Precarious State Casting Shadow on My Future Vision

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Momoka Murayama

First, I would like to make my goals and aims for the near future clear. As a university student, I strongly wish to gain the capability to think critically and logically through various experiences and being able to analyze one object deeply and globally from the various angles are the capabilities I aspire to acquire. Having those ability, I strongly wish to work as a career women in the future. I am interested in working with workers from different countries who have different thoughts and cultural background. I believe that working in this kind of environment would allow me to grow and to widen my views. Since I was a high school student, I have been interested in interpretation and translation. Although it is still vague, I wish to become a bridge to connect Japan with the rest of the world making the most use of English skills I will have acquired by then in this globalized age.

However, when I imagine my future I always become anxious because several social problems in Japan cross my mind. Here, I would like to focus on the gender issue. I see this as a sever issue and for me it is problematic since my future plans and goals may be affected by this issue. As a woman, I strongly wish to get married and have children someday. However, it is difficult to dispel my misgivings that I might lose a job after child-rearing and have no place to return. In spite of high level of education in Japan, employment rate of women is low compared to that of western countries and I feel that the Japanese government and society are not using potential power of women effectively. This is one of the Japanese precarious aspects. As Allison (2013) have mentioned in the book, the number of working women has increased over time, however, many of them have no choice but to leave their workplace when they get married and have a baby, and in addition, they are mostly irregularly employed.

This book talks about “ibasho” and we have discussed this in class as well. “Ibasho” to me is where I feel comfortable and it is where you could feel that you are not alone. I suppose most of the people find “ibasho” when they are with their friends and family members. However, in my opinion, it is also important to have “ibasho” at your workplace. On the other hand, companies should provide “ibasho” to workers. Workplace should be somewhere that makes you motivated and feel that you want to contribute to where belong to. It should be a place where workers can return anytime. In that sense, Japan needs progression and creating “ibasho” in society under stronger social relationship may be the key to get out of present precarious state.

Reference

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

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The blessed few in precarious Japan

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Atsushi Amemiya

When you look for regular work, you will find two kind of jobs. The first type of works is a public officer who is employed by a nation or a local government. The second one is a laborer who works in a private enterprise. Here, I’d like to talk about a public officer in Japan.

Although a public officer had been not a so popular job before the Bubble collapsed, it got first place in many Japanese rankings of dream job after the Bubble collapsed. Actually, I also consider it as a place of employment after graduate as same as many other university students in Japan. Then, why is a public officer so popular in Japan? I think there are three reasons.

The first reason is that a public officer is one of the most stable jobs. It is hard to think that Japan come to a collapse. Moreover also, since the Japanese Government and a Japanese local government adopt a seniority system, a public officer increasingly earn much money as he or she grows older even if he or she produces nothing.

The second reason is that a working conditions of a public officer is relatively better than most of private enterprises. Especially, for women, I think a public officer is one of best jobs in Japan. This is because according to the National Personnel Authority and Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office, a job separation rate of women after a marriage is about fourteen times as high as the rate of female government officials after a marriage. A job separation rate of female government officials after a marriage is just 2%. It is surprisingly low.

The third reason is that non-Japanese cannot work as a public officer with few exceptions (a foreign resident of Japan, professors in national or public universities and so on). Now that a market is globalized and Japan is an aging society with a declining birthrate, it is time to receive foreign workers from the world. Actually, Prime Minister Abe considers a foreign worker policy that Japan receives 200,000 foreign workers annually. Then, if this policy is carried out, unemployment is growing rapidly in the various fields of industry. However, public officers do not lose their jobs because foreign workers cannot become public officers since they do not have Japanese nationality.

In conclusion, I can affirm that a public officer is one of the best jobs in precarious Japan for the above reasons although I’m not sure that a public officer will be a stable job in the future. Of course, there are institutional weaknesses of a public officer. For instance, the young cannot earn a lot of money even if they produce excellent results in their jobs because of a senior system. However, I think public officers are the blessed few, bearing the weakness in mind because their life was guaranteed by a nation or a local government even in precarious Japan where a lot of Japanese feel a sense of despair.

