Articles Japan Japan Futures

Introduction: Japan’s Possible Futures – Pivots of Social Transformation

Written by Bruce White

Japan’s Possible Futures: Pivots of Social Transformation


Edited by Bruce White

Photo by Jeremy Keith ‘Tokyo horizon’
Papers & Thematics
Re-thinking Japanese Society
  New Communities at Home and Abroad

Intersections of Regional, National and Global Identities

INTRODUCTION: Japan’s Possible Futures: Pivots of Social Transformation


Bruce White
Plotting the future, attempting to foresee how a society will come to think about and configure itself in the world is, perhaps, an impossible task.  How can we know with any great certainty how people will determine the policies, attitudes, strategies, values, identities, and behaviors that will come to define the shape of their societies?  Likewise, how can we have any inkling as to the type of groups and communities which will form or grow in influence and come to determine the quality of everyday lives, decisions and the playing out of individual life-courses? And, how can we have any idea as to how, in the conglomeration of these and other processes, individuals and groups will come to think and feel about themselves as members of wider cultures, regions, nations, or as part of the world as a whole, in the years and decades to come?

In order to begin even to touch upon these questions, this collection of papers first sets out to compile a range of observations of how individuals and groups from a variety of walks-of-life experience and interpret their lives in contemporary Japan. From these observations the various authors seek to identify particular social trends that they determine maybe growing in influence. Under analysis, these trends are variously seen to provide evidence for the emergence of new or re-configured attitudes to living life, or ways to imagine what it means to be a member of a group, region, nation or the world. Each chapter author is then tasked to give their evaluation as to how powerful such emerging communities and ideas will be in rising-up to define Japan’s present and to tentatively predict the possible futures that may unfold if the transformative dynamics they identify continue to exert influence.

In order to help the collection question the potential extent and reach of social transformation in Japan as whole, the chapters herein consider a diverse range of individuals and groups. Among those represented in this collection are: husbands and wives, jobseekers, ethnic and regional minorities, Japanese expatriate workers, new religious groups, political organizations, TV drama characters and their fans and producers, survivors of natural disasters, novelists, and the creators and celebrators of sports mega-events.  Through observations of life as experienced by these people, the collection (1) examines new ways in which Japanese society is being structured and thought about from within, (2) considers what kind of new communities are being created in Japan and abroad, and (3) investigates how the society is choosing to redefine itself as a culture and nation to itself, the wider region, and the outside world.  These areas of investigation help the collection to focus on key “pivots” of potential transformation-zones of contest that the book sees as central to the playing out of contemporary and future Japanese social life. It is within these zones of contest that the collection sees path-breaking struggles underway for the definition of Japan’s possible futures.


Social Transformation in Japan
From the turn of this century a number of English language volumes investigating the nature of social transformation in Japan have emerged (Eades et al, 2000;  Edgington 2003; Kingston, 2004; Mathews and White, 2004; Nakano, 2004; Im Lee et al, 2006; Willis, and Murphy-Shigematsu, 2007; Chan, 2008; Vinken et al., 2010; Ronald and Alexy, 2010). Together, these studies and collections of studies reflect not just a growing interest in charting change in Japan, but also in attempting to bear witness to, and to document, a particular kind of social change.  For while these studies are certainly distinct in their respective themes and focuses-e.g., globalization, youth, the family, economics and politics, gender, race, citizenship, and civil society-common to the vast majority is that Japan is in the midst of a transition that broadly entails transitioning from the conservative, static, consensus-based and exclusive influence of postwar structures and ideas, to defining and representing itself (to itself and the outside world) as a dynamic, contested, plural and inclusive society.


Perhaps most starkly representative of this “coming-of-(global)-age” paradigm of change is the role that discourses of homogeneity, or sameness, have played.  Here, 21st century studies have largely attempted to find a way to understand Japanese society as operating beyond the confines of the “theories of Japaneseness”, or nihonjinron, literature and its embodied notions of cultural homogeneity that seemed to have represented so much of what late 20th century social science found important to unearth and comprehend about “unchanging” postwar Japanese society (c.f. Befu, 2001). In stark contrast, the new turn of 21st century attention has moved away from seeing Japanese society as dominated by a logic of conformity and sameness, to seeing it as increasingly expressed through contest and difference. The reasons for this new pluralism are various-younger generations’ new opportunities to connect to global images and ideas; a general inability for individuals and communities to socially and intellectually express their diversity through postwar social and ideological structures; new senses of global citizenship and universal rights; economic pressures from increased global activities and relationships; and new notions of freedom to decide and negotiate key decisions on employment and marriage in the life course (to name but a few observations from the many studies).



