Work and Lifecourse in Japan

By Samuel Coleman; Theodore F. Cook Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Aborted Careers in a Public Corporation

KENNETH A. SKINNER

Large Japanese organizations are said to favor permanent or lifetime employment: hiring people with the expectation that they will remain in the organization until they are retired. Thanks to annual salary increases and to promotions based largely on seniority, recruits into such organizations are thought to be able to look forward to thirty years of career predictability. Such employees can predicate decisions and plans for their lives outside the organization by projecting the foreseeable course of their work careers. Ishida Takeshi ( 1971:47) has even suggested, perhaps ingenuously, that an employee's future is so clearly calculable in terms of income and promotions that his dreams and hopes seem futile.

Reviewing the evidence, Levine in Chapter One finds that only a fraction of the Japanese labor force actually is in any form of permanent employment. But even among these employees we cannnot assume the career predictability which current notions of permanent employment imply. In this chapter I take you to a public corporation in Tokyo where employees expect to remain until retirement, but where they have difficulty prediciting what course their work careers will take.

During their initial years in the organization, employees usually follow a "normal" course of work assignments, moving horizontally within and across sections of the organization. This is similar to what happens to young white-collar employees in most large work organizations in Japan or elsewhere (see Rohlen 1974, Yoshino 1968, Dore 1973). However, in JKII (my acronym for this particular organization), as employees approach the conclusion of this "learn-

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