2015年11月17日 星期二

Beyond Common Sense: Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Japan

Recently I have read the book below. A book summary and my comments are as follows:

Book title: Wim Lunsing. 2001. Beyond Common Sense: Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Japan. London: Kegan Paul

Book summary:
In this book Lunsing first defines what was “common sense” to him (p.3). The theme of the book was to categorize people based on sexuality (on those apart from the mainstream/majority) (p.8). All his research categorization consisted of people who failed to fit into the Japanese common sense social construction of female/male gender according to sex biologically (p.13). He wants to see how people who perceived their personal sexual attributes as different from the one assigned to them by the society, how they saw and related themselves to the Japanese society (p.14). Lunsing argues that qualitative research was likely to be more reliable than quantitative because quantitative research depended greatly on interpretations by scholars, as such there was not much control compared to qualitative fieldwork (p.31).  

Chapter two discusses the research method, and the people and groups he had worked with. Then it discusses sampling techniques and methods of interviewing. Lunsing believes that experiential, reflective and critical activities ‘are the very strength of anthropology’ (p.35). Lunsing thinks that the most useful thing he could do was what he was doing, i.e. to write about himself/his group’s life in Japan so that society became harder to ignore them. (p.38). He has about 20 groups of interviewees. Of these, 9 consisted of gay men, one was gay and lesbian, and one was exclusively lesbian (p.39). An American scholar had once advised him not to fall in love with informants because it might produce a bias towards them. Yet Lunsing thinks that this was not a problem (p.61).

In chapter three Lunsing investigates the various construction of marriages (in Japan the tradition that one should marry was seen as common sense) and the examples on discrimination related to marriage (p.74). Chapter 4 investigates how people were coping on a personal level with a social system that did not fit their needs; how did those whose did not feel the need to marry tried to find alternative ways of life-style (p.120).

Chapter 5 discusses why people might remain single and how some had experimented with alternative relationship and living style which included to get marry and then to divorce, or to remain single throughout. Chapter 6 discusses strategies employed for coping with a social environment that often had little consideration for people whose lifestyle etc. were at variance with the social norm (p.209).
Chapter 7 discusses discourses and construction concerning gender and sex, and how they affected people who belonged to the various research categories (p.261). In chapter 8 the author makes the book more explicit by using 3 themes which respectively were: 1. space, gender and sexuality, 2. constructions of homosexuality, 3. selves. On top of these themes he also talks about the fourth theme: changes and development that had happened since his research (p.310). The author concludes that it was possible to live an openly gay, lesbian, feminist, or single lifestyle in Japan (p.337). He also says that since Japan, unlike many western countries, did not have clear cut national moral system bases on religion, it should be relatively easy to adapt smoothly to the needs of people with alternative lifestyles. The major change needed was to modify “common sense” to make alternative lifestyle acceptable to the majority of Japanese people. (p.345). Lumsing claims that the boundaries for changes were being explored. It seemed that most of the limits had not yet been reached, and where the permitted space could end was still not clear (p.346).

This book is informative and well organized, although long sentences that are difficult to decipher are used sometimes. The book explains a lot of terms on sexuality, and the situation in Japan. One issue raised by this book is whether a researcher should have a relationship with the interviewees; whether a researcher should be both the observer and the protagonist at the same time. From the view point of joshiki (common sense), I think it is problematic because the research may be biased by human emotion etc. and the neutrality of the data could be challenged, for example the interviewees who had a relation with the researcher may choose to give information selectively in order to appease the researcher. Based on this point I am skeptical about the stories told by some interviewees.

The other issue raised is about “common sense”. The author seems to suggest that common sense may not be reliable in guiding us in our daily life decision making. I think common sense has a lot of meanings.  In the opening line of one his most famous books, Discourse on Method, Descartes established the most common modern meaning of common sense and its controversies. In the 18th century Enlightenment, common sense came to be seen more positively as the basis for modern thinking. It was contrasted to metaphysics. Today, the concept of common sense, and how it should best be used, remains linked to many of the most perennial topics in epistemology and ethics, with special focus often directed at the philosophy of the modern social sciences. Perhaps Lunsing is using “common sense” as a tool to challenge the hegemony that divide human in the context of male and female biological sex, that comes to be taken for granted as the natural ordering of the world. Comaroff, Jean and John Comaroff  took hegemony as “to refer to the order of signs and practices, relations and distinctions, images and epistemologies – drawn from a historically situated cultural field that come to be taken for granted as the natural and received shape of the world and everything it inhabits”. “Common sense” and hegemony seem to look alike.