While these newer studies have helped to make a 21st century vision of “dynamic global Japan” de rigueur, there are still important caveats in much of this literature as to the force of these wide ranging changes in entirely displacing postwar thinking and structure, or even in winning-out against the status-quo in ways that will genuinely transform society. The bulk of these turn-of-the-century studies, for instance, have been cautious not to conclude that Japan is on the verge of social revolution and that the postwar status-quo is still, in many sectors (e.g., gender, employment, national identity and citizenship), powerfully influential if not dominant. Indeed, this common concern not to overemphasize transition over stasis is expressed in Kingston’s notion of Japan’s being a “quiet transformation”, a “work in progress rather than a big bang” (2004: xvi).  Despite a quiet optimism that such change will come “from below” across these studies, social change in Japan is commonly seen as aggregative, occurring through the sum of subtle component changes, such as through the force of many millions of people making individual decisions that affect very gradual larger societal shifts.


Despite the fact that taken as a whole 21st century studies of social transformation in Japan do not see an overhaul of the postwar status quo taking place in the highly visible sectors of, say, politics, education, or enterprise, the quiet transformation that is being observed seems to be present across an amazingly varied landscape of social life.  The astonishing breath and yet subtly layered nature of this emerging picture of social transformation in Japan is, in itself, transforming the way in which observers are looking to Japanese society to monitor and track change. Indeed, at least one study asks whether this new form of wide-spread aggregative change is challenging because it requires a generation of observers accustomed to seeking out and identifying change in the comparatively large social and cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s to adapt and narrow their focus to reveal these new forms of transformation (Mathews and White, 2004). If it is the case that such change does require new kinds of observational and theoretical instruments, the early 21st  century literature could be seen as a collective effort to refocus and re-calibrate the barometers used to measure and quantify social transformation in Japan (and beyond).


One sector of Japanese social transformation where such recalibration is clearly underway is the attention that newer studies are giving to civic engagement and civil society in Japan (Nakano, 2004; Chan, 2008; Vinken et al., 2010). Civil society is a theme that cuts to the heart of social change as the sector itself is often engaged in attempting to positively transform society. Changes in the nature of, for instance: how individuals “identity-hop” from one persona and role (activist) to another (office-worker), or how new senses of local, national and global citizenship are transforming the imagined spaces, and therefore concrete work of advocacy and volunteer groups, (c.f. Vinken et al, 2010; Chan, 2008; Nakano, 2004, respectively), are subtle and require sensitive observational lenses to reveal their full potential impact. Likewise, in studies that examine more subtle arenas of social change and transformation, such as in the efforts of local citizens to set out and claim a right to their sense of local town history (Brumann, 2012), social action is seen as highly obscured and mediated by the social, political and economic machinery of the status quo. And yet, even here, these local citizens are winning important battles through their actions, forever influencing the physical and imaginative landscape of their locales.


Reconfiguring the instruments that measure social transformation in Japan, observers are revealing complex sets of intra and inter group dynamics and peer-to-peer and cross-generational negotiations that seem to be guiding 21st century social change in Japan. Again, these dynamics are far more subtle than, say, the larger student movements of the 1960s and 1970s and, in comparison, seem to revolve around a gradual, yet steady and society-wide, erosion of post-war identities and social systems through a targeted and conscious  contesting of norms.  This targeting of erosive contest is seen to be precise in its concentration of specific areas or “zones” of public or private life (i.e. gender, minority rights, environment etc.), and, again, some studies observe that such specific social action (rather than social movements focused on general societal change) may represent new forms of national and global citizenship (e.g., Vinken et al., 2010). Current and future observers may wish to conclude as to the fidelity of such interpretations and make the perhaps important provision that the changing nature of the way that social science is perceiving social transformation in Japan (and elsewhere) may have an impact on the degree to which it is seen as present and influential.



What is clear is that the reconfigured social science perspectives on social transformation in Japan draw our attention to new forms of resistance and change and how they are revealed to be operating within specific “zones of contest”. Looking at the extent to which these zones are so widespread yet markedly distinct from one another, we may expand the perspective to talk about “nested zones of contest”. Doing so raises an interesting set of questions: which areas of society are undergoing the most intensive contest? How is this contest underway in those areas and what is the likely result? To what extent will victory/failure of the contesters to postwar structures in a given zone come to impact upon other zones, or Japanese society at large? How will such contests and their projected outcomes potentially define one or more possible versions of a Japanese society of the near and far future?


