This chapter examines cultural explanations of the East Asian welfare state with the cases of Japan and South Korea. Two points are of concern as background to this investigation. First, the recent rising interest and development in cultural analysis of welfare within comparative social policy (eg Pfau-Effinger, 2004, 2005; Van Oorschot, 2007; Van Oorschot et al., 2008; Jo, 2011) suggest that the role of culture in welfare can be better understood with more empirical support when we see culture not as a broad and historical tradition that has shaped everything, but as a context at the same level with economic and political contexts for policymaking. Yet, there have been few non-Western cases analysed by this approach. Second, the cultural approach to ‘East Asian welfare’, if there is any, has seen little development over the last decade since ‘the Confucian welfare state’ thesis (eg Jones, 1990, 1993; Goodman and Peng, 1996). Certainly, the Confucian tradition cannot be overlooked (Esping-Andersen, 1997, p 181), but accepting it as a key driver of welfare state formation does not provide us with sufficient detail of which aspects of culture matter. This chapter is an attempt to take ‘one step further’ into the East Asian culture in relation to its welfare systems, with examples of Japan and South Korea, by empirically illuminating concrete features of cultural context of two countries in comparison with those of the Western welfare states.
Culture as a contextual factor for social policymaking
The idea of welfare is basically one of choice about what constitutes the ‘good society’ and how to achieve it, based on values and/or a consensus on ‘who should get what and why’ (Marshall, 1972, p 20; Titmuss, 1974, p 49; Rustin, 1999, p 257; Van Oorschot, 2000; Deacon, 2002, p 1; Van Oorschot et al, 2008, p 2). From this point of view, culture is key to an understanding of welfare and it is natural that researchers have devoted attention to cultural, ideological and religious traditions such as liberalism, hierarchism, socialism, Confucianism and Christianity as foundations of welfare (eg Jones, 1990, 1993; Van Kersbergen, 1995; Castles, 1998, pp 52–58; Lockhart, 2001; O’Connor and Robinson, 2008; Opielka, 2008; Stjerno, 2008; Van Kersbergen and Kremer, 2008; Manow and Van Kersbergen, 2009).