In the first of two special talks at the Japan Foundation, David H. Slater (Sophia University), drawing on 25 years of ethnographic research, will explore the tangled relations between patterns of work, representation and politics in Japan. Following the talk Dr Slater will be joined in discussion by Dr Helen Macnaughtan (SOAS, University of London).
The rise of “freeter” on the Japanese scene in the early 1990’s is in part the result of a shift in labour patterns among youth, and particularly young men, that had been occurring since economic growth began slowing in the 1970’s. The term initially held the false promise of labour mobility, a certain “freedom” from the constrictions of Japan Inc institutionalized work patterns and the possibility of personal self-realization in diverse social domains. This momentary distraction from the neoliberal fragmentation of social identity lasted for a short period of time, mostly spurred on by a corporatist mass media and opportunistic academics.
Today the structural and policy patterns are familiar to late capitalist society around the world, but the cultural effects are somewhat more crushing. On the one hand, there is a desperate desire to return to the “suffocating embrace” of exploitative life-time employment in full-time work – work that is no long available after 25 years of labour degradation, and which seem to only accelerated with the rise of Abenomics. On the other hand, we also see glimpse of politicization, the rise of precariat-style mobilization here and there.