Let the Contest Begin: Pivots of Social Transformation
This collection of papers is an attempt to document and quantify the kind of contests that are in motion across Japanese society and to give some idea of their potential in ushering in significant social transformation if their efforts to erode the postwar social order ultimately succeed or fail. Through their desire to portray their given contests as “pivots of social transformation” that will shape possible Japanese futures, some of the papers in this collection go further than previous 21st century studies in predicting significant social transformation (both progressive and regressive). Given the mission of the chapter authors to address “futures”, this is perhaps inevitable, and despite the authors’ care to build their possible futures from the observable present and past, in the years to come, while some of the identified trends may continue to wield influence, others may appear, in hindsight, to have been momentary and insignificant.


While the chapters that follow, therefore, attempt to outline the range of possible futures that await Japan, in so doing what they comment on most explicitly is Japan’s present state of flux and ongoing negotiation. The tensions that they reveal between relationships, ideas, and social systems pushing for an understanding and utilization of diversity and pluralism, and those counterbalancing and resisting these represent the key grist of the collection and anchors it to the other perspectives on changing Japan referenced herein.


The attempt to map the contested nature and possible futures of one society also illuminates its connections to and dependence upon others in the region and beyond. This collection is no exception and in every chapter the authors consider Japan’s relationship with other regional and/or world systems or relationships.  In the 21st century it is not just Japan’s relationship with itself that requires attention-the creation of self-images, identities and discourses of its various intra-cultural regions and sub-groups-but the ways in which these are expressed on and up a series of social layers to create and reinvent representations of “Japan in the world”. How these global senses of place work to define the quality and legitimately of social life in Japan in the 21st  century is a key thread of enquiry and one that I will return to shortly.


Such a focus is perhaps particularly important at a point in time where Japan and its neighbors are adjusting to internal and region-wide re-inventions of local and national systems, identities, discourses and relationships.  In the midst of the local and global changes that characterize the East Asian region, the media portrayal of nations subject to old political and economic tensions, missed opportunities, and a lack of economic and cultural innovation may be less informative than observations gathered by social science; observations potentially enriched through a more nuanced gaze on the contested and diverse reality of everyday lives.


While this collection cannot hope to do justice to the range of areas in which social transformation is impacting upon larger global processes and vice-versa, it attempts to build upon the broader and more subtle understanding of social transformation that other 21st century studies have set-out, drawing attention to the need to plot out the pivotal influence of particular zones of contest in defining the quality of local and global life in Japan.  In organizing its findings into “possible futures”, the collection hopes to bring attention to the potential significance of certain dynamics gaining traction against their competitors and going on to shape the future of life in Japan and beyond. Indeed, this collection sees that the quality of that future may be determined by decisions taken in the present and that the choices that Japanese people from all walks of life face are increasingly those that determine the trajectory of many of the world’s diverse and complex societies.
Perspectives, Themes and Organization


This collection brings together the work of experienced observers and commentators on Japanese society. The focus of the chapters is social anthropological or sociological.  The perspectives aim to enrich the reader’s understanding of the kind of lives lived in day-to-day Japan and to populate images of the society with detailed and intimate portraits of contemporary Japanese individuals and the intellectual and social discourses that regulate, set free and constrain those lives. Analytically, the social science lens seeks to reveal how the contexts of ordinary lives reveal the important and contested nature of society. This collection sets out to utilize the descriptive and analytical strengths of the authors to map Japan’s possible futures based on the historical and contemporary dynamics revealed by each of the chapters’ topics.


Rethinking Japanese Society


The first three papers can be seen to address the need to Rethink Japanese Society by respectively emphasizing three areas in which the internal policies, relationships, and communication strategies that affect and influence the living out of life in Japan are under renegotiation or change.  In so doing, these three papers all examine a topic fundamental to the forming of the social, cultural, political and/or metaphysical character of day-to-day Japanese life.


Firstly, Mori throws the focus on one of society’s most intimate zones of social life-the home, and more specifically, how (predominately married) couples are encouraged by society to divide work across gender lines inside and outside the home. In so doing, Mori exposes an intricately connected system of domestic cultural identities, home and work lifestyles, and individual and organizational expectations put upon couples by Japanese society. It is the interdependence of these factors which sustains the gender stereotypes and imbalances which Japan has experienced to date, and the unraveling of the interdependence that will serve to usher in a new era where men and women can be truly free to make life decisions without their genders playing a key role.


