Tokyo Sonata shows Japanese society

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

I am writing about the film Tokyo Sonata. This movie describes the collapse of a normal Japanese family. Ryuhei is the father of the Sasaki family. One day, he was discharged from his company, because his company adopted cheaper Chinese workers. After leaving his company, he encountered a “soup line” which is to be rationed a soup in the park. There were many people who were homeless and wearing suits. He recognized that a lot of people were discharged and could not say it to their families. At the same time, he met his friend by chance in this park, and his friend was discharged 3 months earlier, too. Although it was a really huge impact for Ryuhei, his friend set him at ease. New job could not be looked for, and he could not say it. He went to Hello Work, but it was difficult to find a stable job. He was recommended unstable jobs like an unskilled laborer. He was puzzled what to think for his future.

On the other hand, the Sasaki family started to break down gradually, although he did not notice it. His wife Megumi is a really good mother, she supported their family and did all housework by herself. When the Sasaki family came back home, she always said “okaeri (welcome back!)”. One day, she found her husband standing in the soup line. Then, she recognized he had lost his job and had hidden this fact from the family. However, she reached the limits of her endurance at the moment of when she saw him working as a cleaner at shopping mall. After that, their house was broken into by a robber, who took her away. However, she was released from him soon.

Ryuhei’s son Kenji was in the sixth grades of elementary school. His hope was to learn playing the piano, but his father was against it. Therefore, he learned to play the piano in secret. But his piano teacher said he is a genius and he should go to music school. When Ryuhei listened to this, he got very angry and held Kenji down by force. It shut Kenji’s heart. Kenji’s older son Takashi decided to join the US Army without asking his parents’ permission, and he went to America.

In precarious Japan, families have their own role by themselves. Fathers have to work and to earn the money, mothers have to support the family and do housework, and children have to be good children. It is very normal thinking for Japanese. When their role is broken, the family will start breaking down. In this movie, the father lost his job, the sons did not depend on their parents. It is the breakdown of the relationship between human time and capitalist time. It is important to have a dinner with family. While they have food, they talk about myself and what happened around myself. It is good time to communicate with family. However, recently in Japan families often have dinner separately. No one in the Suzuki family talks about what happened around us for family. If everyone ate at the dining table, it was a silent place, which felt like a fish out of water. Family and economy are hope for Japanese, but it is not functioning these days. It is a serious social issue, and we have to try to solve it.

Reference

Allison, Anne. (2013). Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Japanese fixed concepts and weak relationships

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Misaki Kosaka

First of all, while Anne Allison’s book refers to the homeless and they have merely lost their home materially, Sasaki Ryuhei, who is a main character in the film Tokyo Sonata, has lost his home space mentally. That is, he has no place inside of his home. After WWⅡ, family roles in Japan have been rigid, such as “sengyo shufu” or the breadwinner of the family. Especially, the fixed view that a husband should work very hard for his family is an idea accepted by most Japanese. Ryuhei could not tell his family the fact that he was fired due to this fixed idea. He acts as if he is still working, wearing his suit and having card holder after his dismissal because being at home without any jobs of a husband is often recognized as ashamed things in Japan. Ryuhei’s former classmate who was fired like Ryuhei was even sets his cellphone ringing in designated time. They were afraid that people around them, especially their families, find out they have lost a job. Husband or father in Japan have to be just existence as people imagine. Ryuhei rejected a work as cleaning man and hoped a work people there wear suits at first, then it is also a kind of the fixed concept of people in Japan or himself.

But such an idea is not only a cause of not telling the truth but also of a weak relationships. In Allison’s book, Japanese tend to seek their identity at workplace and have few connections with their family or neighbors. The characters in this movie also put their place on workplace, so Ryuhei would feel to take away “ibasho” when he lost his job, and he could not tell the truth his family because of disconnectedness and incommunicativeness. Allison says that this family is “ordinary” in Japan.

In this movie I was most impressed by the scene that the family gather and start to eat a meal. This scene seems to be ordinary family’s life, but I felt something strange because although they are sitting in front of same table, they hardly talk each other. We generally think that they don’t need to gather for a meal if no one speaks, but I guess that sitting around the table with one’s family keeps a few relationships, and it may be only evidence that they are “family” even if nobody speaks. This strange sight can be seen in any Japanese home. Japanese are losing a spiritual home.

