As highlighted in the Introduction, over the postwar decades the salaryman, in many regards, came to signify Japanese masculinity in its entirety. This was certainly the case over the high economic growth decades from the mid-1950s through into the 1990s, and even today, despite all the social and economic upheavals of the past two decades, to a surprising extent, continues to be the case. Hence, given this association with (hegemonic) Japanese masculinity, the salaryman, and the discourse built up around him, needs to be unpacked and viewed, not just for his position within Japanese corporate culture, but as a gendered construct. Moreover, as also stressed previously, any meaningful discussion needs to be situated against the historical backdrop framing the emergence of the salaryman as a prominent discourse of masculinity. Specifically, an appreciation of the interconnectedness of the salaryman with the state-sponsored gendered project of modernity and industrial capitalism embarked upon by the newly established Meiji regime in the late nineteenth century, and sustained and strengthened through the twentieth, is essential to understanding the dynamics of the salaryman in more contemporary times. Accordingly, this chapter lays the historical groundwork upon which the discussion of the lives of young salarymen at the dawn of the twenty-first century takes place in subsequent chapters. The chapter starts off by clarifying and delineating the term ‘salaryman’ – as flagged in the previous chapter, this is a term that can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, thereby making it conceptually slippery. Having set out the definitional contours of the term, the chapter will then discuss the early shapings of salaryman masculinity – the influence on its shapings of earlier pre-Meiji forms of masculinity, the extent to which the ideology of the modernizing Meiji state was implicated in the process, and the socio-economic shifts that formed the backdrop to its emerging profile. The chapter will then go on to discuss salaryman masculinity during the period when it reached its ‘full strength’ – over the ‘Economic Miracle’ decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s, when arguably salaryman masculinity consolidated itself as the hegemonic ideal. The final section will explore some of the problematics and complexities underlying this hegemonic ideal, both during its ‘glory days’ in the 1960s and 1970s, and, over the 1980s and 1990s, as the contestations surrounding it became more visible and pronounced. This contextual background will then allow us to enter the lives
of the young men who were making the transition into salaryman masculinity, during those crucial years of the late 1990s.