Mori sets out to document this vision of a Japan on the cusp of transformation through an analysis of how gender equality policy came to be made into the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society. An innovative law by any international policy standards, the law was established not as the result of moral or feminist pressure on the government, but rather because of two rather practical concerns. The first was on the part of senior politicians who conceived that putting more women into the workforce might help to alleviate the domestic labor shortage and avoid the thorny issue of immigration. Secondly, in what Mori terms a “rhetoric of international accordance”, Japan’s leaders were pressured by the lawmakers to see themselves as “lagging behind” other countries, so that they would take “face saving” action.


Despite the fact that he sees the creation of gender equality law stemming from motivations far removed from a concern with equality per se, Mori seems cautiously optimistic that the true objectives of the Law as it is worded may be slowly growing in salience. Mori is encouraged by his (younger) interviewees who already seem to be seeking out familial and work models which challenge traditional gender-work stereotypes. Likewise, Mori sees the breakdown of the dependence on the traditional management structures of Japanese companies to be improving the likelihood that the law may come to reflect a gender equal society rather than merely be manufactured to solve unrelated problems in an unequal one. While Mori is perhaps rightly unable to offer a definitive vision of a gender-free future for Japan, his chapter conveys the degree to which home and work life and the gender roles to which they have seemed inseparable are now far from certain in a society that debates the meaning of gender in all major arenas of public and private life.


If, for Mori, Japan’s future pivots upon opposing cultural definitions of gender roles and identities (rigid vs. free), Ackermann’s possible Japanese future hinges on the society’s ability to be adaptable-or not-in its definitions of the cosmos, person, and of what constitutes an appropriate mode of communication.  In a paper deeply rooted in a concern to understand the metaphysical foundations of Japanese-specific worldviews and identities, Ackermann outlines a Japanese society locked into highly particularistic reworkings of Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist thinking. This is a Japan where a preoccupation with “tying people into circles”, of metaphysical, interactive and/or communicative interdependence predominates and permeates many areas of life. Whether interacting with people from other cultures, attempting to act as a responsible member of society, and/or engaging in a host of other actions, activities and/or “ways of being”, dominant notions of metaphysical and real interdependence are reproduced through a variety of influential “normative materials” (such as guides to productivity in the workplace).


In Ackermann’s treatment, we are given the first of many of this collection’s takes on how Japan may progress to either find links, or to further distinguish itself as different, from its East Asian neighbors. Ackermann observes, for example, how cosmologies originally imported from East Asia are today, in their contemporary renditions, transformed into worldviews that stress a Japanese cultural approach to defining the person, interpersonal communicative strategies, and approaches to living life within a universe that offers up particular rules and guidelines. Indeed, for Ackermann, the Chinese are often astonished to see the orderliness and “superstitious” nature of their highly industrious neighbors. Such differences lead Ackermann to observe that the contemporary Japanese are very far apart from their Asian neighbors in the conception and enactment of core behavioral and communicative strategies.


Ackermann thus attempts to reveal the deep encoding of important conceptual and behavioral norms that together help to preserve and reproduce “Japanese culture” over time.  This encoding is shown to be pervasive and, despite some optimism that younger generations may slowly be offering up a less culturally-specific set of approaches to “being” and communicating, Ackermann seems to conclude that the continuation, or non-diversification of these worldviews, while having the potential to lead to a continued integration within Japan, will run the risk of alienating others who do not share the concern to be “tied into circles”.


In Creighton’s paper, we see that as well as the key junctures of gender and metaphysical place, rethinking Japanese society also involves rethinking how Japanese identity is configured in relation to “outsiders” inside Japan. For Creighton, Japan struggles with the dilemma of defining itself as a racially homogeneous-easy to do given its past efforts to create linkages between language, culture and race-or understanding itself as a society exhibiting “diversity within diversity”. In the aptly entitled “Up to what kinds of people are we able to love?”, Creighton sets out a well-balanced case for the power and influence of both worldviews on the Japanese cultural identity and how thinking about what kind of people Japan consists of affects the day-to-day lives of immigrants, minorities and the “Japanese” themselves.


Creighton begins by supplying a list of historical and contemporary contexts which illustrate the degree to which the notion of racial and ethnic homogeneity has been, and is, put to use in debates and nation-building projects. From the official governmental denial that Japan had “minorities” at all (1980), to Prime Minister Nakasone’s claim that Japan’s homogeneity meant that the country could claim a higher intellectual level than the US whose collective intellect could be seen as damaged by too many minorities, it is clear that Japanese worldviews and identities based on social Darwinist principles and the notion that race and culture are one-and-the-same have been and continue to be pervasive.


