Social Class in Contemporary Japan: Structures, Sorting and Strategies

Social Class in Contemporary Japan: Structures, Sorting and Strategies

Social Class in Contemporary Japan: Structures, Sorting and Strategies

Social Class in Contemporary Japan: Structures, Sorting and Strategies


Post-war Japan was often held up as the model example of the first mature industrial societies outside the Western economy, and the first examples of "middle-mass" society. Today, and since the bursting of the economic bubble in the 1990's, the promises of Japan, Inc., seem far away.

Social Class in Contemporary Japanis the first single volume that traces the dynamics of social structure, institutional socialization and class culture through this turbulent period, all the way into the contemporary neoliberal moment. In an innovative multi-disciplinary approach that include top scholars working on quantitative class structure, policy development, and ethnographic analysis, this volume highlights the centrality of class formation to our understanding of the many levels of Japanese society. The chapters each address a different aspect of class formation and transformation which stand on their own. Taken together, they document the advantages of putting Japan in the broad comparative framework of class analysis and the enduring importance of social class to the analysis of industrial and post-industrial societies.

Written by a team of contributors from Japan, the US and Europe this book will be invaluable to students and scholars of Japanese society and culture, as well as those interested in cultural anthropology and social class alike.


Hiroshi Ishida and David H. Slater

Researching social class in Japan

Prompted by drastic changes in Japanese society and shifts in the foci and methods of social analysis, the social scientific literature on Japan has taken a distinct turn in the past ten years. Japanese society, once represented as unified and homogeneous, is now recognized as fractured along lines of ethnic, racial and gender difference. It is not diverse just at its margins, but often within its very core, and this diversity is not just a recent phenomenon, but one that is now being traced back hundreds of years to the way its very origins have been represented. The literature has demonstrated an exciting shift away from the study of mainstream populations and the mechanisms that unify the population (political, cultural and social) and toward the issue of internal differentiation, autonomy and contestation (Denoon et al. 2001, Sugimoto 2003, Weiner 1997). Not only have the discourses that promoted the image of monolithic Japan come under critical scrutiny from many quarters, but there is a growing body of empirical work that documents emergent and increasingly significant fault lines within Japan. Japan has been resituated within a much broader global and comparative context where issues of change, hybridity, and innovation have replaced national and institutional frames of reference. Perhaps most excitingly, this shift has been visible across a wide range of disciplines – literature as well as sociology; political science as well as anthropology; contemporary popular culture as well as the historical roots from which these new forms have emerged.

And yet, in the rush to “diversify” Japan, one important axis of difference and diversity, and source of structure for that difference, has received relatively less theoretical attention or empirical exploration in the English language tradition: social class. This is paradoxical for a number of reasons. There is hardly a society that has experienced more significant class reorganization than has Japan in the past 100 years. Moreover, for much of the postwar period, the rhetoric of social class has supplied the most important ideological foundation for major political social movements. Within the academic literature, Japanese scholars have produced one of the most sustained bodies of work by Marxist and stratification theorists anywhere in the world, and certainly outside the West. Moreover, while acknowledging that there are many ways to measure social structure, for most . . .

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