ICJS Wakai Project Youth Conference:
Youth Work in Contemporary Japan

Saturday, June 27th, 2009 (Start: 14:00)
Sunday, June 28th, 2009 (Morning: 10:00-13:00 / Afternoon: 14:00-18:00)
PDF File Abstract and schedule (PDF: 59KB)
TUJ Mita Hall 5F (Access)
Kyle Cleveland, Temple University, Japan Campus
David Slater, Sophia University
Free. Open to general public.
Not required. For more information, please Contact Us
Please note the schedule and content is subject to change.

Photo courtesy of Stuart IssetIn contemporary Japanese society, the nature of institutional affiliation through work that once secured individual social identity, structured life course, and facilitated social intimacy has changed. As the scope and nature of low-level service work has evolved in the context of post-bubble economic recession, the structure of offices and labor flows have transformed middle- and high level work as well. These structural changes have especially impacted young workers, whose aspirations, skill sets, and career trajectories and strategies has gone through decisive alterations, which has implications beyond the context of the immediate workplace. The collapse of stable distinctions between regular and irregular work, between formal and informal labor, between work and leisure, even between production and consumption, force ethnographers to reconceptualize their understanding of youth labor and its relation to larger structural forces and historical contingencies.

This conference brings together the three most prominent scholars of youth labor studies of Japan to give their views of the historical contexts and most contemporary situation. This will set our agenda. Working within this frame, our papers for the second day will present ethnographic research on work places and workers, in an attempt to capture the institutional contexts, the lived experiences, and psychological and political struggles of young people as they attempt to negotiate identity and meaningfulness today and for the future.

List of Papers and Panels

Plenary Panel (June 27, 14:00 -)
Chair: David H. SLATER (Sophia University)

Panel 1: Workplace Ethnographies (June 28, 10:00-11:30)
Chair: David H. SLATER (Sophia University)

Panel 2: Therapy, Rehabilitation and Training (June 28, 11:35-13:00)
Chair: Amy BOROVOY (Princeton Univerity)

Panel 3: Politics of Employment and Unemployment (June 28, 14:00-15:30)
Chair: SUZUKI Akira (Hosei University)

Panel 4: Work/Life Balance (June 28, 15:35-17:00)
Chair: Glenda ROBERTS (Waseda University)

Plenary Panel (June 27 from 14:00)

What is the state of youth labor in Japan today?
What contribute can ethnography make to our understanding?
David H. Slater (Sophia University)
Mary Brinton (Harvard University)
Genda Yuji (Tokyo University)
Kosugi Reiko (Japan Institute of Labor)

Panel 1: Workplace Ethnographies (June 28 from 10:00-11:30)
Chair: David H. SLATER (Sophia University)

Konbini-baito: Youth at Work in Transitional Japan
Gavin Hamilton WHITELAW (International Christian University)

Despite the preeminence of Toyota and Sony, Japan's economy is increasingly centered around and dictated by the service sector. Emblematic of this shift from "hard" production to "soft" service is not only Disney or McDonald's, maid cafes or Miyazaki Haiyao's Ghibli studio, but also the convenience store (konbini). Defined by its standardization, flexibility and profitability, konbini are the epitome of late capitalist small retail. They in sharp contrast to prevailing notions about Japanese society and ethnographic depictions of its rich, highly formalized and ritualized social fabric. Konbini are typically understood as "silent" and "thin" commercial sites that produce very little in terms of worker identity or social interaction. In the following paper, I reexamine such assessments. I explore how young people are both drawn and directed towards the konbini as workplaces. My research reveals the ways that young people interact and familiarize these anomic spaces for themselves and others rather than passively accept their part-time work as a communicationless "McJob." Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted inside konbini as a clerk, I seek to better understand the role young workers play in shaping the konbini’s role as social infrastructure in transitional Japan.