References

General Equality Bureau Cabinet Office (2013), Danjo kyodou sankaku hakusyo (A report of gender equal society) Retrieved from: http://www.gender.go.jp/about_danjo/whitepaper/h25/zentai/index.html

The National Personnel Authority (2011), Josei kokka koumuin no saiyou touyou no gennjoutou (The present condition about employment and promotion of female government officials) Retrieved from: http://www.jinji.go.jp/saiyoutouyou/sankoushiryou/III.pdf

Multiculturalism or Anti-Multiculturalism in Japan

English: Ainus wearing their traditional cloth...

English: Ainu wearing their traditional clothes, Ainu Museum, City of Shiraoi, Hokkaido, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Naresh Kumar

The Japanese version of multiculturalism is anti-multiculturalism. Every action or support, provided by the government and people of Japan is not for cultural minorities but for the social and cultural majorities. When we read the literature it provides us with skepticism. I believe that the job of the literature is not to tell us whether it is right or wrong, but it needs to urge readers to think critically before they decide what is right or wrong. There is a need to accept people for who they are, rather than trying making them into who we are. We all are different but isn’t that a good thing. Japan is the last developed country to move towards minorities’ rights. A tradition which was important to Ainu’s ancestors has become to modern Ainu, a matter of cultural survival. It is hard to find someone in the current generation who speaks Ainu fluently, and it is because of the oppression by the Japanese government from the past century.

The Ainu minority in Japan is struggling to keep up their identity and culture. The oppression from the government is not anymore but it has driven Ainu minorities towards extinction. After Japan started its internationalization, the slogans like international exchange, cultural exchange, etc., are heard very often. Commentators say that Japan is on the route of becoming a multicultural country. The notion of Japanese multiculturalism is embedded in Japan’s culture, education and society and this excludes minority groups of Japan.

In Hokkaido, Ainu museums and cultural centers can be found, but is it to distinguish themselves as different people or to provide a picture of Ainu culture for Japan? It is hard to figure out whether Japan is preserving history or ignorance. Many see Ainu people as part of Japanese people. However, it is hard to distinguish whether government policies are to include or exclude the Ainu people. Behind different policies promoting Ainu culture, there is a continuing story of Ainu discrimination.

The consensus by the government shows that there are around 30,000 Ainu people left (Onishi, 2008). However, the exact number of Ainu population in Japan in unknown as Ainu people are excluded from the census. Many argue that this is the result of an exclusion policy by the government. The Ainu language is passed through parents to children without any proper written forms (Aljazeera, 2010). 1974’s Ainu welfare program was introduced to raise the living standards of Ainu, but the Ainu’s living standards have lagged behind those of other Japanese (ibid). Many Ainu people hide their identity because they fear discrimination. Japan is the last developed country which is working towards equality but the process is really slow. I fear that if such cases of discrimination, exclusion from social welfare, etc. carry on, then Ainu population might extinct from Japan.

References

Aljazeera, (2010, February 4). Japan improves relations with Ainu. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2010/02/20102465020204126.html

Onishi, N. (2008, July 3). Japan Recognizes Ainu as an Indigenous People, but what comes next? Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/world/asia/03ainu.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The pros and cons of “jiko sekinin”

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan spea...

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Ami Yamada

In Precarious Japan, Anne Allison regards the movement that forced people to have more self-responsibility (“jiko sekinin”) as a negative on the whole. After the bursting of bubble, the Japanese government has reformed some traditional Japanese systems and shifted more responsibility to the individual rapidly. The movement was attributed to spread neo-liberalism in Japan. The government adopted the idea and promoted some policies, for example, a massive deregulation and restructuring platform, which were based on market fundamentalism and capitalism.

Moreover, under such a situation, the Prime Minister Koizumi pushed on “structural reform without sanctuaries”, including system of health care. Reforms based on neo-liberalism and market fundamentalism produced bipolarization, that is, rich and poor. It is hard for people who fell into poor spiral once to get out of the loop of poor, and now, there are many poor people who are left by even social safety nets and cannot make a basic life. Allison mentions that they float at work and drift in life as NEET, net café refugees, homeless, hikikomori and so on. Allison also says that these situations do not match the right which is guaranteed by the article 25 of Japanese constitution; all people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.

