Work and Lifecourse in Japan

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

REFLECTIONS
Timetables and the Lifecourse in Post-Industrial Society

JULIUS A. ROTH

One of the questions I raised in the last chapter of my book Timetables ( Roth 1963) concerned the culture-bound nature of structuring the passage of time in a linear fashion. It is a process commonly associated with Western industrialism, although it is also clearly a theme in other times and places.

How widespread is the linear organization of time This is a question which can be approached by studying parts of the world other than Western industrial countries. Japan is not the best test of this issue since it has clearly adopted many of the forms of European and North American society. However, it is sufficiently removed to serve as at least a limited test. The answer I would give on the basis of some of the papers in this book is that the Japanese apply a linear concept of time -- certainly in the occupational sphere -- strikingly like that of Western Europeans and present-day North Americans.

Let us take, for example, the railroad workers described by Paul Noguchi in Chapter Four. These workers appear to structure career timetables in a way similar to that reported in the United States in the case of long-term careers within a given organization. The career is seen as a series of stages that one can be expected to move through up to a point, and there are norms about how long one may be expected to remain at each stage. Older platform workers (typically an early-career position) working with youthful colleagues are regarded as out of joint with common expectation. Those who spend significantly longer than the expected time in any one position are thought to be "running late," and they may stave off the feeling of relative failure only by constantly reinterpreting the career timetable.

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