Reference

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Solving social problems in Japan

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Yuko Hiromori

Today’s Japan has many social problems, for example poverty, unemployment, suicide, and so on. Especially unemployment is very serious and important problem. A movie, Tokyo Sonata, described the collapse of a family in Tokyo. They usually live a peaceful life every day until the father, Ryuhei, is fired by his company. In Japan, if we are not a regular employee once, it is said to be very difficult that we again get a job which is equal to our previous job. So if we want to get another job, we have to have patience with the severe labor condition—low salary, insufficient social security, unstable employment and so on.

The condition of family finances has a direct connection with children’s education. In wealthy families, the parents can let their children go a private school and go accomplishments. In the movie, Ryuhei’s second son wants to go to piano school but Ryuhei cannot allow him to do so because of his lost job. Allison says in her book that parents who are rich let go their children to a cram school and they enable their children to acquire a good school background. In Japanese society, when a person enters a company, their school background is a factor to judge their ability. Some parents believe that the better their children’s academic background, the easier they enter a famous company, get a high salary, and secure stable employment. Children in such environments can start the school competition to get better employment environment and win the competition.

It is clear that irregular employment contains some bad factors—low salary, unstable employment. However regular employment has problems too. Indeed, regular employment is more stable compared to irregular employment. But in return for the stableness, regular employment is needed a certain extent responsibility in the work. In other words, regular employment has to be needed a lot of work. For instance, a Japanese man, he is an office worker, worked hard every day till late at night. It was not long before he led to his bad mental condition. It is said this condition depression. In case of suffering from the illness, there is possibility that a patient may have to take a rest or resign his office. If the patient lapsed such situation, it is difficult to return to his office again. Things which the worst possible is karoushi (death from overwork).

Tokyo Sonata described the weak relations in families through Japanese social problems. Also, Alison argued that the weakness of human relations in Japan gave rise to muenshakai. I think the two things have common factors, in short, human relations. So, I consider that the change of it is a clue to improve Japanese society.

Reference

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Japanese issues in “Tokyo Sonata”

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Tomohiro Doi

In class, we watched the film “Tokyo Sonata.” This movie showed issues in Japan. A man was fired and he looks for work but he cannot find it. In his family, he tried to hide that he was fired. And his family became hopeless and worse than ever before. Then his family members broke up and relationship of that became weak. He frantically tries to bring his family together. However, his family still broke up.

I think this movie shows the modern Japanese society faithfully. The minority which is no job people and fired people are despised by the majority. A certain people were driven to suicide. And then I think this movie displayed not only unemployment but also all problems in Japan.

In Anne Allison’s book, Precarious Japan, an important issue in Japan, especially the breakdown of family is described and it is connected with this movie. Allison interviewed the Marxist sociologist Adachi Mariko. She argued about this problem appropriately. She said that the Japanese stereotype that is male work outside female stay at home as housewife has broken down. Therefore the male as breadwinner broke down. And the man’s family corporate system has ended little by little.

Allison said that the family corporate system linked a particular structure of work to one of family and home. However, this system have changed. In this movie “Tokyo Sonata,” the man behaves as a breadwinner male and worries about himself authority in family. But he was found out to be unemployed and work as a non-regular employee. Allison wrote about hope for the breakdown of family. In this book, it was about Tamura Hiroshi, who is a Japanese talent now. In his middle school student time, his family broke down. In his family, his mother died two years ago and his father brought up his two children. However, he could not work and he abandoned his two children. In the movie, father could not work and looks like to break down his family.

Now, the break down of family could connect with a case. In these days, a certain man divorced and broke down his family. And he was not able to bring up his son and to kill him. Like this, like “Tokyo Sonata,” this breakdown of family may connect with a crime and disintegration of relatives.

The present situation of Japanese poverty

by Mizuki Watanabe

According to Anne Alison, present-day Japan has a different host of issues. In particular, one of the most serious problems is poverty. Generally speaking, Japan is very developed country and most people imagine that this country is not involved in poverty. However, there are many people who live at a minimum standard of living. Jobs of those people are usually unstable and often are non-regular jobs. Those poor people do not have equal rights and equal status compared to regular workers. That is to say, their fundamental human rights are violated. Nevertheless, little attention has been given to those problems. We are here concerned with two questions, “What are factors of those Japanese problems? Why does Japan not change and cannot solve those problems?”

The first point that we should discuss is a policy of the Japanese government for the economy. Apparently, poverty is related to the economic situation of our country. When the economy has come to a standstill, the Japanese government always establishes a practical policy only for the economy. To put it another way, it usually ignores the others such as the daily lives of nations and so on. Public assistance must be important at this point. If citizen’s lives are not guaranteed, the Japanese economy never recovers.

