In this final chapter, we fast-forward a decade or so to the opening years of the 2010s and reflect back on the conversations and personal voices of the preceding chapters. As highlighted when setting out the mappings and arguments of this book in Chapter 1, the underlying ‘spine’ bringing the chapters together is the proposition that an appreciation of the conditions of the post-Bubble years, in particular the post-1995 period, is important in order to gain a fully nuanced understanding of the socio-economic, political, and cultural conditions in the first decades of the twenty-first century. This applies to framings of masculinities too, in particular the position of salaryman masculinity in postwar Japan. As pointed out in that first chapter, while the salaryman and all that he has represented has been extensively researched and studied from a variety of angles, what has generally been overlooked has been an examination of the man in the salaryman. This is despite the figure of the salaryman and the values and lifestyle associated with him having become something of a metonym for all Japanese men over the postwar decades, particularly over the pre-1990s decades. Thus, a primary aim of this book has been to explore the discourse of the salaryman as a particular discourse of masculinity embedded within particular ideologies of gender, sexuality, class, and, indeed, the nation. In this sense, ‘masculinity’ and the discourse of the salaryman cannot be disentangled from the processes of industrial-capitalist modernity and late modernity in Japan from the late nineteenth century up until the present. ‘Masculinity’ as deployed in my argument has not been in the sense of some kind of essentialized biological essence cutting across all individuals genetically classified as ‘male’, and fixed over time. Rather, my understanding of the term has been one that sees ‘masculinity’ – what it means to be a ‘male’ person, ‘manhood’ – ‘as a constantly changing collection of meanings that we construct through our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with our world’ (Kimmel 1994: 120). Thus, it would be more realistic to talk in terms of masculinities – multiple constructions and representations of ‘maleness’. I have argued, moreover, that among these various masculinities, at any particular point in time in a given society one discourse of masculinity has the greatest ideological power and hold over the others. This is what Connell (1987, 1995, 2000) and other writers have labelled ‘hegemonic’ masculinity. This hegemonic masculinity may be conceived of as a
cultural ‘ideal’ or ‘blueprint’, which exerts a powerful influence over the lives of men and women. However, as I have also argued, while the hegemonic form of masculinity may well have the greatest ideological power, this power is not absolute. Rather, at stake is a complex process whereby the hegemonic discourse intersects and interacts with other forms of masculinity in varying ways. These processes of engagement may incorporate dynamics of appropriation, subjugation, and marginalization, as well as resistance, subversion, playful engagement, and modification. As a whole, these dynamics constitute what Demetriou (2001: 348) terms a ‘hybrid bloc’ (348). Within the context of these dynamics, hegemonic masculinity is constantly shaped by other masculinities, and by surrounding social, cultural, economic, and political institutions, structures, and practices. The non-hegemonic masculinities are in turn shaped through this process. In this sense hegemonic masculinity is an ongoing, constantly shaping and re-shaping gender project (Connell 2002: 81, 82). This is what I referred to as the ‘crafting’ and ‘re-crafting’ of masculinity, which occurs both at the wider societal level, and within individual males over their life-paths. The term ‘crafting’, as Dorinne Kondo noted, implies that ‘identity is not a static object, but a creative process’ (Kondo 1990: 48). Thus, I have argued that identity built around being gendered as ‘masculine’ is a constantly shifting, re-shaping, re-enacting process occurring at the intersections of individual agency and discourses and ideologies circulating within and through society. Accordingly, the discussion of this crafting process in this book has focused on two levels of analysis – the ‘macro’ societal level, and the ‘micro’ level of the individual male on the ground. As I have highlighted, over the postwar decades accompanying Japan’s transition to a global industrial power, the discourse of masculinity surrounding the salaryman emerged as the hegemonic form of masculinity. This was despite the fact that even at the high point of Japan’s economic success story in the 1960s and 1970s, only a limited number of men would have fallen under the strictest definitional rubric