example, Japanese idealize the cooperation, compassion, and sense of gratitude that supposedly flourished in traditional agricultural village life; they cling to ideas of living according to the seasons and appreciating parts of nature as a way of attaining purity or sincerity. These values echo in the postwar morality taught in the schools and in the contemporary morality taught through food education. Thus Kana's emergent, innovative form of farming and distribution resonates with idealizations of Japanese history and culture that are thought to contribute to the goodness of Japan today. This connection facilitates her ability to bridge her own upbringing in a rural area With her alternative lifestyle today and to overcome some of the contradictions that exist between her newly chosen and given identities. Old habits can be used and adapted to new ways.
Third, until the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear explosions, Kana's production of local, fresh, healthy food responded directly to certain anxieties of Japanese people about risks in the current global world. People are worried about their ability to protect their health, particularly the health of children, in a globalized age when foodways are industrialized and globalized and thus beyond their control. The appeal of local, organic food is that it can reduce the risk that each person, particularly mothers, is now responsible for handling. Whether Kana's food, grown in a comparatively but not completely safe area, will still be able to reduce that risk is a worry for Kana. But the trust that she has established with the majority of her customers has survived; they believe that she will be honest in her measurements and give them safe food. In short, Kana has found allies even among people living a mainstream life.
What have we learned about the process of creating a new social identity and the nature of resistance by delving into the life of an organic farmer in Japan? On both counts, Kana's experience tells us that these processes are partial. The process of identity harbors some ambivalence, and the nature of resistance, some ambiguity. For an organic farmer to be successful, compromises with the economy, the bureaucracy, the community, family, and so on are necessary even as one lives by resistant principles and pursues a new identity that fits these principles. While more complete resistance is possible at the level of organizational ideals, in everyday life, flexibility is necessary to survive. Nonetheless, psychological stress, social conflict, and compromise are almost inevitable, and thus personal and institutional alliances for support are paramount.
Finally, the context surrounding the practice of resistance and the creation of a new identity is of extreme importance. These will be much easier if debate is already going on throughout society on the pertinent issues. Japanese society is experiencing upheavals economically, politically, socially, and culturally. A sense of risk and an ensuing search for new ways to live life and solve problems have captured the imagination of the young people in the nation. With the 3/11 tragedy, older people have also realized that the postwar way of life that they established requires huge energy inputs and has caused radiation problems for future generations. Still the government argues that nuclear energy plants are necessary for adequate electricity to support economic growth. The debate is quiet but strong. Kana can live as an organic farmer who challenges and resists basic truths of the status quo because the atmosphere is full of debate about energy sources, the environment, healthy food, Japanese food self-sufficiency, economic stagnation versus growth, and family versus individual values. Her practice of local, organic agriculture, which emphasizes food embedded in social relationships and a relationship with the land outside of the market (Polanyi 1957), has presented an option that is enticing for the purity of its answer to current complicated pressures to participate in globalized, free trade. Few will actually take on the practice of organic agriculture as Kana has, but some can participate in it as consumers and others witness it as a resistant way of living that stretches the potentialities for engaging with the world in Japan in the 2000s.
1. Japan imports 25 percent of its agricultural products from the United states and 39 percent from the association of southeast asian nations (asean), China, and the european Union (eU) together. Japan is the largest meat-importing country in the world, with much coming from australia and new Zealand (“trade” 2012).
2. The rokkasho plant, which will process spent uranium and plutonium, is located north of Fukushima, where the 2011 tsunami and meltdown occurred. The Japanese government plans to continue to build rokkasho in order to power its nuclear power plants, despite the fact that the extent to which Japan will continue to use its nuclear power plants is under debate (“Japan's nuclear Future” 2012).
3. The survey from which these figures are taken included organic farmers with Japan agricultural standard certification and those who farm by organic methods without certification. The former farmed 9,000 hectares and delivered 57,000 tons of food, whereas the latter farmed 7,000 hectares and delivered 44,000 tons of food.
4. Kana's rice measured 50 becquerel; one becquerel is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. The Japanese set the maximum acceptable safety figure at 500 becquerel for the first year after the explosion, but as of april 2012 it was decreased to 100 becquerel. This measure varies, however, by food item so that items like milk and water, which are consumed more often, are assigned lower figures.
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