Aiming High: Youth Employment in Tokyo Fashion
Philomena KEET (Hosei University)

While trope of the salaryman employed for lifetime in a family-like company have faded, it has been replaced partly that of a body of disenfranchised, temporary, part-time or unemployed youth workers. For my fieldwork in Tokyo in 2006 I worked with young people who might seem to fall under such categories, but actively strove to work in the small independent fashion companies and who found 'meaning' in such work. Although many had to put up with low wages, their was ample opportunity for rising more rapidly in position than in the seniority-based progression characterising the 'Japan Inc.' business models and achieving a degree of success that was of high status, creatively fulfilling and reasonably paid at a relatively early age. In this paper I will look at the career progressions of some key informants since I finished fieldwork to illustrate this youth work niche not often represented in the literature on Japan.

Milked for All they are Worth: Young Workers and a Hokkaido Dairy Farm

A disturbing amount of ethnographic data is left on the cutting room floor, so-to-speak, in the process of writing a doctoral dissertation in anthropology. What follows was edited from my dissertation based on dairy farmers in Hokkaido, Japan. It is a situation that requires urgent attention as it underscores the desperation of three very different groups of people, the owners of Japanese dairy farms, young urban Japanese temporary workers, and economic migrant workers, often young Chinese nationals. I start with an introduction of the dairy industry in Japan because it underscores why exploitative practices are deemed necessary by owners and acceptable by staff. I then discuss the Japanese government’s treatment of the dairy industry as a form of ‘other’ agriculture – in short, agriculture beyond the hegemonic discourse of uniqueness and ‘rice culture’. This is followed by the thrust of the paper, a contemporary ethnographic example of young people working in an industry and area considered peripheral. In the main, I outline the experiences of a dairy owner and of two young workers from Outer Mongolia while contrasting their dairy farm work experience with other employees; notably young Hokkaido locals and urban furiita-.

Maid Cafes: Ethnography of Affective Labor
Patrick W. GALBRAITH (Tokyo University)

This paper examines maid cafes to reveal the dynamics of affective labor in neoliberal Japan. Drawing on three years of participant observation in Akihabara, where the majority of cafes are located, I argue that maids offer conversation and affirmation – that is, pure affect – to customers who are socially and economically alienated elsewhere. The majority of "regulars," who visit a café multiple times a week, are students, day laborers, part-time workers or otaku, disengaged cult hobbyists. They invest their time and limited money in the café. Similarly, maids are unskilled, non-contracted workers earning minimum wage to pour tea and play games. For both regulars and maids, the café is a space outside society where they find comfort, joy and solace. All this occurs within the hegemonic capitalist structure. Neither regulars nor maids think about society or their future as they invest, both economically and emotionally, in the maid performance.

Panel 2: Therapy, Rehabilitation and Training (June 28 from 11:30-13:00)
Chair: Amy BOROVOY (Princeton University)

Hikikomori and Psychological Dilemmas of Youth Who 'Cannot Work'
Sachiko HORIGUCHI (Sophia University)

The 'problems' of youths have been labeled in various ways throughout the last decade. Among these, this paper focuses on hikikomori, commonly known as those who do not work, go to school, or socialize with friends. Initially, the focus of this issue was on insufficient communication skills, but has shifted to labor, which later led to attempts by the hikikomori support 'industry' to redirect labor, and to the emergence of 'NEET'. This does not mean, however, that the psychological dimension has vanished. This paper brings an ethnographic scope to the psychological dilemmas of youth incapable of joining the work force and of those engaging in support, by giving a thick description of the lived experiences of participants of hikikomori support groups and those engaging in attempts to resocialize them, while highlighting their psychological dilemmas and the implications they have in making sense of labor-related changes taking place in larger society.

Building a Working Class Future: Rehabilitating middle-class Hikikomori with Normalized Working-Class Expectations.
Michael DZIESINSKI (University of Hawaii at Manoa)

Hikikomori are Japanese youth who shut out contact with society by hiding within parents' homes for months or even years. During these long periods of isolation from traditional school and work environments, hikikomori lack the socialization needed for adulthood. Due to the established school-to-work system in Japan, youth with a history as hikikomori have limited options for reentry into society as middle-class adults. This paper is based upon primary field data collected over a ten-month period at a private rehabilitation institution for hikikomori in Tokyo, Japan. Over the three years of this program, hikikomori youth are exposed to daily social rehabilitation structured around an idealized working class norm of conduct through group participation, routinization, and repetition. This process of hikikomori rehabilitation also takes on the dimensions of gender and class socialization: the normalization of hikikomori youth with middle class backgrounds into a more viable adult gendered working class identity.

