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Home arrow Political science arrow Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty

Consumption and emerging new Services

Consumption is not simply for the meeting of daily needs; what, how, how much, how often, and why we consume reveal the social world in which we live. The flourishing of convenience stores in tokyo's neighborhoods (chapter

5) points to fussy consumers who seek convenience, speed, and variety. Selling everything from underwear to tofu and allowing customers to send express packages, pay utility bills, and buy concert tickets, convenience stores in Japan are indeed convenient, and as such, they are as necessary as air to many people. They carry one-person food portions, thereby catering to the increasing number of single and couples-only households that do not need the larger portions sold at supermarkets. In particular, boxed meals or lunches (bentō) are extremely popular, and they account for a large share of a store's sales. Whitelaw reports that ordering too few varieties of prepared foods makes a convenience store unattractive to its customers, who look for a wide selection, while ordering too much means many unsold items and reduced profits for the store owners. Store owners are forced to shoulder the cost of unsold food items under the current franchise contract. Wasteful practices are built into the state-of-the-art retail system and are thus unavoidable for the owners. Many owners try to cut their losses by consuming expired food items or giving them to their employees, even though this is against the terms of the franchise contract.

As a business, the convenience store can be seen as the antithesis of the business model adopted by the organic farmer examined in chapter 4. As noted, she and her fellow organic farmers, who belong to the Japanese Organic agriculture association (JOaa), attempt to return to a local, self-sufficient economy in which people in a community grow and exchange food among themselves. It is hard to follow the JOaa ideal in a capitalist market economy. Consequently this alternative lifestyle implies living in a small house without consumer luxuries or the latest gadgets, in sharp contrast to the mainstream consumption-oriented lifestyle that many desire.

People consume not only to live, but in many cases they also live to consume. For example, young women participate in the consumer economy not only by buying cosmetics, brand-name accessories, and clothes, but also by investing in themselves to remain competitive in the job market (chapter 6). Consumption provides a way for unmarried women to construct something positive in their lives because they, unlike their married peers, are not taking care of others. Those living with their parents without making full-fledged contributions to household expenses can easily save for overseas travel or consumer luxuries. It is worth noting that single women are more often publicly criticized for their spending habits because the public feels they should be married and devoting themselves to family (Miller and Bardsley 2005; also see chapter 6). This is especially so because there is a substantial bachelor population, men in their late thirties whom these women could have married. as caring for others (in particular family members) was such a central aspect of femininity in postwar Japan (e.g., Jenike 2003; Lock 1993; Long 1996; rosenberger 2001), it is not surprising that men are less likely to be criticized for remaining single and being dependent on their mothers for meals and other domestic tasks so long as they remain in the labor force.

Some of the consumption activities examined in this volume are individual, while others are explicitly aimed at social bonding. Laura Miller (chapter

10) describes contemporary divination, a bonding activity for making and maintaining social ties among schoolgirls and young women. There is a bewildering array of web-based divination services, and they emphasize cute illustrations and aesthetics that appeal to young women. While older men and women also participate in divination, the new forms of divination are popular among younger women and are strategically packaged to target them. Miller Notes that critics often dismiss divination as superstitious and unscientific, and its consumption is seen as a form of “addiction.” Furthermore, even though the market for feminized divination is enormous, like the beauty industry (see Miller 2006), it does not receive the attention it deserves. Miller notes that the Ministry of economy, trade, and industry does not even publish statistical information on the divination industry; the divination market generates some

$8.5 billion per year (see also Brasor 2006). Like nakano, therefore, Miller reveals negative views of consumption practices among women. While divination affords young women entertainment in a social setting, the consumption of a particular service or product does not necessarily produce social bonds. While the organic farmer examined in chapter 4 made an effort to form strong relationships with her clients to build an environmentally sound, self-sufficient rural community, her attempts were not always welcomed.

Joshua roth (chapter 12) examines a new pattern of consumption among women and the use of gender metaphors in the world of automobiles. Since the late 1960s the number of female drivers has grown—from 17 percent of all drivers in 1969 to 42 percent by 2004—and it has made K-cars (keijidōsha, lightweight, small cars) popular. One might imagine that as driving was formerly a masculine activity, the increase of female drivers would have led to more gender-neutral images of driving. On the contrary: there developed feminized car interiors and driving manners. Women personalize their K-cars by adding pink and frilly décor and use them to fulfill their domestic duties, such as shopping for groceries or transporting children. Roth argues that the popularity of the K-car among women drivers in contemporary Japan thus fails to destabilize the mainstream gender ideology that assigns domestic roles to women and public roles to men.