However, demonstrating a range of fault lines in this embedded take on society and human nature, we begin to see the parallel emergence of a society that sees itself as the polar opposite of homogeneous-one that celebrates an internal diversity as a rich cultural asset. There are ironies here too-in that in some areas of Japanese society homogenous worldviews and actions based upon them have been their own undoing. For example, what began as an attempt to supply Japan with a worker immigrant population that shared “Japanese blood”, (Brazilians of Japanese descent whose ethnic heritage was perceived as a propensity to be able to assimilate into Japanese culture), ended when large numbers of these “nikkei” populations lived amongst local populations, and were seen to be culturally and linguistically very different.


In these and other points, rather than emphasize the permanence of 20th century cultural and biological determinist worldviews, Creighton’s paper ultimately exposes a Japan gradually coming-to-terms with the inappropriateness of race as a way to divide up the world, looking at the alternative ideas (new and not always successful forms of multiculturalism) that are being used to construct meaningful local and global identities. Just as is the case for Mori and Ackermann, here too we see a Japan at a key transformative juncture in understanding and setting out the cultural and intellectual templates it uses to make life within its borders meaningful. For Creighton, if Japanese society can further refine and solidify its existing celebration of an intracultural pluralism, its future may be characterized by a state of adaptable cultural innovation that its recent history’s emphasis on homogeneity has in large part precluded.


Together, the three papers that focus primarily on Rethinking Japanese Society reveal a Japan that is highly contested across fundamental social, theoretical, political, metaphysical and biological understandings of itself and of the models that have traditionally been seen to guide and define it. Indeed, the degree to which the topics are fundamental to the day to day workings of society-the prevalence of home/work gendered divisions of labor; the dominance of deterministic models of the universe and communication; and the very perception of who can be and cannot be seen to be part of the society-reveal a society potentially on the precipice of significant transformation.
New Communities at Home and Abroad


The second thematic focused on one of the collection’s papers is New Communities at Home and Abroad and investigates the emergence of new or reconfigured social collectives through a distinct ethnographic portrayal.  Economic systems and relationships and how they are interpreted and made into shared solidarities is the focus that Mathews and Sone see as central to the importance of their contribution. In their paper, we are transported to Hong Kong to observe a changing sense of Japaneseness taking place as Japanese with different visions of their society compete to redefine “the soul of Japan” on foreign soil. Here, successful senior expatriate Japanese company workers (mainly men) meet younger more transient Japanese migrants to Hong Kong (mainly women). The conflicts that ensue reveal a deeply contested view of the home nation, one separated by generation, gender and conceptions of what constitutes the Japanese race and culture.


Despite the otherwise plausible assumption that an international Hong Kong setting might lift individuals out of their cultural/national contexts, the clashes that Mathews and Sone identify demonstrate how a foreign context can serve to generate key discourses through which different cohorts of the same society struggle to define and legitimize their (vastly different) understandings of who they are and what kind of society they represent. The degree of proximity that their informants have to local Hong Kong workers and Chinese/Hong Kong language/culture; their interpretation of the cultural differences exhibited by Hong Kong workers; the gender roles and work-life choices of the two types of Japanese nationals that result in them being in Hong Kong; the general rigidity/flexibility inherent in the making of life choices that do/do not adhere to conventional Japanese norms; all of these key discourses reveal the existence of two versions of Japan, each seemingly at odds with the other.


Mathews and Sone’s paper speaks to an active struggle where two opposing groups representing new and old both seek to cling on to and advance the legitimacy they have won or are winning. The fight, as we see, takes us back to the homeland of Japan where an analysis of wider changes in employment, attitudes towards foreign travel and culture, and a general growing acceptance that people can live out non-conventional life choices, leads the authors to make a decisive prediction: the future of Japan will be won by those fighting against the older forms of cultural/national community as the newer more flexible forms are the only ones that can hope to adapt and survive to the dynamic cultural and capitalist forces of the 21st century.


Intersections of Regional, National and Global Identities
In the final thematic, Intersections of Regional, National and Global Identities, the concern moves from providing ethnographic portrayals of concrete cohorts or communities of people to considering how discourses on the nature of identity are being influenced by certain events, trends, or social/media phenomena. Here, the papers broadly ask two related questions: (1) under what kind of conditions are pathbreaking discourses of what it means to be part of a region of Japan, Japan itself, or the world at large being created? and (2) What kind of direction-changing identities are emerging from these discourses? In order to locate and reveal these discourses, this section’s four respective paper authors focus on recent events, trends or social phenomena that they argue reveal links between conceptions of local, national and global life. Their interpretations of how these links are configured become the basis of their respective paper’s predictions on Japan’s possible futures.


