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

I Change over time

Part i introduces readers to the long-term socioeconomic shift since the 1980s through the eyes of the Fujiis, a blue-collar family living in Kansai and studied by Glenda roberts (chapter 1), and middle-aged and older people studied by Gordon Mathews (chapter 2). Both scholars reinterviewed those who had participated in their earlier studies, thus giving a depth to their informants' accounts.

Glenda roberts examines the marriage and work experiences of her female informant, sachi, who is in her fifties. Hers is not a typical middle-class family, yet in the strong economy sachi and her husband held regular jobs and achieved a secure lifestyle: they bought a house, sent their children to private schools, and qualified for pensions. Their three children (in their twenties and thirties), however, did not obtain regular high-paying jobs in The downward economy, even though they had more education than their parents.

Gordon Mathews explores the concept of manhood among his informants. For many of them work used to be the primary source of manhood twenty some years ago, but it is no longer sufficient for men to financially support their families to have fulfilling, satisfying lives. Communication and sharing the same values and interests with one's spouse have become much more important in the 2000s.

When reading chapter 1, which portrays a couple in a close, loving relationship, in tandem with chapter 2, wherein couples seem aloof, embittered, and disenchanted after years of marriage, one might wonder about the reasons for the differences. While it is tempting to try to draw conclusions, we feel it is difficult to do so given that we have no other detailed samples in our research of happily married couples with strong families and enduring ties. Suffice it to say that there are such couples out there, and sachi's family is proof of it.


Work and Life in Challenging times

A Kansai Family across the generations

GLenDa S. RoBertS

Japan has undergone many changes in the past thirty years. It became affluent in these years but then faced a huge economic downturn with the bursting of its property bubble in 1991 and again with the world financial crisis (known in Japan as the “Lehman shock”) in 2008. With the increasing costs of producing goods domestically, many large firms fled offshore. In 1999, many kinds of jobs were deregulated, a move that enabled firms to hire more people for more insecure positions at lower wages and with fewer or no benefits. Youth now struggle to find stable employment. These trends have caused a great deal of anxiety, as middle-aged people wonder whether their children will be able to maintain the stable and comfortable environment that they themselves afforded. The family i introduce in this chapter has come through this era. We find in it a portrait of how one nuclear family of blue-collar workers has lived the past three decades, experiencing upward mobility in the early years, as well as instability in the later years, compounded by the death of the husband/father, the early retirement from regular employment of the wife/mother, and the economic instability of the children as they try to establish themselves in a downward-facing economy. I begin with a central focus on the work and family history of sachi, the mother,

27 Followed by accounts of the children's educational trajectories, occupational attainments, and values.

Although we cannot generalize the experiences of this one family to all Japanese families of the recent past decades, case studies provide us a rich context from which to make sense of people's lives.1 as much as possible, i will point out how this family, the Fujiis, resembles or differs from other families. Above all, through the family members' narratives, we can discern what their lifestyle has been and what sorts of decisions they have made as they lived through a period that has brought opportunities as well as uncertainty and challenges. I have known this family, in particular Fujii sachi, since i started my doctoral research of the azumi lingerie factory in Kansai in 1983–1985. We are the same age (b. 1955), and she was kind and accepting of me from the beginning of my study there. We have kept up some correspondence and have met each other on an occasional basis in the ensuing years. When i asked her if i could interview her and her children for this mini-study, the Fujiis held a “family conference” and agreed. Although i knew about some of the major events in sachi's life—the births of her children, her husband Masaji's chronic kidney illness and subsequent death in his early fifties, and her own early retirement from the firm at age fifty—i was not cognizant of the details. We did our interviews seated around a low table on sachi's living room floor, in full view of a portrait of her deceased husband hanging above a small altar. Inside the frame of her husband's formal portrait, sachi had tucked a picture of herself and her husband when they were quite young, standing in front of a cool-looking car. He is looking entirely happy, with his beautiful girl by his side. It was under these images that we conducted all of our interviews, and i could not help but feel the strong legacy of Fujii Masaji in all of our ensuing conversations.

In many ways, the Fujiis provide an atypical portrait of a blue-collar Japanese family. They worked for large and stable companies (while the majority of the populace works for medium-to-small enterprises with much less stability), and sachi remained at her regular job throughout a long career despite marriage and childbirth (while the majority of women, then and now, quit by the birth of the first child).2 From the Fujiis' accounts, we can learn a lot about the nature of the workplace and the challenges it presented. We can glimpse a busy young family, pioneering as dual-career blue-collar workers while starting a family of three children. We see sachi struggling to keep her job and to climb the ranks in an era when very few women did so. We see them creating a warm and loving family environment that put few demands on the children and also gave the children little direction in life, other than a Moral one. We understand there was a very strong, to some extent lopsided, bond of love on Fujii Masaji's part for his wife and this and the fact that he was chronically ill may have contributed in some part to his having done so much of the household labor. He was also a totally “hands-on dad,” way ahead of his time.3 Finally, we view the children, now adults, struggling to build their own livelihoods, full of hope yet also anxious about how they will manage in the future. First, to the story of that girl, that smiling guy, and the car.

 
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