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An Introduction to Japanese Society.

An Introduction to Japanese Society. 3rd ed, By Yoshio Sugimoto. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 345 pp. $29.99 (paper).

Since the first edition of An Introduction to Japanese Society in 1997, Professor Sugimoto has challenged the paradigms of Japanese homogeneity, stereotyped middle-class society, and economic stability. The third edition incorporates discussions of the advent of cultural capitalism, alternative lifestyle models, and the spread of civil society to complete his assertion that Japan is a truly multicultural nation. The author's methodology privileges the analysis of domestic stratification according to three main variations: (1) demography, (2) achievement criteria such as occupation and education and the degree of class reproduction in these spheres, and (3) gender and ethnicity.

It is interesting that Sugimoto places such a strong emphasis on stratification (a Marxist-Weberian classical construct) as the defining element for the theory, methodology, and structure of a twenty-first-century sociological analysis. Yet, if we consider that Japan has traditionally represented itself as a classless society, and that it has become increasingly aware of its growing inequality, the relevance of the concept of stratification is more evident.

Sugimoto points out a change in Japanese consciousness in the late 1990s, when the "perpetual medium class society" finally seemed to give way to the kakusa shakai (disparity society), He also demonstrates that upon closer inspection, inequality can actually be traced back to the "miracle era" that began in the 1960s. Furthermore, the disparity in distribution of economic and cultural resources has also included multiple variations: demographical (east vs. west and center vs. periphery); generational (wartime, postwar, prosperity, and global); corporative (the rise of small business as the majority culture and the decline of large business with guaranteed life-time employment); labor (with a sharp increase in the casualization of labor and a less extended but still noticeable emergence of a performance-based model vs. the agonizing meritocracy); and finally, the new trend of cultural capitalism (where comics, animation, videogames, cuisine, and so forth are replacing technology and manufacturing industries as Japan's most significant export commodities).

On a more specifically sociological level, Sugimoto analyzes stratification in education (where there is an almost universal rate of students' reaching high school, but fierce competition for tertiary education, which defines the professional futures of most Japanese); gender (with a slowly emerging model of full-time working women, but a majority of part-time, low-paid women and a decrease in fulltime housewives); family system (defined still by nineteenth-century notions of patriarchy as included in the duty of family registration [koseki], which in turn affects decisions on marriage, divorce, and child rearing, as well as contraception and abortion); and household size (with the near disappearance of extended families, a sharp reduction in nuclear families, and a steady increase of single households).

Sugimoto also comments on how minorities have been statistically, politically, and culturally discriminated against. He deconstructs the notion of pureness, homogeneity, and undivided lineage to study the status of Ainu, burakumin, Koreans, and foreign workers who are often considered second-rate Japanese or are denied of this nationality altogether. Similarly, he analyzes the forces that comprise the establishment (big business, parliament, and national bureaucracy) and the ones challenging it (interest groups that promote a pluralist approach to political, economic, and policy issues).

In Chapter 9, written almost in its entirety for this edition, the distinction between elite and mass culture is briefly analyzed as Sugimoto stresses how the latter is now largely commercialized overseas in what has been termed the "cool Japan" movement, He describes the most famous examples of this phenomenon: (a) manga, a Japanese version of comics with original and diversified topics not covered by their American or English counterparts; (b) pachinko, a postwar parlor game similar to pinball that has become an important form of entertainment and gambling for blue-collar workers and housewives alike; (c) karaoke, which involves performing popular songs while lyrics are displayed on a television screen and has been popularized all over the world but is even more important for the Japanese as a form of socialization in bars and clubs; and (d) the love industry, used as a euphemism for the sex industry, which covers "love hotels" specifically designed for couples wishing to have sex and suiting particular consumer preferences, "enjou-kosai," a form of compensated dating that borders on prostitution, and even the marriage industry, which includes everything from matchmaking to bridal receptions and advising. The author states that these activities all have in common their consumer orientation, compartmentalization, and solitude, reflecting new forms of organization and socialization in Japan that stand in sharp contrast to the still-existing but decreasing or marginal forms of folk and alternative cultures.

In his final chapter Sugimoto analyzes civil society (volunteer activities, NPOs, NGOs, and resident movements) and explains how it behaves according to the pattern of what he calls "friendly authoritarianism." This type of social control relies on the mutual vigilance of small groups, incentives over punishments, propagation of the idea of equality, and the portrayal of rare individuals with superior power as cordial, congenial, and benevolent.

Although the addition of two new chapters are beneficial as recent developments in the field, they still lack substance in an otherwise very thorough yet concise and manageable book. Moreover, the analysis of "friendly authoritarianism" seems to fall back on the "uniquely Japanese" explanation that the author has so enthusiastically denounced and tried to avoid. Nevertheless, apart from these perfectible flaws, the book undoubtedly remains an essential introductory text for newcomers and a reference text for Japanese specialists.

Fernando Villasenor Rodriguez

Department of Graduate Studies

University of British Columbia
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Author:Rodriguez, Fernando Villasenor
Publication:Journal of East Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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