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The Japanese are multireligious, non-religious or neither, depending upon how religiosity is defined. This chapter endeavors to make sense of Japanese religiosity and to unravel the ways in which it has formed an undercurrent in Japanese society. The first section focuses on the characteristics of traditional religions which took hold in premodern Japan: Shinto, Japan’s native religion, and two imported religions: Buddhism and Christianity. The second section analyzes newer religions that were founded in the twentieth century and scrutinizes the more recent emergence of a cultural trend in which individuals seek forms of spirituality outside of established religious spheres. The third section looks at this-worldly financial and political activities of these old and new religions, and the fourth sketches how the general trend of secularization faces the revitalization of religious practices.
Two ostensibly contradictory forces operate in Japanese society, as is the case in other industrialized societies. On the one hand, it is subject to many centrifugal forces that tend to diversify its structural arrangements, lifestyles, and value orientations. On the other hand, a range of centripetal forces drives Japanese society towards homogeneity and uniformity. This chapter endeavors to recapitulate these two forces in the context of Japan’s civil society. The first section examines the fragmentation of social relations. The second section scrutinizes the rise of social movements in the 2010s. The third section delves into the quiet spread of volunteer activities and non-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations as the backdrop of the dissenting protests and the changing configuration of interest groups at large. The fourth section examines the viability of the emic notion analogous to citizenship in the analysis of the Japanese context. The last section attempts to locate a variety of forms of control in an analytical framework and to summarize their features as ‘friendly authoritarianism’ across the wide spectrum of Japanese society.
An Introduction to Japanese Society provides a highly readable introduction to Japanese society by internationally renowned scholar Yoshio Sugimoto. Taking a sociological approach, the text examines the multifaceted nature of contemporary Japanese society with chapters covering class, geographical and generational variation, work, education, gender, ethnicity, religion, popular culture, and the establishment. This edition begins with a new historical introduction placing the sociological analysis of contemporary Japan in context, and includes a new chapter on religion and belief systems. Comprehensively revised to include current research and statistics, the text covers changes to the labor market, evolving conceptions of family and gender, demographic shifts in an aging society, and the emergence of new social movements. Each chapter now contains illustrative case examples, research questions, recommended further readings and useful online resources. Written in a lively and engaging style, An Introduction to Japanese Society remains essential reading for all students of Japanese society.
The international evaluation of Japan’s work practice has made an about-turn since the beginning of the twenty-first century, from role model to problem case. The general response has shifted from admiration to caution and from envy to skepticism. Once heralded as a model from which every country must learn, the nation’s business world now appears to be seen as a framework to be avoided. Yet, Japan remains the third largest economy in the world, even if its potentials and challenges are currently being overshadowed by the struggle for international hegemony between the two superpowers – the United States and China. This chapter illustrates the plurality in Japan's world of labor by first highlighting the continuation of the old patterns: the prevailing culture of small business and the perpetuation of the so-called Japanese-style management model. The second half of the chapter focuses on the emerging changes by examining the growing spread of a new form of capitalism, which one might call 'cultural capitalism', based on the knowledge industry and the production and consumption of symbols, images, and representations.
This chapter investigates the sampling issue of the social sciences in the analysis of contemporary Japanese society, addressing the basic question of why some groups are overrepresented in its portrayal while others tend to be disregarded, despite its pluralistic realities. In doing so, it then identifies four models: monocultural, multiethnic, multiclass and multicultural. It also highlights three areas in which the particular case of Japan has something to offer to social science issues in general – the convergence debate, cultural relativism, and the distinction between ideologies and lived realities in the description of a given society – and demonstrates why it is necessary to be sensitive to two types of relativism: intrasocietal and intersocietal.
Aware that studies of gender relations include both the world of women and that of men, this chapter examines them primarily from women’s perspective, as they command a numerical majority of the Japanese population while forming a sociological minority subject to various forms of gender discrimination. In international comparison, the World Economic Forum reports that the gender gap in Japan is exceptionally vast, ranking one hundred twenty-first out of one hundred fifty-three countries, well behind the Philippines, China, and South Korea, and in last place among major advanced economies. To understand Japanese society, women’s situations and voices must be given priority and studied in depth with a critical eye.