Social inequality in Japan

Recently I have read the following. The book summary and my comment are as follows:

Book title: Sawako Shirahase. 2014. Social inequality in Japan. London and NY:                               Routledge.

Book summary:
According to Sawako Shirahase, from the 1970s to the 1980s, the buzz-word to describe Japan was: “the all-middle-class society” (p.3). In 1977 Murakami and Tominage both argued that there was a great homogeneity of lifestyle and outlook in Japan (p.4). Yet such confident assertions of Japan as an egalitarian society started to fade from the late 1980s into the 1990s (p.4).

Is the degree of inequality in Japan something so very different from those industrial societies of the West? Was its degree of inequality high or low? These were the major questions which the author wanted to take up in this book (p.5). Shirahase deals with these questions in seven separate chapters.

Chapter 1 of the book tackles the question of how unequal a society Japan was. Japan was used to compare with countries such as the America, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden and Taiwan. The author’s concern was where Japan stood among them (p.13). Chapter 2 was about female participation in the laborer force. Ch. 3 examines income inequality among households that had children. The chief explanation of the decline in fertility since 1990 was the reduced fertility of married couple. This chapter examines where the income gap had increased most, through looking into changes in the income distribution in families with children (p.14). Ch. 4 concentrates on unmarried adults in relation to the decrease in fertility. In the 1990s many people talked about the “parasite singles”. Since 2000 the media focused at the worsening of the youth labor market. The chapter looks at the economic welfare situation of households containing adult singles, distinguishing between the relatively young and the old. Ch. 5 looks at one aspect of the family as a basic social institution with its own normative structure, and examines the gender division of labor, and attitudes towards mother working outside the home. The chapter also looks at the attitudes towards working mothers in various countries and the relation of those attitudes to social structures. Ch. 6 looks at changes in income inequality in relation to the aging of population and generational changes. The chapter looks at the relation between the old age and household composition, using international comparisons to illuminate the differences in economic well-being among the aged. Ch. 7 concentrates on single-person household and compares Japan with other countries in respect to income distribution among the aged. This chapter also looks at the changes within three-generation households, and the difference it made, comparing with the situation in Europe where it was not the general practice for old people to live with their children (p.15).

To conclude the book Shirahase brings together the observation made, and views expressed in the seven chapters to answer the questions: First, was inequality in Japan representing a social problem that was shared by other major countries? Second, was inequality due to a process of population aging simultaneously with a falling birth rate a common feature to all countries, or merely a feature peculiar to Japan?  Third, was the discussion and concern expressed over increasing inequality, and its relation to the ageing/lower fertility, a feature special to Japan only, or was it a social problem common to all countries? (p.16).

Looking at the inequality in Japan, primarily economic inequality and comparing with other major OECD countries, the book confirms that inequality was everywhere (p.188). The structure of equality was rooted in the social institution created by the society, and as such it was changeable and controllable.

The book shows that the degree of inequality in Japan was neither especially high nor low. Although there were nothing stood out on inequality in Japan as a society, three unique features could be noted. First, there was more perception of inequalities than the degree of actual income distribution warranted. Second, a distinctive feature of Japan was that, in the labor market and within the family, gender differences were very great. Labor participation rate among women was not particularly low, but the gender wage gap in Japan was the highest among the countries. The third distinctive feature was the high poverty rate among single person households, and also among single-parent households. It was here that Japan had deviated from the norm.

It is especially noted that in Japan nearly 90% of the mothers of single-parent families had a job. The poverty was not because they did not work, but because they were the working poor. What helped them to survive was often by living with their parents instead of going out to work. This was a distinctive characteristic of Japan (p.193).


The thoroughness of his research is amazing. The book reminds me that more than one hundred years ago Emile Durkheim, using the statistics, explored the differing suicide rates among European countries. Through a process of elimination, Dirkheim had successfully argued that it was the stronger social control among Catholics that was responsible for a lower suicide rates in their society. Conversely the Protestant society had a higher level of suicide because of its lower level of social control. Shirahase, like Durkheim, using charts and graphs, has convincingly given answers to the questions raised by her. Also, she is able to point out the solutions to the problems of social inequality. Overall it is a very good book.