Making a Connection with Society: the Idea of Maturity and Independence in Wakamono Jiritsu Shien Jigyo
Wakako TAKEDA (Waseda University)

Owing to several years of media driven discussions, the stagnation of youths' career transition from school to work has been acknowledged as a social issue of Japanese society. In 2003 the Koizumi cabinet proposed "Wakamono Jiritsu Chosen Puran (The plan for encouraging youth' independence and challenge)" as a part of his neoliberal structural reforms. The reforms also encouraged to spread the neoliberal notion of independence and maturity, which is economical independence. Since the government intervention, some local communities invest in empowering young people in their communities for the benefit of community buildings, by delegating the management to local NPOs and Social Entrepreneurs. Most members participate in the program for improving their skills preferred by Japanese job market. Through participant observation research in an internship program offered by a city government in Tokyo, I looked at how young participants understand Japanese employment system and the notion of mature adult citizens.

Counteracting Resistance: The Introduction of Corporate "Coaching" Training for Managers in Japan
Hiroki ICHINOSE (Tokyo Gakugei University)

Recent studies have documented youth worker's coping strategies to, and various forms of resistance against their structural disadvantages. This paper illustrates how some Japanese companies have attempted to counteract the changing attitude of youth workers with the introduction of corporate "coaching" training for managers. Coaching is a body of communication skills to help clients achieve their goals by establishing a relationship with which they feel comfortable, and through which the coaching process can induce change in their behavior. When used in a corporate context in Japan, it refers to a managerial skill in dealing with subordinates. Based on an ethnographic account of a corporate coaching training for managers at a Japanese manufacturing company, this paper attempts to demonstrate how an organizational role of a middle manager is formulated, both discursively and practically, through a flexible manipulation of multi-vocal cultural concepts and symbols as a counteractive measure to cope with "rebellious youth".

Panel 3: Politics of Employment and Unemployment (June 28 from 14:00-15:30)
Chair: Akira SUZUKI (Hosei University)

Furiitaa and Political Mobilization
Robin O'DAY (University of British Columbia)

Furiitaa, youth who work part-time or move from one job to another, are generally depicted as fragmented and marginal in contemporary Japan. As such, little attention has been paid to their political potential. Yet, within the last few years a variety of social movements have become increasingly visible in voicing their critique of the growing inequalities in the Japanese employment system. Through participant observation research with several of these labor oriented social movements, I look at how young workers, such as furiitaa, are organizing and aligning themselves politically. The paper will discuss how the different groups are reframing the discourse on furiitaa and mobilizing youth.

Struggles Against "Haken-Giri": The Strategies and Difficulties of Fighting Against the Dismissal of Haken Workers
Shinji KOJIMA (University of Hawaii)

Historically labor laws have been cited and used by unions as a foundation to struggle against unjust practices by the management. But regarding haken labor, the legal structure makes the users of haken workers both structurallly and culturally detached from labor issues arising from dismissal, i.e. unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. When the users of temp workers are beyond legal reach, how are labor unions framing the issues they find unjust and strategizing their struggles? By using data gathered by becoming a member of an individual-based membership union and participating in their demonstrations and collective bargaining tables, I present the recent trends observed in the way labor movements in Japan are organized and the strategies they adopt given the limitations.

Young workers Labor Union and the Revival of Japanese Labor Movement
David-Antoine MALINAS (Tohoku University)

Labor Union in Japan is well known for its two main characteristics: its "consensual style" and its long fading power – about 15 percent of the work force today. However both these trends are being reshaped by young people, a majority of the 35 percent non-regular worker population, that can not have their rights and interests defended by mainstream labor unions. They created new organizations called "yunion (union)" based no more on company membership but individual membership. This is not the only feature of this new labor organizations and based on the finding of a one year fieldwork in "Shutoken Seinen Yunion", I would like to present the origin, the way weakness have been overcome and strength acquired by one of the major organization that is revitalizing Japanese labor movement and young people's interest in politics.