In the first of these papers, Nishimura demonstrates how the multiple March 11, 2011 disasters in Tohoku have exposed two kinds of discourses of regional, national and global identity-one utopian and one dystopian. The utopian configuration contains an ideal vision of a new Tohoku which combines its unique regional cultural traditions and linguistic heritage with its worldly ecological innovative spirit. The result is an idealized Tohoku which reverses the region’s victimized and marginalized (by Tokyo and the Kanto region) past to build a highly relevant and well-adapted set of values and visions of how it can contribute to a national and global society of the future.  The dystopian mirror-image to this expounds that March 11th (or 3.11) has set into motion a 21st century rendition of all the historical inequalities between, and injustices wrought upon, Northern Japan (the periphery) from Tokyo (the center).  The dystopia sees the victimization and marginalization of the past to continue indefinitely, and to intensify in scale and effect.


In a chapter clearly deeply sympathetic to the continuing social, cultural, political marginalization of the people of northern Japan, it is the linkages that Nishimura makes between the historical and contemporary regional, national and international identities that stand out in this treatment of the topic. With a concern to map the historical particularisms of socio-cultural forms and identities in the North and how these express themselves in terms of difference vis-à-vis the Center (Tokyo) and sameness in accordance with the International West, the chapter reveals the importance of deep intra-cultural and international narratives in defining post-3.11 discourses on the future of Japan.


In this coming together of the discourses of region, nation and world, it is interesting to observe the interdependent and yet contested nature of each layer of representation. As Nishimura demonstrates in one example of this: it is largely the fact that the world’s media imaginary (mediascape) of 3.11 rendered it as a Japanese tragedy with Japanese victims, rather than a series of disasters that affected Northern Japan (Tohoku), with Tohoku victims, that has led to the continued disenfranchisement of the North by the Center with little room for a (internationally acknowledged) narrative that would address the (continuing) historical inequalities/injustices.  Nishimura’s conclusion, likewise, points to globalization’s lack of utility when it comes to revealing or resolving the internal inequalities of nations. And, more vividly, while the chapter’s conclusion draws on its findings to summarize how the symbolic definition of, and relationship between, Tohoku, Japan and The World may be re-configured in order to give the utopian reality a chance to gain traction, it is a dystopian warning on which Nishimura chooses to end the chapter.


If Nishimura’s chapter is somewhat skeptical that the building of positive utopian national and global identities can be achieved in the wake of 3.11, Clammer’s focus is to see successful ways in which local and global narratives and imaginaries are being weaved together to provide fresh new ideas for Japanese citizens to both imagine themselves in the world and to engage with Japanese society.  Clammer’s subject is Japan’s new religions and the ways in which they increasingly seek to connect their members to new and/or regenerated ideas of who they are as members of their Japanese ethnic group, Japanese nation and the world at large.  Indeed, for Clammer, these new religions are to be seen as comparatively progressive, involved in projects of largely expansive identity production that set out to emphasize international connections, real and spiritual models for achieving peace, and environmental and other development-oriented worldviews.


Clammer advances an argument for a future where these new religions come to play an increasingly important role in Japanese society and maybe more effective at creating positive intersections of local and global forms of identity than their counterpart intellectual and/or political communities or movements. Longer-term observers of Japan may be surprised by Clammer’s seemingly open-arms approach to these organizations. New religions in Japan have traditionally been associated with closet (or even overt) nationalism (nihonjinron-style). But as Clammer himself argues: it is not accurate to see them as such and a framework that allows them to be understood as potentially powerful, often positive, social movements in their own right is necessary.


Despite their relative divergence as to whether a more positive or negative future awaits Japan, both Nishimura and Clammer demonstrate that the production of local and global imaginaries determine how contemporary individuals and groups perceive their place in the world. For Clammer, specifically, that sense of place is one that is systematically constructed in largely positive ways by new Japanese religious organizations who see it as their mission to connect their followers to more empowered visions of themselves and their potential to change the world for the better. Indeed, Clammer concludes that these religious organizations may go on to expand their work of connecting the local to the global, playing an increasing influential role in shaping Japan’s vision of itself in the world.


If Nishimura and Clammer examine Intersections of Regional, National and Global Identities through large world-changing events or highly influential religious movements and communities, Gossmann and Kirsch set out to demonstrate how the comparatively mundane world of television soap-operas can reveal deep complex discourses of sameness and difference. Their paper is also this collection’s third, and perhaps most explicit, examination of a Japan situated within a wider East Asian cultural landscape. The chapter’s focus utilizes the portrayal of Chinese, Koreans and Japanese characters in television dramas to investigate the intersecting discourses of Asian vs. Western values, and, ultimately, Japan’s perceived cultural proximity to the West and its Asian neighbors.