2015年11月5日 星期四

The age of Hirohito: in Search of Modern Japan

Recently I have read the following book. Its key points and my comments are as follows:

Book title: Daikichi Irokawa, translated by Mikiso Hane and John K. Urda. 1995. The age of Hirohito: in Search of Modern Japan. The Free Press.

Key Points:
- History is rewritten constantly, for example the history on the Meiji emperor and Showa emperor (p.3)
- there are three theme in the book: the first one was ‘War and peace’ (it was about the peace-war-peace periods under Showa) running through the Showa period from seen from the perspective of the war victims. It was different from the conventional view that a small number of military men, with a carefully formulated plan of aggression, dragged the people and state along unwillingly into the War (p.9). The connotation was that the society as a whole should also be responsible for the War. The second theme was ‘The lifestyle revolution’: the agrarian society underwent fundamental changes into modernity. Modern urban lifestyle appeared in 1920s, increased quickly after 1945 and reached the upper limits by 1980s. The third theme was the most important: ‘The emperor and the people’. In 1945 the emperor and many top government leaders came through touched and untainted by their responsibility for the war. Through these three themes the author tries to understand the Showa period.
- the War ended when the emperor finally delivered his ‘Noble decision’ in 1945 to surrender. To absolve the emperor of all responsibility for the War because of his decision to end it would mean to ignore the facts presented in the book that showed the emperor’s involvement in war decisions when the Japanese was fighting the US in war theatre in South-east Asia etc. The emperor’s close advisors and scholars naturally wanted to defend him, but the emperor must have felt personally responsible for his poor leadership during the War (p.30).
- the introduction of major reforms by the Occupation authorities did not mean that the Japanese democratization was the product of GHQ directives only. The important players were not government authorities, but rather the popular organizations and the overwhelming number of people who enthusiastically embraced the reform measures (p.38).
- the 1960s glorious years of high-speed economic growth was also an important age in Japan’s lifestyle revolution which deserved closer examination. Three concepts were key to understand this age: the transportation revolution (the automobile society), the information revolution, and the emergence of a mass consumption society (p.59).
- today we tend to underrate the significance of the emperor’s power of supreme commandant in the years before and during the War. In that time the issue was extremely important. The argument that he accepted the decisions of the cabinet and even approved policies to which he personally opposed was clearly a mistake (p.81).
- on the international reaction to the emperor’s death in 1989, in Britain a newspaper concluded that “when he dies, there will definitely be a special seat reserved for him in hell” (p.115). A daily South Korean newspaper (the East Asian Daily) contained a sharp warning to the Japanese government and people for not having formally apologized for Japan’s brutal colonial administration and wartime deeds (p.137).
- the author does not defend the emperor system. The imperial court with its historical importance had an appropriate place in a truly modern Japan. He thinks that the emperor and his family should leave Tokyo and return to Kyoto imperial palace, his home community to enjoy life as a free citizen (p.146). The emperor should become the master of traditional japans culture so that no one could take advantage of the emperor or the court for any reason (p.146).

- the writer is a well respected Japanese scholar. He needs not depend on a famous publisher to print his book.
- in the book the author mentions the several occasions that Japan’s road to War could be averted, the so called potential turning points in history.

- the writer implies that now Japan is modern, yet the emperor system is still there, there is a danger that it could be taken advantage by someone.

2015年11月1日 星期日

The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice

Recently I have finished reading the following book. The book summary and my comment are as follows:

Book title: Suzanne Hall Vogel with Steven Vogel. The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Inc. 2013.

Book summary:
The goal of the book is to argue that the role of the professional wife had both constrained and empowered Japanese women. The book also suggests that the professional housewife ideal continued to cast a shadow over Japanese society today although its influence was fading (p.2).

The book presents the life stories of three ordinary professional wives for a period of over 50 years. They respectively were wives of a doctor (Tanaka-san), an accountant (Itou-san), and a business owner (Suzuki-san). The purpose was to gain an insight into the strength and vulnerability of postwar profession housewives, and to see how their roles shifted as they grew older and as the Japanese society changed (p.19).