of the term salaryman. Rather, as I stressed, it was the ideology (of gender, of sexuality, of class, of nation) embodied in the salaryman that was far more extensive in its reach. At the core of this ideology was the equation of masculinity with the public work sphere, and femininity with the private, household sphere. Within this ideological framework, the two sides of the binary were linked together through the institution of publicly acknowledged and sanctioned heterosexual marriage. Thus, it was the notion of the adult man, the socially responsible shakaijin, as producer and reproducer (in other words, the daikokubashira mainstay of the household) that lay at the heart of the ideology embedded in the discourse of salaryman masculinity. Moreover, despite the various socio-economic and cultural shifts which became pronounced over the 1980s and have intensified since the 1990s, this equation of hegemonic masculinity with production and reproduction continues to remain entrenched. However, at the same time, as mentioned above, hegemonic masculinity is in a constant state of being crafted and recrafted in response to the wider socioeconomic and cultural context. Such forces as the emergence of a late capitalist
society with a greater range (through choice, or otherwise) of employment and lifestyle spaces, increases in women’s workforce participation, the impact of almost two decades of economic slowdown forcing many organizations to rethink assumptions about corporate culture and management practices, and the influence of increasingly globalized discourses of gender and sexuality (including masculinity), have exerted a shaping influence on the articulations of hegemonic masculinity. Thus, in this regard, the moment in history when the ‘micro’ level conversations with the young men informing this book occurred was a significant one. While at the time they themselves (or I, for that matter) were not necessarily aware of it, they were negotiating their way through the expectations of salaryman masculinity, as many of the old pre-Lost Decade assumptions and expectations were starting to be superseded by a new set of expectations. Hence, drawing upon the deeply personal and nuanced accounts of these young men allowed us to gain a sense of the complexity of the ‘on-the-ground’ dynamics of crafting salaryman masculinity at that moment in history; a complexity that may not have been conveyed to the same extent had the focus of discussion been limited to the macro level. However, at the same time, the macro-level of analysis allowed us to situate and contextualize these individual complexities and contradictions and negotiations within the wider socio-cultural and economic framework. These conversations were taking place against a backdrop of a collective socio-cultural psyche still haunted by the twin traumas of 1995, mentioned in Chapter 1 – the Hanshin Earthquake in January and the Aum Shinrikyô terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system in March of that year. A decade or so down the track, at the time of writing (late 2011), Japan is dealing with the fallouts from another set of traumas: the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011 and the subsequent (and still ongoing) nuclear crisis. In this sense, the ‘micro’-level voices of my informants as they negotiated their ways through the cross-currents and shifts in hegemonic expectations of salaryman masculinity were situated within a wider time-frame episode bounded at either end by the two sets of natural and human-generated national traumas (1995 and 2011). While it is still premature to conjecture with any certainty, we may well be entering the next chapter in the ongoing narrative of Japan’s modernity and late modernity (see Chandler et al. 2011; Uno and Hamano 2012). In this respect, this may be a suitable historical moment to reflect back upon post-Bubble years, and the ways in which discourses around masculinities (including salaryman masculinity) may have shifted. At the ‘macro’ socio-economic level, the intervening years since the conversations with my informants occurred have not been encouraging ones for Japan. The ‘Lost Decade’ of the 1990s has now become two ‘Lost Decades’, as many of the socio-economic and cultural unravellings set in motion in the early postBubble years have continued through the 2000s. Even before the devastating impact of the March 2011 earthquake/tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis, socio-economic indicators and media and academic assessments offered a less