Unfortunately, nowadays fundamental problems remain unanswered. Actually, there is public assistance such as a livelihood protection system in Japan. However, such a social security does not work enough. According to OECD.stat (date extracted on 30 Sep 2013), Japanese costs for social security are lower than in any other developed country, especially European countries. Moreover, the Japanese government cut the cost of livelihood protection twice.

Some man has a wife and two children who go to an elementary school. Because of the policy, he does not get enough money and has to cut down their cost of foods and they always eat instant food such as “cup ramen”. Nowadays, there are many people in Japan who live in such a terrible situation. What should be remembered is that the most important thing is a nation’s life and their rights. Government should not forget those things and establish a policy for those deep issues.

There is a further problem which needs to be asked. That is the problem of the Japanese sense of entitlement. Historically, a revolution like a French Revolution and the Arab Spring have never happened in Japan. We have not experienced that we get any rights on our own. Also, Japanese are always called “People who do not say their opinions clearly and agree with other’s ideas” by foreign people. Indeed, we have a famous Japanese proverb that is “Deru kui ha utareru”. This means that a person who is different from other people is blamed. When we are child, Japanese have been educated following to this proverb. Because of those factors, we are always afraid of saying our opinions and do not think of what are our rights seriously. Therefore what seems to be lacking is a Japanese sense of entitlement.

As mentioned above, what is important in poverty is social security and sense of entitlement of citizens. Government has to care about citizens and people have to care about their rights and rise up against their dissatisfaction as well. Now, it is the time to improve our society. We have to think those problems deeply.

References

Seikatsuhogo genjo sitte [the present situation of livelihood protection] Asahi news paper digital Retrieved June 9, 2014 from http://www.asahi.com/articles/CMTW1405091000001.html

Syakaihosyokyufuhi no kokusaihik haiku(OECD countries 2009)[An international comparison of the cost of social security(OECD countries)] Retrieved September 30, 2013 from http://www2.ttcn.ne.jp/honkawa/2798.html

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My life plan in precarious Japan

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Sayaka Maeda

I want to be a high school teacher after I graduate from the university. This is because I like children, and teachers are public workers. There are good points to be a public worker. First, the income is stable, and I can earn enough money to support my family. Second, public workers are seldom fired. In addition, there is little danger to go bankrupt like a company. These points are very important in choosing work in recent Japan. Allison said that now in Japan, the number of non-regular workers, such as dispatched workers or part-timer, is increasing, and one-third of all workers are non-regular. They work for low wages, and they are the first ones dismissed in bad times.

In addition, Japan has social problems such as NEET and hikikomori. People who are hikikomori become NEET (not employed, in education, or in training) because they do not work and, seldom go out. Many people who are hikikomori are young, and some people start being hikikomori when they are students. Bullying sometimes causes truancy, and it can cause hikikomori. Bullying sometimes causes even suicide, sadly. If I can become a teacher, I will make effort to obviate bullying, and I want to help the children come to school.

By the way, I want to marry, and give birth to a child in the future. I will need to take maternity leave. As public workers, teachers can take maternity leave for a year, but at many general companies, people take it for a shorter period. At some companies, a pregnant woman has no choice but to resign from her job. Now a father can also take it but, there are few people who do so. I think it is what’s wrong with Japan, and compared with other developed countries, Japanese social welfare is very underdeveloped. Women’s rehabilitation is also the same. There are many people who cannot return to their work and work as a part-time workers. I want to balance my work and parenting.

In conclusion, I feel anxious living in precarious Japan. Japan has a lot of social problems. I want to be a public worker, but I do not think this is the best way. I do so in search of stability and welfare, however one person may seek freedom rather than security. I think many people are restricted in their choice about the way to live because of Japanese society.

Transnational Migration and Limitations

by Miho Tanaka

The activities of transnational migration are expanding every day and the immigrants’ social interactions and their relationship with their host countries is changing.

Since many African American’s diaspora started around seventeenth century, immigration to the U.S. and transnational migration accompanied with it has continued. Irish, Jews, Armenians and Greeks have settled in the U.S. as well as African Americans. Nowadays more and more immigrants arrive in the U.S. from mainly Asia and Latin America and seek job opportunity there. Each government of their host lands are trying to making ties with them in order to benefit from their immigration activity beyond borders. Levitt considers this phenomenon as long-distance nationalism that emerged from this current mainstream of globalization, whose processes tend to be de-linked from specific national territories (Levitt, 2001, p.202). On the basis of the changes of immigration in the U.S., Levitt addresses how policymakers should challenge these changes (Levitt, 2004).

