The previous chapter explored the complexities of ‘coming into’ masculinity as boys and adolescents in informants’ life-paths towards adulthood as fully fledged, socially responsible shakaijin. Over the next few chapters, the central concern shifts to the ways in which these individual informants, upon entry into the workforce, negotiated with the expectations of shakaijin salaryman masculinity, against the backdrop of the micro and macro cross-currents of the late 1990s/early 2000s workplace. As David Plath noted in his Introduction to Work and Lifecourse in Japan, the ‘essence of a career is that it is a predictable sequence of movements, a relay of roles set up to normalize the potentially turbulent flow of persons through an organization’ (Plath 1983b: 3). Arguably, this ‘predictability’ has become considerably less so in the decades since Plath wrote these words. However, the underlying notion of a demarcated life-path along which the individual is expected to progress has continued to remain an important socio-cultural assumption, particularly in relation to hegemonic masculinity. Moreover, as signalled previously, an integral element of this process is the delineation of markers that perform varied (and sometimes contradictory) functions, including normalizing the ‘potentially turbulent flow’ (3) of traversing the organizational life-path. Importantly, such markers also serve a boundary-policing function, to rein in those in danger of transgressing the parameters set by the dominant ideology and discourse. Within the context of the hegemonic expectations regarding masculinity, these ‘markers’ at various points of the individual male’s life trajectory would include ceremonies marking the transition from one level of education to the next (for instance, high school graduation), entry into the workforce and shakaijin life, progression through various stages of his career, and subsequently retirement and ‘honorary’ shakaijin status. Not doing so, not undergoing the relevant ‘markers’ at the appropriate point in the life-path, still has implications of lack and immaturity – that somehow, the individual in question is not living up to the relevant shakaijin responsibilities, be they full-time work, marriage, parenthood, or even taking on the role of grandparent. While this has long been the case, it was of particular significance during (and since) the period I am focusing on in this book. As discussed earlier, it was really during these years, as male freeter
numbers kept burgeoning, and as corporations relied increasingly on irregular and subcontracted labour, that the reality that not all young male graduates would be assured of stable, long-term employment that would take them from entry into the workforce through until retirement really started to take hold. Ironically, as increasing numbers of younger men found themselves unable (or unwilling) to gain entry into the orbit of hegemonic salaryman masculinity, these ‘markers’, for those who did gain access, took on additional weight and sociocultural significance. This chapter will highlight the first (and arguably the most significant) of these ‘markers’ of hegemonic masculinity – the new entrant’s ‘induction’ into permanent work (and, simultaneously, into salaryman masculinity) in the liminal first weeks and months of his shakaijin life. Although, as stressed in earlier chapters, multiple masculinities coexist (and sometimes conflict) within the same individual through his life, the ambiguities, and conflicts and tensions resulting from the interplay of different discourses of masculinity are perhaps most apparent over this period. On the one hand, the new entrant is still influenced by discourses of adolescent/youth/student masculinity. This influence manifests itself in a variety of areas – in his fashions, his hairstyle, his verbal and body language, his time management, his daily schedule, his friendships, his sexual and emotional relationships, his interests and hobbies, indeed even his politics. At the same time, there is the expectation (even on the part of the individual) that he will ‘progress’ to the next stage of masculinity – that of shakaijin salaryman masculinity – and that the discourse hinging around this form of masculinity should now be the primary influence on all areas of his life. This, as flagged above, sometimes results in situations of ambiguity and instability as the new entrant attempts to negotiate these (seemingly) contradictory expectations of his masculinity. This chapter will explore some of these issues with reference to my informants’ experiences of making the transition from one set of expectations surrounding their masculinity to another, in the context of shifting faultlines of post-Bubble Japanese corporate culture. As in the previous chapter, I will draw upon the informants’ voices as they reminisce about the initial weeks and months accompanying their entry into the workforce, and supplement these with discussions held with human resource managers, and with my own observation of the induction training for new staff at one of the organizations. Drawing upon these various sources will allow us to gain a sense of the complexity at stake in an individual male employee’s engagements with the expectations of the hegemonic ideals of salaryman masculinity over the initial weeks and months of shakaijin life.