than healthy evaluation. Despite occasional signs of recovery, such as in the mid-2000s prior to the negative impact of the global financial crisis, the economy continued its jerky, lacklustre performance through the 2000s (see Kingston 2010: 273, n.5). While indicators such as the unemployment rate, hovering between 5 and 6 per cent, may not, on the surface, look too bad compared with European and North American rates, underlying these figures have been serious (and widening) inequalities. First, ‘official’ unemployment in the fifteen to twenty-four age category has been above the average, increasing as much as 10 per cent in 2003, a reflection of the gloomy prospects facing many young people in twenty-first-century Japan (Kingston 2010: 93; also Yuzawa and Miyamoto 2008: 156, 157). Second, within the employed labour force, the proportion comprising easily dispensable part-time, contract, and dispatch workers has grown quite noticeably (see Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) 2011: 2-7). As Jeff Kingston (2010: 35) points out, over the ten years from 1992 to 2002, full-time workers fell by 3.5 million, while nonregular workers increased by 5.67 million. By 2008 non-regular workers constituted 34.1 per cent of the workforce (Kingston 2010: 35), and they were the first group to be laid off during the 2008/2009 global financial crisis (JILPT 2011: 15). A new term, precariat (‘precarious proletariat’), popularized by the freeter activist and writer Amamiya Karin, has entered into public discourse to describe these (around twenty million) workers employed on an unstable, nonpermanent basis (Obinger 2009; Kingston 2010: 84; see also Standing 2011: 7-13). The economic precariousness of members of this sector of society, as well as their socio-cultural alienation, was best exemplified in the 2008 Akihabara incident, when Katô Tomohiro, a twenty-five-year-old socially alienated non-regular worker, drove a mini-van into a crowded pedestrian mall and then went on a stabbing rampage in the Akihabara district of Tokyo (popularly known as an electronics and anime/gaming hub), killing seven people, and injuring several others. It subsequently emerged that Katô had left a trail of desperately lonely and self-loathing online posts that, while not necessarily explaining his actions, put them in the wider psycho-social (and indeed, economic) context of day-to-day reality for precariat Japan. As I noted in Chapter 1, the post-Bubble years have been punctuated by numerous instances of seemingly spontaneous, often bizarre incidents of violent crime attracting frenzied media attention. So, in this regard, the intense media scrutiny of the Akihabara incident was not unusual. However, as Slater and Galbraith (2011) point out, in this instance, both mainstream and new media analysis shifted from an initial focus on individual pathology to contextualizing Katô’s actions with reference to the wider socio-economic structural conditions of post-Bubble, late capitalist, neo-liberal Japan – specifically the precarious, disconnected, and seemingly future-less onthe-ground reality for large swathes of young (and middle-aged and elderly) Japanese women and men. Thus the (never accurate) imagining of Japan as an overwhelmingly ‘middle-class’ society has quite definitely been debunked, and replaced by a recognition of Japan as a society characterized by class-based distinctions (kakusa shakai). As I will discuss further on, however, the appeal of
the discourse of the middle class, and what it symbolizes, continues to exert socio-cultural influence. Foregrounding these economic and labour market shifts has been the amplification of demographic trends of an ageing population and low birth rates that started surfacing in the 1990s. In 2009, for instance, 23 per cent of the population was over 65, and is projected to reach 40 per cent by the mid-twenty-first century (Kingston 2010: 41). At the same time, the working-age population share will continue to decline, dropping to fewer than fifty million (from a peak of eighty-seven million in the mid-1990s) by 2050 (The Economist, 20-26 November 2010: 16). This will have, indeed is already having, myriad ramifications for the economy, one example being the implications for public expenditure – in 2010 around 70 per cent of social security payments went to the over-sixty-five age cohort (ibid.). Consequently, public debt levels have continued to balloon, reaching 200 per cent of GDP in 2010 (Kingston 2010: 42), radically altering the global imagining of Japan as a frugal, fiscally ‘responsible’ socio-economy to one dangerously close to going into fiscal tailspin along the lines of some Latin American economies in the 1990s and 2000s, or, more recently, Eurozone economies like Greece. Thus, over the span of less than two decades, Japan in the global imaginary appears to have gone from a blueprint for economic success to being touted by some as the ‘Argentina of Asia’ – a previously affluent economy with a seemingly rosy future that failed to live up to its potential (Lehmann 2002).