Inside the Japanese Company

Inside the Japanese Company

Inside the Japanese Company

Inside the Japanese Company


Based on extensive original research from inside a Japanese insurance company (C-Life), this work explores the attitudes of Japanese employees on lifetime employment, company loyalty and characteristics of Japanese working life, which are often portrayed in stereotype form in the West.


In early Japan literature, the stereotype of the Japanese company was a large, white-collar organisation with hundreds or even thousands of employees. It is only over the past decade that this picture has been balanced by studies of other types of Japanese companies and employees - blue-collar companies, small companies, female workers and so on. In fact, the backlash has been so great that the large white-collar company has now become somewhat neglected. This book seeks to redress the balance by providing an in-depth view of employee life inside a rather typical, large, white-collar traditional company. It looks at what everyday life is like for the very many Japanese employees who work in such companies, and investigates the dynamics of the social relations inside the company.

Before introducing C-Life, the company which is the subject of this book, it is necessary to describe briefly its economic context. My purpose is not to give an exhaustive account of the Japanese economy; this book is not intended as a detailed description of the company’s economic situation or the nature of its business. Rather, my intention is to describe the everyday life and social relations of its employees, and what I present here is offered merely to set the context for the fieldwork which follows.

The economic background

In 1945 Japan was in ruins, with up to 80 per cent of some of its cities destroyed. No-one could have predicted the amazing turnaround that would be achieved by 1950. In five short years, Japan had achieved financial stability, rebuilt large parts of its cities and industries and recommenced trading. In fact, the country had been so successful that its income per capita was higher than the pre-war level, and its industrial output had actually doubled. In the following decades, Japan continued to defy economic analysis by expanding at an unprecedented pace for a non-Western nation.

But by 1986 and 1987 economic growth had slowed down as the yen rose. The central bank lowered the official discount rate from 5 per cent to 2.5 per cent to boost the economy. This sparked a massive economic boom: money was poured into the stock market and the property market. These investments were financed by using land and stocks as collateral for the credit, which meant that both land . . .

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