I consider that the U.S. is one of the epitomes of immigrant issue in the world. A lot of people and ethnic groups have migrated to the country but the country also has many problems. Though Mexicans, Dominicans, El Salvadorans and the other immigrants can have strong ties with their host countries but non-immigrants do not have any connection with the other countries and they are losing jobs. Low-skilled people in the country may have their jobs taken by immigrants. However immigrants have some issues as well; for example some of them gradually lose relationships with their home countries, and if they assimilate to U.S. society culturally, economically and socially they willing to live and settle to the U.S. In addition the second generation often find itself as American citizens; therefore long-distance nationalism would be meaningless for them.

And most importantly the issue of racism is still large in U.S. society, and the U.S. society still allows domination by European Americans and sustains racism toward minority ethnic groups. At Western Michigan University, I took an Africana studies class and a social work class, which dealt with cultural and racial issues in the U.S. Through both classes I mainly learned how African American is racially discriminated in the society.

I suppose my way of thinking is similar to colorism but those whose skin color is dark tend to be targeted as an object of discrimination. Even if they transmigrated for such a long time they still cannot assimilate into their societies and their social status is threatened by newcomer of immigrants. From the perspective I found out a limitation of transnationalism, since the U.S. itself also has a lot of unemployed people. The problem would not be solved unless people change their racial tensions based on the skin color or appearance.

Reference

Levitt, P. (2001). Transnational migration: Taking stock and future directions. In Global Networks. 1, 3, 195-216.

Levitt, P. (2004). Transnational migrants: When “home” means more than one country. Retrieved on June 6, 2013, from  http://www.migrationinformation.org/feature/display.cfm?id=261

Take This Personal Brand and Shove It

by Robert Moorehead

Two messages came across my inbox recently, and I’ve been thinking about how they’re related. The first is a brilliant animated film that captures the rigors of the job hunting process, or shūkatsu, in Japan. (You can find some insightful analysis of the film here.) In their final year of studies at the university, students dye their hair black, get more formal business haircuts, put on matching black suits, and go out to try to show how well they can toe the company line and become good corporate drones. In the process, students can lose themselves and become a person they no longer recognize.

Failing in this process also stings, as applicants can feel that their personal worth is wrapped up in the outcome. You’re reducing yourself to a commodity and peddling it to companies, and finding yourself dehumanized in the process.

The second message came from a workshop on “The Power of Brand ‘You’: Personal Branding for Career and Life Success.” The workshop is led by Peter Sterlacci, who, according to his own ad, is “known as ‘Japan’s Personal Branding Pioneer’ and is one of 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world.” (Let’s set aside grammar issues with the excessive use of capital letters, and the questions about who, exactly, knows Mr. Sterlacci in this manner. Maybe it’s just him. Let’s also set aside questions about just what a personal branding strategist is, who certifies such a person, and how many levels there are.)

BrandingOL_en_copy.1

In the messages on Sterlacci’s website, we can find a few kernels of truth. For example, the Japanese workplace places a high value on workers fitting into the existing hierarchy of the company. In a changing, 21st-century economy, workers need to look for jobs in a more global marketplace—and that marketplace can include settings in which workers need to promote themselves less as workers who can fit in, and more as workers who bring something unique to the company.

So far, so good. But the messages go further, to encourage workers to become their own “personal brand.” You are to be the brand, believe in the brand, and live the brand. But beyond Ophrah-esque messages of believing in yourself, listening to your heart, following your dreams, and opening yourself up to wealth, what does this mean? Am I a brand? (And if I am, are my children my “product line,” like from the iPad comes the iPad mini?)

In my introduction to sociology classes, I discuss Karl Marx’s notion of species being, which we can also think of as human nature. Marx states that humans are unique in our creative ability to produce things. Some animals can build bridges, and a few gorillas have learned sign language, but that doesn’t compare with humans’ ability to create things, from food to clothing, to buildings, to the global computer network on which you’re reading this.

In this sense, this ability is part of what defines us as humans, and we have an intimate connection with the things we create. We become alienated if the products of our labor are taken from us, or if we become little more than appendages to the machines in the factory. Think of the the satisfaction we feel when we make ourselves a nice dinner, compared to the disdain we felt toward the burgers many of us flipped in minimum-wage service jobs. (And if you ate any of the food I prepared at the Solano Drive-In in the 1980s, I apologize.)