Contemporary Japan faces a serious dual demographic crisis with a fast-aging population and a birthrate in rapid decline. As the active laborforce diminishes in comparison with the swelling number of retirees, Japan is at the forefront of many advanced economies in confronting this problem, raising the fundamental issue of the redistribution of economic and social resources across different generations. More broadly, age-based variations are stark, with the young, the middle aged and the elderly exhibiting dissimilar attitudes and behaviors. The country is also divided geographically: the Japanese have different lifestyles depending on their place of residence. Their eating habits, type of housing, language, style of thinking, and many other aspects of their everyday life hinge upon where they live. This chapter first focuses on the dynamics of an aging society, presenting the most crucial issues in Japan’s demographic change today, and then more broadly examines both generational and geographical variations with a view to assessing the ways in which these primary demographic characteristics condition the options and preferences of various Japanese persons.
This chapter investigates issues of class and stratification in Japan, which experienced a dramatic paradigm shift towards the end of the twentieth century. Although widely portrayed as an egalitarian and predominantly middle-class society during the period of high economic growth until the early 1990s, Japan has suddenly been deemed a society divided along class lines under the prolonged stagnation that has characterized the Japanese economy for three decades. Based on macrosociological data, this chapter delineates the focal points of debate on the analysis of class and stratification in Japan as a general prelude to specific spheres covered from Chapter 4 onward: cultural diversity and class competition in relation to, for example, generation, region, labor, education, gender, and ethnicity.
Japanese society embraces a rich variety of cultural forms that reflect its tradition, stratification, and regional expanse. To examine the internal diversity of Japanese culture as thoroughly as possible, this chapter first looks at two manifestations of its duality and then analyzes mass culture, folk culture, and alternative culture as three major spheres of popular culture. After confirming its plurality, we turn at the end to the Japanese cultural presence in the transnational context.
This chapter introduces the historical backdrop of contemporary Japan. It positions present-day circumstances in historical perspective, bringing them into relief against the past. The chapter also traces the historical transformations in the patterns of land ownership and tax collection which condition class formation and disintegration at different time points.
Which groups and organizations govern Japan? How do they cooperate and compete with each other? To what extent is the Japanese establishment connected with voluntary associations at popular levels? What are the characteristics of Japanese democracy? This chapter attempts to address these and other questions with a focus on the top layers of Japanese society. It is widely acknowledged that Japan’s establishment comprises three sectors – big business, parliament, and the public bureaucracy (ministries and agencies at the national level) – which are often referred to as a 'three-way deadlock'. In view of this, this chapter examines Japan's three-way deadlock, the emerging free-market political economy, community-level interest groups, political culture, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, relations with Korea and China, major media organizations, and deep-seated rifts that have opened up within elite structure.
Japan has long been portrayed as a distinctively uniform society both racially and culturally despite the firm reality that it has many social groups that are subjected to discrimination and prejudice in ethnic and quasi-ethnic terms. This chapter first examines a few aspects of Japan’s ethnocentrism and then addresses the fallacy of the homogeneity thesis by delineating four ‘minority groups’ in Japan: the indigenous Ainu, burakumin, resident Koreans, and foreign workers. Based on the analysis of minority issues, the latter part of the chapter calls into question the monocultural definition of ‘Japaneseness’ and explores multiple ways of defining ‘the Japanese’.
This chapter surveys Japanese education by first inspecting its demography and stratification in detail and scrutinizing how class variables play out throughout the educational process. The second section investigates how the state attempts to control the substance of education at primary and secondary levels, while the third section focuses on some of the costs of the regimented style of teaching. The fourth section examines continuity and change in university student life, and the fifth section looks at how Japanese education is facing the rising tide of globalization, with particular attention paid to English-language teaching. The final section describes four competing educational orientations.