Panel 4: Work/Life Balance (June 28 from 15:30-17:00)
Chair: Glenda ROBERTS (Waseda University)

The Motivation to Work: Work Values of Young Japanese in Atypical Employment
Carola HOMMERICH (German Institute of Japan)

Drawing upon 30 qualitative interviews with young Japanese working in atypical employment as well as additional quantitative data, this presentation will explore individual motivations to work as so-called "freeter". The question of whether or not the type of employment was chosen voluntarily proves to play a major role in the evaluation of one's lifestyle. In order to systematically analyze the qualitative material, job satisfaction will be operationalized through the use of dimensions of work values, their relative importance to the respondents as well as the degree to which these value expectations are met in real life. Thereby, we are able to identify types of "freeter" who strongly differ not only in their work motivations, but also in their degree of life enjoyment and frustration respectively.

Doomed To Fail? Freeters' Search for a Fulfilling Lifestyle

Work and masculinity are inextricably linked in post-war Japan. Although the employment system has changed in the last twenty years it appears that social attitudes of what men should do and be have largely not. Men and women of varied ages continue to stress that men should be responsible breadwinners, husbands and fathers. Male freeters, many of whom are attempting to pursue and create alternative lifestyles, are often unable and unwilling to fill this normative role. This paper explores how male freeters negotiate dominant discourses of work and manhood in their attempts to create alternative lifestyles. It explores how they succeed, fail and overwhelmingly how they expect to fail. Attempting to break out of this pattern of 'appropriate' work often did not succeed for a variety of reasons. Social, familial and self-expectations always came back to haunt them.

Young Women in Tokyo and the Changing Definition of Work: Morality, Marriage and Flexible Capitalism
Vincent MIRZA (McGill University)

This presentation focuses on the significance of work for women during a period of intense social change. Drawing on fieldwork in Tokyo and based on interview data with fifteen young women, I show how they negotiate the contradictions between the economical difficulties, their definition of work and desire for self-realization. I discuss on the one hand, women's efforts to appropriate the professional world to establish a sense of autonomy, and on the other hand, how marriage plays a key role in relation to work and their career. These tend to define work not only as a social and moral responsibility but also as an individual choice.

Working as an "International" Preschool Teacher: Perspectives on the Organization of Gender, Class and Ethnicity in Early Childhood English Education in Japan
Yuki IMOTO (Keio University)

This paper will ethnographically explore the meanings of work, English and "internationalism" for young Japanese women working as teachers in "international preschools" in Tokyo. International preschools are unaccredited, unregulated institutions that offer education and daycare in the English language medium in the presence of foreign teachers. Despite its recent rapid growth and controversy among the skeptics, there has been little formal documentation of the phenomenon. In particular, little is known about who comes to enter the industry of the international preschool as teachers. After pointing to the incredible diversity of the social, ethnic backgrounds of the teachers, the paper will discuss the backgrounds and identities of young Japanese females with "international" experience and aspirations, who are increasingly becoming the dominant population among international preschool teachers. This illuminates how ideologies of ethnicity, gender and class work together to sustain the industry of early childhood English education in Japan.

Unmarried Women at Work: Negotiating Obstacles and Opportunities
Lynne NAKANO (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Young women who intend to marry may see the workplace as a temporary station before moving on to marriage and childcare. As women reach their 30s, however, they must face the possibility of remaining indefinitely single and thus of working for the rest of their lives. Although there have always been women who have spent most of their lives working, in recent decades, ever larger numbers of young women are realizing that they may need to rely on their ability to work rather than on marriage and husbands for most if not all of their lives. Based on interviews with 30 unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 45 living in Tokyo, this paper explores the views of unmarried women as they consider the limitations they have faced and accomplishments they have achieved at work and how they view work in relation to their hopes for marriage.