As I received Aliison’s thought, then I myself think about “jiko sekinin”. First, I state pros of it. I think that we can choose almost all things by ourselves like in Japanese society, although free choices always have responsibility. It depends on yourself whether go to school, work, get marriage, have a child, or not. In addition, people who make effort or have talent can succeed and become a winner in neo-liberal society. The more effort you make, the much salary you can get. It can motivate you and may tell you how important you try to do your best.

Next, I think about cons of “jiko sekinin”. People were given the right of free choices and had to bear the responsibility by themselves at the same time. However, I think that the situation, “free”, varies from person to person. I mean, it is not good to force people to hold yourself responsible for everything (especially bad, negative thing), although people can live in only place where has limited by something already.

To be honest, I cannot say to be for or against the movement “jiko sekinin” sweepingly. However, I believe strongly that it is nonsense to label someone who is like net café refugees, homeless, hikikomori and so on as a just lazy without considering their background and social circumstance. Not only government also we should support these people properly.

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There’s more than one path to success

by Yuki Kamino

I understood Anne Allison’s way of thinking about “jiko sekinin” in this way. She says that with high economic growth, our level of life has improved a lot and Japanese people gradually put more emphasis on making money to live better. Family roles are also divided, as fathers go to a company, mothers do housework for their family, and even children have a role in that they have to go to school. In this change of society, a lot of Japanese think it ideal to succeed at school, get a secure job and find a good marriage partner. This course to better life is important to be independent and it is also an important status for Japanese people. As Allison says, this is becoming stronger in today’s atmosphere, but while some are able to walk this course, there are another who are thrown out from there. Those people feel difficulty in life (ikizurasa) and tend to become “hikikomori”.

The good points of “jiko sekinin” is that to be independent, people make a lot of effort. Thanks to their big effort, our level of life has largely improved and we are one of the developed countries. Moreover, as today is called a competitive society, we have a mutual influence on each other, so we have much expectation in the future still more.

While a competitive society give us benefits, it also brings a gap between rich people who are good at accepting themselves to the society and people who are not good at it. I think this is a result of “jiko sekinin”.

I feel that Japanese society has a model in how to be a good person or live better life is written, and a lot of Japanese believe it and are eager to follow it. I think because of the model, some successful people look down on others, and those others more and more feel “ikizurasa”.

In my opinion, we should get out of the model. Of course we have to be independent, but I think the new way can be different, depending on people. I was very surprised at the story of Chihara. He is a very famous comedian who appears in a lot of TV programs. If people know only his past that he did not go to school and confined himself in his room … they could have a bad impression of him. However, we know he makes us happy through TV, and he is loved and respected by many people. No one makes fun of him.

As we can see from the story of Chihara, there is not only one way to success. I believe we should have our own course to be independent.

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Path Forward

JaPan kaNto

JaPan kaNto (Photo credit: ~Alia~)

by Jea Jeongmin

Modern Japanese society faces lots of difficulties. The decline in marriage and birth rates causes an aging society, and the rise of “hikikomori” and suicide have been recent social problems. If this goes on, the number of unattended deaths will be increasing. Also, the rate of working-age population who will have to support the Japanese economy will decrease and we will not be able to afford the social welfare expense and sustention of finance.

In addition, all people in Japan should have equal rights, such as right to vote or to get employed. For example, foreign people in Japan do not have the right to vote in elections. Also, historically, there has been some social discrimination against permanent Korean residents in Japan in terms of getting a job or housing. When Japanese people found out the fact that Korean people apply for a job or house, they reject Korean people for no reason. Nowadays, however, the situation has been getting better compared to the past. However, this historical evidence remains in Japanese society and they feel that they have been discriminated by Japanese society.

As mentioned above, there are so many social issues in Japan that must be solved to make the future better. When it comes to who will be able to solve these serious issues and change the darker Japanese society, it would be the Japanese government. As for aging society, the reason why Japanese society turned into aging is because percentage of unmarried people is increasing and birth rate is decreasing. What the government has to do to solve this problem is establish a social security system like a system of childcare leave. Japanese government must realize the fact that Japanese economy will fall into a decline if the aging society progresses. In order to stop the recession in the future, Japanese government needs money to establish the social system so that Japanese government should increase the tax more as they are doing right now. Then, Japanese government uses money in an appropriate way, that is, establishing great social welfare system to rebuilt the Japanese economy.