In the television dramas that Gossmann and Kirsch analyze, “Asian” (non-Japanese) characters are shown to be “in touch” with “Asian values” that echo common Asian-wide traditional family and community life, while, typically, the Japanese characters have somehow, in their Western/global modernity, forgotten the importance of such ways of life. The oscillation between portrayals of this modern/Western Japan and its traditional Asian Other demonstrates the power that an East Asian experience of (Western and perhaps now Japanese) modernity are seen to exert on the characters’ life courses, gender and generational identities and romantic and family relationships.  The conflicts and resulting ideological messages of these dramas combine to act as a way of scolding Japan’s youth for “selling-out” their rich local Asian roots to a globalism devoid of core traditions and values.


Through their vivid descriptions and interpretations of these TV dramas Gossmann and Kirsch set out a Japan deeply conflicted by its own modernity and loss of connection to a once-embodied “Asian Energy”.  This internal conflict results, however, not in setting out attainable visions for the future shape of a more Asian Japan, but rather, in what the chapter authors see as a partial and potentially unsustainable attempt to link Japanese audiences to their traditional Asian roots. The de-politicized rendering of these cross-cultural relationships; the fact that despite their celebration of their Asian neighbors’ energy and vitality Japan is mostly portrayed as superior in other important respects (e.g., economy); and the fact that attributing “special qualities” to others is likely to merely maintain and reinforce difference and their “other” status rather than provide a genuine challenge to adjust cultural proximity; for all of these reasons, the authors conclude that without meaningful cross-cultural dialogue and real relationship building, there is little chance that such dramas will make a difference to the integration of Japanese and Asian historical/contemporary narratives and identities.


If Gossmann and Kirsch focus on how Japanese cultural identity production takes place through the careful manipulation of images and character representations of Japanese amongst other Asians, then Manzenreiter expands this to the Whole World. Returning to the factual realities, as well as investigating the present legacy, of the 2002 Soccer World Cup co-hosted by Japan and Korea, Manzenreiter’s investigation sheds significant light on the opportunities provided by such “mega-events” to produce and maintain national identity. Indeed, the intersections of global, regional (Asian) and national discourses and identities with which this section of the collection concerns itself, are in this paper shown to be deliberately interfaced or (perhaps more appropriately) “mashed-together” at such mega-events. As such, these events are shown to provide a host of opportunities to find/confirm/introduce/maintain new and existing concepts of, and relationships between, self and other.


In his examination of the 2002 World Cup, Manzenreiter is keen to demonstrate the role of sport more generally to facilitate identity-building projects. He refers, for instance, to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the Nazi use of the event to stage their own ideological and political version of that era’s German national identity. For Japan and Korea, of course, the 21st century setting and the needs of both countries to represent themselves in ways appropriate to a shared ideology of peace and goodwill are vastly different. And, yet, despite the vast differences, we see how in all contexts mega-events seem to at once reveal the universal need to build and express identities (using a variety of images and communication devices) at the same as providing a perfect container environment with which to do so.


Perhaps most importantly for 2002, it was the hosting nations’ respective sense of proximity to one another, as old rivals/enemies now involved in co-hosting one the world’s biggest events, that makes this chapter’s focus unique. In short, while both countries broadly met the conditions of their own promotion of cultural nationalisms, Manzenreiter is unsure of the event’s lasting influence on Japan-Korea relations. While 2002 may have firmly planted Japan on-the-map with regard the sport of soccer and solidified and represented its desires to be seen as hospitable and culturally rich, it has yet to be seen whether it will come to act as a point of historical departure for a new era of healthy Korea-Japan relations. Despite this, Mannzenreiter ends the chapter suggesting that through their power to communicate to and represent people so powerfully and broadly, the world’s mega-events may eventually find that they can go beyond their utility of merely setting out to bolster cultural nationalisms. The mega-events of the future may truly be able to supply the material and social capital to genuinely contribute to positive integration of the world’s nations. Whether Japan can lead the way in such innovation remains to be seen, however, and the questions and conclusions raised in this chapter are of course ones to be noted as Tokyo approaches, hosts, and comes to terms with, its legacy from the 2020 Olympics.


