chapter  8
13 Pages

Social class and social identity in postwar Japan

ByDavid H. Slater

Today, as Japan struggles to fi nd its way out of recession, issues of social class have once more become relevant in academic literature and a prominent feature of the popular press. After all, from a hierarchical system many called feudal before World War II, Japan rebuilt after defeat into one of the largest economies in the world. For many inside of Japan and out, one of the most distinguishing features of, even an explanation for, this rise was that Japan had fi gured out a way to reap the benefi ts of capitalist liberalism but avoided the debilitating effects of class confl ict that so plagued the industrialized West. In this post-bubble period, the tables have turned once again. Just as high economic growth during the postwar period was supposed to be evidence of Japan’s keen management of its unique cultural identity, one that produced a harmonious society that led individuals to great personal sacrifi ce for the greater collective good, the post-bubble recession has generated new talk of Japan as a class society of inequality ( kakusa shakai ) that is producing class divergence between “winners” and “losers” ( kachi-gumi and makegumi ) who are questioning the very existence of middle-class membership and identity that seemed so secure even 20 years ago.