Global affective labor and Japanese society

by Mizuki Watanabe

Anne Allison refers to “global affective labor” in her book Precarious Japan. In this blog post, I would like to write about “global affective labor” and Japanese society in Japan.

In the beginning, we will define “global affective labor”. According to Allison, it’s is defined as workers that sell “affection” to customers. For example, Cat Cafes, Maid Cafes, and so on and we can see those examples in her book. Also “global affective labor” has globalized. Therefore we can see laborers performing it in foreign countries. Moreover Allison mentions that people pay for affection from those services. And she thinks it is related to people thinking that relationships are tiresome (mendokusai) as well.

As we can see in Allison’s book, it is “easy” for customers to visit those kinds of shops because they do not have to be in trouble any more. If people visit Cat Cafes, they need not have own cats. Keeping pets is tiresome (mendokusai) because we have a responsibility to look after them as their parents. If they visit Maid Cafes or Host Clubs, they need not have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Going together with her or him is tiresome (mendokusai) because it is possible that we are in trouble such as a quarrel, a period of lassitude, unfaithfulness and talk about ending a relationship. Temporary relationships are comfortable for them. They can satisfy their demand when it’s convenient. Just by paying money, they can get an ideal world without making an effort.

I can bring myself to accept her idea because I might be one of the global affective laborers in Japan. I can understand what is it easily. I have worked at Kyoto Kokusai Hotel as a bell girl. Bell girls and boys are educated to have good customer-service skills. For a fine example of it, we cannot show our real feelings directly especially negative feelings such as anger, displeasure, and so on. We have to smile all the time except settlement of complaints and when a complaint is lodged, we must not take a defiant attitude toward guests and have to say sorry to them continually. If a surly person comes, we fawn upon. If guests want to talk to us, we have to talk to give our sympathy to them. Those facts can be interpreted as that I sell “affection” to guests. Then, I guess that guests must be comfortable because they are deluded that they are respected, pleased, and not being denied by us.

Anyway, “global affective labor” does many services more than that I mentioned about my part-time job. For instance in Maid Cafes, staff members who wear maid costumes must massage customers’ shoulders or ears to make guests comfortable. Such services have become more common in Japan lately. There are many kinds of “affective services” as well. A lot of foreign media draw attention to it actually. Therefore in foreign countries such as Asian and European countries, those kinds of cafes are becoming widely known.

In addition to Alison’s opinion, we can say with fair certainty that those forms of affective labor were born from Japanese traditional spirit. It is “OMOTENASHI” spirit. The spirit deeply rooted in Japan from of old. Of cause we can be proud of this because this spirit has supported the Japanese economy and society for long time. I read many foreign articles and news that praise this. However, lately Japanese society has been absolutely unstable and many people feel uneasy about their relationships and so on. Then, too many services like Maid Cafes have grown in society to alleviate tired people’s minds. And people noticed that relating with this world is more comfortable and happier than the real relationships because it is easy and not tiresome. Ironically, by connecting this great Japanese “OMOTENASHI” spirit with recent people’s feeling that is uneasy one, those affective works have spread and people feel real world is tiresome (mendokusai).

As stated above, I strongly agree with her opinion.

Reference

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

Konseputo café, naze hisokani bumu? [Concept Cafes, why is it in boom? ] Yahoo JAPAN news Retrieved June 3, 2014 from http://zasshi.news.yahoo.co.jp/article?a=20140507-00010000-bjournal-bus_all

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