In addition, in terms of having equal rights, foreign people should have the right to vote so that a number of immigration will be increasing in the future in Japan. Foreign workers will be necessary in Japan because young population will be decreasing. If foreign people realize the fact that Japan is acceptable country without having to naturalize, there will be possibility that more foreign people will come to Japan to work.

In conclusion, in order to get economy better from these present problems in Japan, Japanese government leads from the front and take some actions.

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Thinking about “jiko sekinin”

by Yume Furumura

When we do something by ourselves, we must have the responsibility in many cases. To become a member of the society, we need “self-responsibility” (jiko sekinin).

In the book Precarious Japan, Anne Allison explains how self-responsibility was promoted by the government under Prime Minister Koizumi. In 2004, some Japanese (who were doing volunteer work) were captured by insurgents who demanded the Japanese government withdraw troops. Nevertheless, the government refused to negotiate and denounced the hostages for irresponsibly “causing Japan so much trouble”. Certainly, people who go to the dangerous places should have resolution and responsibility. However, I think that the people who were captured them must also have strong convictions. The government has to defend and act for the people in any case. I feel that the government pursued about their responsibility too much. In my opinion, the Japanese government should have respected their activities more.

I think the phrase jiko sekinin is used in a broad meaning and various situations, and to have jiko sekinin is very important to make the society well organized. For example, if politicians don’t have accountability for what they say, we cannot trust the government. Conversely, the politician whose actions correspond to his words is believed by people. Responsible people are socially acceptable. Then, the idea of self responsibility allows us to do things freely. Without permission under jiko sekinin, free-lance journalists cannot go and do they want to.

However, people sometimes cannot live with security if they are pressured by jiko sekinin. Many people are dismissed from their companies suddenly, and most of them cannot put up opposition if they are told that it is their responsibility. Now young Japanese tend to quit their jobs voluntarily, being obsessed by the thought of jiko sekinin. (In Japan in the olden days, samurai performed hara-kiri to take responsibility. I doubt that such cultures make Japanese do, throwing away their lives.)

Then, in the world, there are many things we cannot deal with by only ourselves. Allison says as follows, “In the face of encroaching precarity, greater expectations are being placed or not only the individual (under the urgency to be “self-sustaining” and individually responsible) but also the government to help people manage life.” The poor cannot live without economic support. Many people need supports of someone.

We have to be careful when we use the phrase jiko sekinin. To have responsibility is essential for making a good relationship in the society, but we must not forget that the word may put a person in a hole.

Reference

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

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Promoting a More Lively Planet

English: Internationally recognized symbol. De...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kyle Phan

When the earthquake damaged Fukushima a couple years ago, I knew something big had occurred because radiation is not a simple matter. It was only when I came to Japan that I learned from a documentary that the aftermaths of the earthquake are indeed, really bad. People are protesting against nuclear power and the Japanese government must decide where to throw away its nuclear waste. It appears the situation got way out of control, and some people are ignoring the situation. I can’t really blame the people of Fukushima for feeling powerless, but I think everyone, especially countries who use nuclear power, should brainstorm solutions and learn from the situation instead of ignoring it. To prevent future scenarios involving nuclear radiation, the situation must be approached both locally and internationally because an environmental crisis could happen at any given time to any country that uses nuclear power.

In order to improve the conditions at Fukushima, it is really important that the government first stops denying the situation. The people with power need to take responsibility for their decisions of building the nuclear plant at Fukushima and start developing perspective of the unequal treatment of the people of Fukushima. Japanese politicians and any person with power needs to move away from their self-interests (tragedy of the commons) and realize the injustice of the situation because environmental crisis can happen to any person regardless of social background. If the Japanese government has the money, then why not fix the situation and help the victims of Fukushima? Allowing the nuclear waste pile up somewhere or discarding the waste to some poorer area in Japan or even China (environmental racism) is no solution.  If they decide to get rid of the waste like that, the politician must make sure no people inhabit the area, but doing so, either way has implications for the environment which must be handled internationally.

