Academic journal article Ethnology

Becoming Shakaijin: Working-Class Reproduction in Japan

Academic journal article Ethnology

Becoming Shakaijin: Working-Class Reproduction in Japan

Article excerpt

In Japan, the transition from school into the working world marks one's transformation from student (gakusei) to social person (shakaijin). This transition is particularly important for men, for whom work remains a more permanent source of social identification than it typically does for Japanese women, for whom eventual roles as wives and mothers generally provide more central sources of social and self- definition. This article discusses the passage from educational institution to employment enterprise among two groups of male employees at a small manufacturing company in Tokyo. One group comprises mostly older men with junior high school education, while the other group consists of younger men who graduated from industrial high schools.

The past decade has seen much discussion in English about the Japanese education system, frequently laudatory (White 1987a; Rohlen 1983). Education in Japan is popularly seen as exhibiting great egalitarianism, whereby entrance to higher-level and more prestigious institutions is based on meritocratic performance in publicly administered entrance exams. Success or failure to enter certain schools is primarily based on academic (specifically examination) performance. The university entrance exams are the grand finale to this series of tests, which can begin with entry into kindergarten and are the presumed primary source of scholastic motivation for students and their parents (especially kyoiku-mama mothers). Rohlen' (1983), in fact, refers to the university entrance exams in Japan as a national obsession.

That the Japanese education system is not quite egalitarian and purely meritocratic has also been pointed out. Cummings and Naoi (1974:267) conclude, for example, that "in Japan children from the less privileged families are less likely to go to a university than their more affluent peers, and if they go they are more likely to attend a low status institution." Rohlen (1977, 1983) shows that educational stratification is perhaps most crucially manifest at the high school level, and that Japanese secondary education witnesses a serious separation and ranking of students that is highly correlated with matters of general social stratification' (Rohlen 1977:51; see also Takahashi 1994:53-54; Ishida 1989). The egalitarianism of the ostensibly meritocratic entrance exams is in part compromised by differential abilities to pay for supplemental educational services employed to assist in preparation for entrance exams to both high school and university (Rohlen 1977; Tsukada 1991).' Despite continuing scholarly interest in Japan's university-oriented examination system, the majority of Japanese do not in fact pursue university education. As Okano (1993:20) notes:

293 ETHNOLOGY vol. 34 no. 4, Fall 1995, pp. 293-313. ETHNOLOGY, c/o Department of Anthropology, the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh PA 15260 USA Studies on non-university bound high school students are rare, in contrast to the amount of research on Loose involved in the university entrance examinations. This is not to say that the latter group form the majority. Approximately 28 % of all high school graduates (including those who later decide to become ronin) experience the 4-year university entrance examinations, and about 13 % the 2-yearjunior college entrance examinations. . . . In other words, those who enter the well-publicized open competition all university places are the elite," and it seems that they have been pictured wrongly as the average Japanese high school student. There is a need to redress this popular view.

Although the percentage of Japanese attending university or junior college is impressive by international standards, nonetheless most Japanese conclude their formal education upon graduation from junior high or, much more commonly, high school. This article examines the transition from school to company among that majority of Japanese people who have not pursued post-secondary educations by focusing on the employees of one of Japan's medium-small enterprises. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.