Saturday, July 25, 2009

4 Main issues in contemporary Japanese society.

4.1 The individual and the group

Many Westerners ask whether there is a Japanese self that exists apart from an identification with a group. The answer lies in the Japanese distinction between uchi (inside) and soto (outside). These terms are relative, and the "we" that is implied in uchi can refer to the individual, the family, a work group, a company, a neighborhood, or even to all Japan, the main thing is that it is always defined in oppostition to a " they ". The contexts or situations thus call for some level of definition of self. When an American businessman meets a Japanese counterpart, a colleague, the Japanese will define himself as a member of a particular company with which the American is doing business. However, if the American makes a cultural mistake, the Japanese is likely to define himself as a Japanese, as distinguished from a foreigner. The American might go away from his encounter with the belief that the Japanese think of themselves only as members of a group, which is not correct indeed.
"Japan, like other societies, has conflicts between individual and group. What is different from Western society is not that the Japanese have no sense of self but rather that the self is defined through its interaction with others and not merely through the force of individual personality."

From childhood, Japanese are taught that the level of self shouldn't be assertive, but rather should be considered of the needs of others. The private emotions, and perhaps the funloving, the relaxed side of Japanese people, are tolerated and sometimes even admired as long as these don't interfere with the performance of the public responsabilities. The proper performance of social roles is necessary to the smooth functionning of society. For all these reasons, individuals aware of their private definition of self, use a variable scale of uchi and soto to define themselves in the various situations.

4.2 Family and ie system

In Japan strong gender roles remained the cornerstone of family responsibilities (see the paragraph 1.5: "Gender stratification"). Most survey respondents said that family life should emphasize parent-child ties over husband-wife relations.
Various family life-styles exist side by side in contemporary Japan. In many urban businessman families, the husband may commute to work and return late, having little time with his children except for Sundays, a favorite day for family outings. The wife might be a "professional housewife", with nearly total responsibility for raising children, ensuring their careers and marriages, running the household, and managing the family budget. She also has primary responsibility for maintaining social relations with the wider circles of relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances and for managing the family's reputation. Her social life remains separate from that of her husband. It is increasingly likely that in addition to these family responsibilities, she may also have a part-time job or participate in adult education or other community activities. The closest emotional ties within such families are between the mother and children.
In other families, particularly among the self-employed, husband and wife work side by side in a family business. Although gender-based roles are clearly defined, they might not be as rigidly distinct as in a household where work and family are more separated. In such families, fathers are more involved in their children's development because they have more opportunity for interacting with them.As women worked outside of the home with increasing frequency beginning in the 1970s, there was pressure on their husbands to take on more responsibility for housework and child care. Farm families, who depend on nonfarm employment for most of their income, are also developing patterns of interaction different from those of previous generations.

4.3 Neighborhood

Beyond the family, the next group to which children are introduced is the neighborhood. Although the informal groups of children who freely wandered through villages of the past have no counterpart in contemporary heavily trafficked city streets, neighbohood playground and the grounds of local shrines and temple are sites where young children, accompanied by mothers, begin to learn to get along with others.

Also among neighbors, people give a special value to face. In old urban neighborhoods or rural villages, families may have been neighbors for generations and thus expect relationships of assistance and cooperation to continue into the future. In newer company housing, neighbors represent both competition and stress at the workplace, which cannot be expressed1. Extra care is taken to maintain proper relations while maximazing anyway the family privacy. Participation in neighbohood activities is not obligatory, but non-participants might lose face. If a family plans to stay in an area, people feel strong pressure to participate in public projects such as neighborhood cleanups or seasonal fastivals.

Furthermore, concern for the family's reputation is so strong that even background checks for marriage and employment might having to ask neighbors their opinion about a family. More positively seen, neighbors become uchi ("family") for certain purposes, such as local merchants providing personal services, physicians responding to calls for minor ailments and emergency treatments, and neighbors taking care of children as their mothers goes out.

4.4 Work and unemployment

For many adults, contacts among the working environment widens the circle of social relationships and so are considered important sources of friendships and resources. For men especially, the workplace is the focus of their social world. Many both in and outside of Japan share an image of the Japanese workplace that is based on a lifetime-employment model used by large companies. These employment practices came about as the result of labor shortages in the 1920s, when companies competed to recruit and retain the best workers by offering better benefits and job security. By the 1960s, employment at a large prestigious company had become the goal of children of the new middle class, the pursuit of which required mobilization of family resources and great individual perseverance in order to achieve success in the fiercely competitive education system.

Lifetime employment refers not to a worker's lifetime but to the time from school graduation until mandatory retirement, at age sixty for most men. Workers are recruited directly out of school, and large investments are made in training. Employees are expected to work hard and demonstrate loyalty to the firm, in exchange for some degree of job security and benefits, such as housing subsidies, good insurance, the use of recreational facilities, and bonuses and pensions. Wages begin low, and seniority is rewarded, with promotions based on a combination of seniority and ability. While the US and the European systems mostly give evaluations to each person's level of competence in his area of responsability and compensation is based on the individual results and on the "quantifiable contributions" he makes, in Japan "basic salary is made up of seniority pay, position pay, and ability pay" (Japan Insight) and "the average employee's salary at around age 50 is approximately twice that of new recruits in their first year with the company".
Source:book of japanese society

No comments:

Post a Comment