In recent decades, our experiences at work have changed dramatically. Once-solid factory jobs in countries like the US and Japan have moved elsewhere, and workers find themselves struggling to find jobs that pay enough to support themselves and their families. Commitments from companies to long-term employment have practically vanished, replaced by temporary or contract work. We’re all free agents now, freed from being trapped in the same job and also free to go hungry while we search for work.

In this environment, it makes sense for workers to retool themselves for the changing dynamics of the workplace. Keep your resume up-to-date, and always be on the lookout for the next opportunity. Believe in yourself, market yourself, take charge of your destiny—think Stuart Smalley meets Gordon Gecko—become the product others want to buy.

And there’s the catch: are you a product? or a brand? or a commodity? or whatever synonym you prefer? What is your value in the marketplace? If you are your brand, and you live that brand all the time, 24 hours a day, are you really living up to your full human potential? Are you reducing yourself to your exchange value? What is your brand worth?

As I kid I remember my brother and I arguing with our dad about what something was worth. We loved some of our stuff so much that we imagined someone would pay us a fortune for it. Then we’d make all sorts of plans to sell our things and reap our rewards. Our father would then tell us that the things were only worth what someone would pay us for them, and that was probably a lot less than we imagined. Not yet schooled in the economics of capitalism, my brother and I confused use value and exchange value. The joy we got from playing with something (it’s utility, or use value) didn’t match the value of that thing in the marketplace (it’s exchange value).

So what happens when the thing we’re trying to sell is ourselves? And what if we buy so deeply into the process that we literally become the product, that we live the brand? Becoming and living your personal brand would involve not only matching the marketing of yourself with your skills and interests, but also shaping your daily life to fit the brand you’ve become. With the brand and the person one and the same, and the brand also a product that is marketed and sold at its exchange value, how in the world can we do this without reducing our humanity down to a tag line, a logo, and a website?

“What makes you unique, makes you successful,” says Sterlacci’s ad in bold print. But what if you’re not successful? Not everyone gets the job of their dreams, since capitalism requires there to be a sufficiently large population of people to be out there, looking for work. And if you don’t succeed, do you blame it on your brand? Do you reincarnate yourself as version 2.0? 3.0? 4.0?

While mired in this process and focusing on your personal brand, how can you engage your sociological imagination, to connect your personal experiences to the bigger picture? How can we find a middle ground, in which people can pursue work that rewards them without selling out and becoming tools. Or brands.

Got answers? Share your thoughts.

Gender Equality in Work Place Will Protect Japanese Economy

by Eriko Maruyama

The Japanese society is facing serious economic problems, such as stagnant GDP growth, aging population, raising unemployment rates. In response to these issues, the Japanese government is now trying to encourage women to enter the labour market. The employments of women in Japan are around 60 percent, while those of men are 80 percent (OECD). The Economist magazine (2012) estimated that if this gap of employment rates were improved, GDP of Japan would grow at 9 percent by 2020. As this statistic suggested, it is important to promote women to enter the labour market. In order to achieve this, we need to create new working environment which enables men and women to reconcile their jobs and housework. It is important to target not only women but also men, because the problem of gender is not only about women. It is a problem of both men and women.

Firstly, we need to start with remaking of system of companies. Companies should allow employees to work flexibly. For example, we can work everywhere with high tech devices today. We do not need to go to companies any more. We can have meetings in different places thorough Internet, or we can share documents on web clouds. Thus, companies have become less important places. If employee could do their job at home, they could finish housework and do childcare at the same time.

Nevertheless, still we need to go to work places, especially for people who work for factories and service sector. Therefore, it is necessary to create places which take care of children. There are not enough number of nursery schools and kindergarten in Japan now, so many mothers give up their job and engage in childcare. I would suggest that employing the retired people as carers of children. It is estimated that one of four people would be over 60 by 2030 in Japan, and as we can see, the elderly is very active after retirement. If it was encouraged to employ these active grandparent for taking care of children, parents could engage in their jobs and also the elderly could stay healthy. It is a win-win relation. If the government pushed women into labour force without enough support, women would be blamed for neglecting housework, and this would promote women’s returning to home again. In order to prevent this phenomenon, it is important to enhance the childcare systems.

In short, in order to sustain economic growth in Japan, it is necessary to create more flexible working environment which enables more people to enter labour market. At the same time, the government should implement social policies and provide more childcare systems in order for parents to focus on their jobs. It is expected for government to see gender issue as the interconnected problem of both women and men.

Bibliography

OECD (n.d.). OECD Better Life Index Japan. Retrieved from http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/japan/

The Economist (2012). The Contribution of Women. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/economic-and-financial-indicators/21564857