The author first met these three housewives in 1958 that were living in a middle-class suburb in Tokyo. They were wives of professionals or “salarymen” and were called the sengyou shufu, i.e. full time “profession” housewives (p.4). As the research progressed, Vogel found that in many ways these Japanese wives were actually much more independent than she had thought (p.7). They had a separate role in the family which their husbands had little influence (p.7).

As a clinical caseworker/psychotherapist by profession, Vogel was able to discover how the cultural context affected the manifestation of psychological stress, for example the troubled youth in Japan, including the children of these housewives, tended to “act in” by withdrawing into their homes while the American youth like to “act out” by engaging in mischief of violence in streets.

The first professional housewife introduced was Mrs. Tanaka (Hanae). Her husband was a family doctor. Hanae was born in 1914. She was the second of 8 children who had attended a girls’ high school (p.24). At 44 she had five children aged 12 to 19 (p.23). Hanae’s children represented the majority of children who were born during or soon after the war. They had enjoyed improved technology. They had fewer siblings compared to their parents’ families. The female children put less emphasis on trying to become a professional wife (p.58). Vogel regarded Hanae as a natural fit for the professional housewife role, excelled and found fulfilment in this role (p.60).

The second housewife was Mrs. Yaeko Itou. Vogel found that she was less constrained by either the prescribed feminine manners or the mandates of the professional wife role (p.61). In Yaeko’s family the mukoyoushi pattern appeared in her mother’s line. Mrs. Yaeko’s mother was adopted into the Itou family (p.62). Yaeko went to Tokyo and entered a high school by the age of 13. In Tokyo she continued to follow her own interest and ambitions (p.66). When her parent tried to find her a suitable husband, she turned it down because he was not college educated (p.69).  Later she married Tokuzou in 1949. She gave birth to a boy (Ken), a girl (Mari) and then another girl (Katsuko).  Yaeko was surprised when Vogel told her that all her children were very much like her: they were smart, able, independent, realistic, sociable, strong and determined in pursing their own interest and own path in life (110). When Vogel reflected on Yaeko, she always pondered what price Yaeko had paid for her rebelliousness against the narrowly defined housewife/mother role of her day. She had been confronted with criticism, conflict, and had broken relationship with her children.

The third housewife was Mrs. Suzuki (Mieko). Married to a successful businessman, at the age of 38 in 1958 she had five children (p.114). While recognized the explicit authority held by men, she believed in equality in her heart and was aware of a wife’s covert power which was based on a strong alliance with her children (p.115). Often while she said ‘yes’ to his husband, she thought of ‘no’ in her heart (p.117). Vogel found the Suzuki children to be free and easy, fun-loving, open-minded, and warm-hearted (p.121). In conclusion, Vogel knew that when Mieko was raising her children she could develop a balance of power with her husband: she controlled the household. Yet during her husband’s retirement year, she was less able to control the home life, merely addressing her husband’s wishes. Feeling less in control, she clung harder to control her physical body instead. When she was on longer able to control the situation, her silent “no” took over.

In the final chapter Vogel tries to analysis social changes in Japan in two periods. From1960s to 90s, professional wives’ ideal for the Japan’s new middle class women was giving way to greater diversity and complexity. Arranged marriage dwindled, more women got jobs, some refused to marry men whose mother lived with them, the average age of marriage for women increased, and women achieved equality with men in education (pps.150-1). While the profession housewives ideal eroded, it was difficult for women to combine marriage with career. Although they had freedom of choice, they often filled with conflicted feelings (p.161). In the second period from the 90s to present, the established structures became less dependable; there was more freedom, more choices and fewer rules. A gap arose between men and women. While women pushed for changes, men were content with the status quo. When the status quo began to crumble, men were more confused about how to redirect their goals (p.169). Vogel concluded that for the women, it might be less a matter of finding alternative than a matter of adjusting to essential values of the professional housewife to a new era and new circumstance (p.177).

The book is successful in showing how respectively 3 wives of the salarymen in Japan had changed over a period of some 50 years. Yet the book is difficult to read. The writer often uses a pronoun to start a sentence thus causing confusion as to what that pronoun was meant to represent, for example on page 46 second paragraph, and on page 52 last paragraph. The second confusion was caused by the repeating of ideas, for example the first paragraph on page 130. Also the usage of English idiom was difficult to understand, for example “to wait on him hand and foot” on page 134.  Furthermore, sometimes topics changed too much in one single paragraph, for example in the last few sentences on page 131. Apart from the above I think this is a good book.