Several chapters in this volume touch upon services for the socially dependent. Peter Cave (chapter 11) discusses the persisting popularity of private tutorial services and test preparation programs (juku). The dual education structure common in postwar Japan, consisting of regular schools and private after-school academic programs (see rohlen 1980), has continued. Some of these programs are intended to help slower learners (also see chapter 1), while others aim to prepare students for high school or university entrance examinations. Cave notes that a typical exam-focused program for middle-school students, with three to five lessons per week, may cost ¥25,000–35,000 per month ($300–420 at $1 = ¥80). The market for after-school academic programs and tutoring is vast.

Compared with tutoring and after-school academic programs for School-age children, paid child care for preschool children is not as widespread. Kawano (chapter 9) has found that mothers of preschoolers in tokyo are reluctant to use non-family caregivers. This reluctance is shaped in part by the state's definition of mainstream child care, offered at public child care institutions (hoikuen), and in part by its limited availability; municipalities determine whether or not a child needs institutional care by evaluating, for example, his or her parents' working conditions and the availability of co-resident caregivers. Child care is provided to those who qualify rather than being chosen and obtained freely by consumers. Furthermore, perhaps it is considered acceptable to have tutors teach children in their homes while parents (or really mothers) watch over the children, but a paid babysitter—in particular a non-family caregiver—is not considered an acceptable substitute for a mother.

Unlike child care, however, elder care by non-family caregivers at home has become socially accepted and much more widespread in twenty-firstcentury Japan than in the past, when elder care too was a family member's— usually a daughter-in-law's—duty. However, the deregulation of social welfare diversified elder-care services during the 1980s (adachi 2000). With the creation of a public long-term care insurance program (kaigo hoken) in 2000, older persons can obtain non-family care more easily as choosers of elder-care services rather than dependent receivers of welfare support. In contrast to child care, then, elder care by non-family caregivers has come to have a more neutral image (Jenike 2003; Kawano 2010). Despite these new developments, non-family care assistants have not completely replaced family caregivers, as allowing the elderly to live independently without family support was not the primary goal of the long-term care insurance. Nonetheless, the care insurance is intended to offer non-family support to those who are still able to live independently and to provide relief for co-resident family caregivers. (For recent studies of elder care and the long-term care insurance program, see, for example, Long 2008 and Long et al. 2009).

New services have also been developed for the ritual care of the deceased. Older persons commonly wish to avoid an overdependence on family as they age (Long 2005; traphagan 2000; wu 2004; also see chapter 13), and some also wish to avoid overburdening family members after their deaths (Kawano 2010). By the 2000s, new burial systems had evolved to assist those without descendants or who did not wish to depend on family caregivers to maintain their graves. These new options are provided by religious and non-profit organizations, and Kawano (chapter 13) examines one such system, ash scattering. In the late postwar period conventional internment typically required a family Grave, which ideally accommodated the cremated remains of generations of married couples. In this system, only one child, or the successor (most likely the eldest son), remains in the natal family to perpetuate the family line by taking an in-marrying spouse, while non-succeeding children marry into their marital families, are adopted into other families, or form new branch families. Thus in a family grave, there should be remains for one married couple in each generation, although it sometimes accommodates a couple's deceased unmarried children. A family grave would be passed on to the successor, who would pay annual fees and hold memorial anniversary rites (typically Buddhist) to transform the deceased into benevolent ancestors. A grave without a family caretaker would be abolished, and the dead would become pitiable homeless souls. Due to demographic shifts, many elderly persons today have no culturally preferred successors who can continue to venerate the family dead. A married adult son who has a son is an ideal successor, while a son without children, a married-out daughter who took her husband's family name, and unmarried adult children are not considered preferred successors. Thus older persons' choices in mortuary matters must be understood in the current social and demographic context, where conventional practices no longer provide a sense of certainty and security.

The recent developments in expanded support services for the elderly to some extent parallel advances in support services for people with disabilities. As in the case of the elderly, although there are paid non-family attendants, people with disabilities are often cared for by family members. To reduce the sense of dependence, people with disabilities are encouraged to see their attendants as their arms and legs. They should not feel they have to thank their attendants every time they receive help, for example, with eating or having their wheelchair pushed. Yet Karen nakamura asks (in chapter 8) whether people with disabilities have the right to receive assistance to meet their sexual needs. Formerly they were assumed to be asexual. The 2000s saw lively public debates concerning the sexual identities of people with disabilities.

 
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