Since dealing with nuclear waste is easier said than done, I think the top scientists of every country that uses nuclear power should collaborate for some feasible solutions because they are the experts on the subject. The Earth is our home and we should work together to alleviate pollution! If we can’t fix the problem right now, we must strive for the future: people all over the world must start pursuing alternative sources of energy! Maybe we should invest in solar panels, or better yet, better funding for STEM research might be the answer. Since Jeffrey Jousan has said the US is partially the reason why Japan first began using nuclear power, I also think US could offer some assistance in cleaning up the waste.  I think everyone would agree that both the poor and the rich are alive because of what the Earth offers: the water you drink, the air you breathe, the food you eat, you’re alive because of the Earth.

Clearly, the current issues goes deeper than what has been mentioned. It is obvious that something must be done with the power differences among the power companies and the Fukushima victims. With that being said, only the Japanese can fix their own problem. The people with power must develop the perspective of the victims and realize that Fukushima are “Japanese” people too. In order for progress to be made, the younger generation needs to stop isolating themselves from the polluted environment (inverted quarantine) and start being getting their voices heard by those with power! Maybe we can’t fix Fukushima, but in order for environmental conditions to change for the people of Fukushima, there needs to be more support for environmental change. The Fukushima moms can’t be out fighting by themselves. Being aware is not enough, it is time for people to start being active in the process! However, it is difficult because of limiting factors such as the cultural values of Japanese people not wanting to appear troublesome to other people and the “lack of freedom of press in Japan.” People internationally also need to start being active with environmental movements because nuclear waste has implications to our home, the Earth.

References

Press Freedom Index 2013″ en.rsf.org. 2013. 11 Dec. 2013. http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html

Response to “Women of Fukushima” Documentary

by Miranda Solly

The idea behind “Women of Fukushima” is one that you can see everywhere in charity and aid appeals. You take an issue, like drought, homelessness, or radiation, and you link it to ordinary people. Appeals in the UK for aid during a drought do not just tell you the facts of how many children starve every day; they often tell you about a single child and how much of a struggle they are facing, putting a name and a face to that statistic. This human link is supposed to build empathy between the target of the campaign and the people the campaign is aiming to help. Although it is shameful to admit it, people do not seem to care if they are told that thousands of civilians have died in a war, but are more likely to if they are given just a few names and faces. That being said, I have grown up surrounded by calls to action, so much so that I couldn’t possibly participate in every one, and perhaps the idea has become overused. I’ve found that even such a technique crafted to evoke empathy has lost most of its impact. That is why I was surprised when the documentary “Women of Fukushima” affected me as much as it did. In this blog post, I would like to explore why.

Perhaps one of the more effective parts of the documentary was the way in which it showed just how ordinary these women are. When you first see their faces, they are flashed up onto the screen to the beat of the protest song, almost like the heroes of an action film. That brings how ordinary they look into sharp relief. The documentary also allowed space for the women’s personalities to come through. In other documentaries I have seen, the viewer is faced with a barrage of how awful the situation is, but this allowed you to see how sometimes people make light of their situation. Take, for example, the way Setsuko Kida talked with wonder about attending her first protest at the age of 57, or Yukiko Takahashi joked about turning up dressed as a pregnant woman. The way they perceive their situation as somewhat absurd makes the women far more relatable, which then drives me to imagine how it would feel to end up in the kind of situation where I, too, would be driven to something so outside of my comfort zone.

The other significant difference I found with this documentary was the space it allowed for the viewer to draw their own conclusions. The opening sequence presents you with the ominous clicks of a Geiger counter, without comment. The viewer is left to recognise what they are hearing, how the clicks increase, and how frightening that is. The women talk about how playgrounds are no longer safe for children, or how a friend stays inside concrete buildings to protect her child. Even before they tell us explicitly how dangerous the situation is for children, we have felt it through the anxiety the woman are feeling.

While the film has won awards internationally, the lack of attention in the Japanese media means that we can only imagine the impact the film might have if a larger number of Japanese people saw it. But from the way it affected me, I do think that we could take lessons from it about how to frame issues to gather support. We live in a world where the richest could make a huge difference to the lives of the poorest, only they rarely do. When calls for aid come from halfway across the globe, we can find it especially difficult to relate to the suffering described. If instead of merely telling a target audience about others’ pain, we represented things in a way that allows the target audience to feel their pain, maybe we would prompt more people to try to make a difference in the world.

References:

http://www.women-of-fukushima.com/

Ryan and Gamson, “The Art of Reframing Political Debates” Contexts Issue 1, 2006, pp. 13-18 (University of California Press)