Broadly, Intersections of Regional National and Global Identities, and the four papers that pay the theme the most attention, tells a story of a deep interlaced search for identity and representation. Depending on the paper, “region” is either within the nation (Tokoku), or a geographic area of which the nation is a part (East Asia). The concept of “nation” too can represent vastly different imaginaries. It can: be a powerful central force for cultural colonization and appropriation; embody the meta-narratives for a real and spiritual global peace; represent global modernity; or be a container for global sport and various rich cultural forms and practices. And lastly, the Global is also given a different weight and imagery depending upon the focus, shifting from: The West as technological leader, to the World’s peoples as embodying completing spiritual forms and cultural ideologies, to the globe as a source of culturally neutral (empty) modernity, and finally to the World as a conglomeration of different nations and cultures all with their own distinctive traits and characteristics. As in the previous two thematics, the paper authors work to reveal an intense negotiation and competition, not just in terms of how to define a given community (i.e. Tohoku, Asia or Japan), but how to configure that group’s linkages to the local and global discourses that surround it. At the most fundamental level, this theme thus exposes the deeply contested visions of how to represent Japan to itself, its neighbors and to the world.


Limitations and Possibilities
In a collection sporting as ambitious a title as this one, it is important to establish the limitations of our multiple and collective focuses and admit that there are important areas, issues and topics which have not been included.  For example, although we have a paper on gender, there is no explicit focus on the many contemporary issues surrounding sexuality. While many of the papers discuss political issues and developments, there is no study specific to civil society or governmental local or national party trends or dynamics. Likewise, although we have a study discussing company employees in Hong Kong, we have no paper explicitly focusing on Japanese companies or organizations in general. We have no paper that explicitly deals with developments/issues in social welfare or education, nor do we have a contributor focusing on new media or youth delinquency or any of the topics related to social change in the structure of local community groups in urban or rural settings.


Despite the collection’s many omissions, I hope the reader will find the range of voices that are here to be revealing.  Together, the authors have aimed to infuse the coverage of their respective themes with intimate portraits of lives lived within and without its borders as well as carefully constructed visions of how a range of events and social phenomena are contributing to the possible directions that Japan may make in the coming years. Together, these observations reveal that looking towards the future reveals not only the past social trends that have led Japan to where it is now, the historical roadmap of transitions and worldviews.  In considering Japan’s Possible Futures, what this collection attempts most to starkly reveal is the immediate concerns of Japan’s highly contested present.  As the authors have tried to make clear in various ways, this present is one characterized by an impressive diversity of visions and worldviews.  How much this current diversity will crystallize into senses and systems of and within future Japanese society is open to question, but what seems certain is that whatever kind of future awaits Japan, it is a future that through the nature of these interconnected systems and relationships, awaits the parallel futures of other societies in the East Asian region and beyond.


Finally, through our social scientific approach, we hope to illustrate that understanding the relationships that people have with each other as well as the quality of their imagined social spaces-their identities, narratives and discourses-is at least as important as any other perspective in unmasking the key dynamics of stasis and change in a society.  Understanding what props people up in the world socially, emotionally and intellectually can help us to better understand what we need to achieve in order to help steer ourselves towards societal states which work to improve opportunity, encourage growth and sponsor innovation.  In large part, Japan’s possible futures, and those of all nations, will be determined by the extent to which their citizens can understand, fulfill and positively apply their social and imaginative needs to encourage expansive policy-making, political reform, economic development, and innovation across all other areas through which societies consciously re-shape themselves and the world at large.




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Brumann, C. 2012. Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past. London: Routledge.
Chan, J. (ed.). 2008. Another Japan is possible: new social movements and global citizenship education. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Eades, J. S., Gill, T., & Befu, H. (eds.). 2000. Globalization and social change in contemporary Japan (Vol. 2). Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.
Edgington, D. W. (ed.). 2003. Japan at the millennium: Joining past and future. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Kingston, J. 2004. Japan’s Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in 21st Century Japan. New York: Routledge.
Im Lee, S., Murphy-Shigematsu, S., & Befu, H. (eds.). 2006. Japan’s diversity dilemmas: Ethnicity, citizenship, and education. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.
Mathews, G., & White, B. (eds.). 2004. Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society?. London: Routledge.
Nakano, L. Y. 2004. Community volunteers in Japan: everyday stories of social change. London & New York: Routledge.
Ronald, R., Alexy, A. (2010) Home and Family in Japan: Continuity and Transformation, London: Routledge
Vinken, H., Nishimura, Y., White, B, & Deguchi, M. (eds.). 2010. Civic Engagement in Contemporary Japan. Established and Emerging Repertoires. New York: Springer.
Willis, D. B., & Murphy-Shigematsu, S. (eds.). 2007. Transcultural Japan: at the borderlands of race, gender and identity. London: Routledge.

About the author

Bruce White


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