Spring 2017 1
Japanese Society I: Contemporary Japan
Instructor: Robert Croker
The purpose of this course is to provide a broad overview of life in Japan in the early twenty-first
century. The course is organized around the life course of Japanese people, from when a Japanese child
is born through to the last decades of their lives. It explores how a child learns to ‘become Japanese’ at
home, the educational and social processes that shape a young person’s way of looking at the world,
the daily lives of Japanese youth, and how Japanese people learn to play ‘appropriate’ roles as ‘shakai-
jin.’ It also explores how gender is ‘performed’ in Japan and how gender expectations are changing,
how disability is viewed and experienced, and then focuses upon cultural diversity in Japan before
concluding with a look at the experiences of becoming old in the world’s oldest society. By the end of
the course, you should have developed a deep sense of what life is like in contemporary Japan.
At the beginning of each class, the instructor will provide a short overview lecture about that
week’s topic, augmented by video and other visual media; occasionally, guest speakers will also come
in to talk about their field. Then, in small groups of three or four students, each of you will lead a
discussion about one reading that you have read for homework and prepared a summary of; you will
also participate in discussions lead by other students about their readings. Japanese students will join
us each week as ‘cultural guides’ to share their perspectives and to answer your questions about
contemporary Japanese culture and society. At the end of each class there will be a class discussion or
debate. Occasional field trips will also be organized to see interesting local festivals. Joining these field
trips is optional but recommended. Your thoughtful, active participation throughout the course is
You will understand:
the life course of people living in Japan
how people learn to ‘become Japanese’ and how they resist this
gender expectations for appropriate behavior, and how these are changing
basic sociological and anthropological theories of society and culture
the generational, regional, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of Japan
Cycles of life:
Class 1. life course in Japan – from before birth to long after death (September 18)
Class 2. seasonal and other rituals in Japan – a peek into modern life (September 25)
The first decade:
Class 3. becoming Japanese at home – amae and shitsuke (October 2)
Class 4. becoming Japanese at pre-school and primary school – learning (to be) in a group (October 9)
Class 5. Japanese youth – students’ own topics (October 16)
Class 6. Japanese youth: challenging hegemonic masculinity (October 23)
Life course and gender:
Class 7. the life course – diverse paths, few choices (October 30)
Class 8. modern male life – remaking corporate warriors for the twenty-first century (November 6)
Class 9. modern female life – (un)bounded by tradition (November 13)
Class 10. marginalization and inclusion – the experience of disability in Japan (November 20)
Class 11. ways of seeing Japan – Japanese culture or Japanese cultures? (November 27)
The final decades:
Class 12. becoming old in Japan – gateball and diapers (December 4)
Spring 2017 2
Exploring contemporary Japanese society:
Class 13. exploring your Japan – students’ own topics (December 11)
Class 14. final written examination (December 18)
Study Time (outside class):
1. To prepare for each class, read one of the assigned readings and create a two-page summary with
discussion points or questions.
2. At the end of the semester, prepare for the final written test.
Cycles of life:
Kawano, S. (2005). Ritual practice in modern Japan: Ordering place, people, and action. Honolulu:
University of Hawai'i Press. (Ch. 2: Embodying moral order: Acting bodies and the power of ritual; Ch.
3: Emplacing moral order: Ritual and everyday environments).
Rupp, K. (2003). Gift-giving in Japan: Cash, connections, cosmologies. Stanford, California: Stanford
University Press. (Ch. 3: Life Cycles; Ch. 4: Seasonal cycles.))
Sugimoto, Y. (2014). An introduction to Japanese society y (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. (Ch. 1: The Japan Phenomenon and the Social Sciences)
The first decade:
Holloway, S. D. (2010). Women and family in contemporary Japan. Cambridge University Press. (Ch.
3 ‘What is a wise mother?’, Ch. 7 ‘Shitsuke: The art of child rearing’)
Hendry, J. (2012). Understanding Japanese society (4th edn.). Routledge. (Ch. 2 ‘The house and family
system’, Ch. 3 ‘Socialisation and classification’)
Tobin, J., Hsueh, Y., & Karasawa, M. (2009). Preschool in three cultures revisited: China, Japan, and the
United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Ch. 3: Japan).
Cave, P. (2007). Primary school in Japan: Self, individuality, and learning in elementary
education. London: Routledge. (Ch. 2: Groups and individuals at primary school).
Deacon, C. (2012). All the world's a stage: Herbivore boys and the performance of masculinity in
contemporary Japan. In B. Steger & Koch, A. (Eds.) Manga girl seeks herbivore boy: Studying Japanese
gender at Cambridge. Zurich: Lit Verlag.
Life course and gender:
Sugimoto, Y. (2014). An introduction to Japanese society (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. (Ch. 2: Class and Stratification: An Overview; Ch. 3: Geographical and Generational Variations)
Tanaka, Y., et al. (Eds.) (2013). Beyond a standardized life course: Biographical choices about work,
family and housing in Japan and Germany. Tokyo: Shinyosha.
Dasgupta, R. (2003). Creating corporate warriors: The "salaryman" and masculinity in Japan. In K.
Lowie & M. Low (Eds.) Asian masculinities: The meaning and practice of manhood in China and
Japan. London: RoutledgeCurzon.
Hidaka, T. (2011). Masculinity and the family system: The ideology of the 'Salaryman' across three
generations. In R. Ronald & A. Alexy (Eds.) Home and family in Japan: Continuity and transformation.
Mathews, G. (2014). Being a man in straightened Japan: The view from twenty years later. In S.
Kawano, G. L. Roberts, & S. O. Long (Eds.) Capturing contemporary Japan: Differentiation and
uncertainty. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Nakano, L. Y. (2014). Single women in marriage and employment markets in Japan. In S. Kawano, G. L.
Roberts, & S. O. Long (Eds.) Capturing contemporary Japan: Differentiation and uncertainty. Honolulu:
University of Hawai'i Press.
Goldstein-Gidoni, O. (2012). Housewives of Japan: An ethnography of real lives and consumerized
domesticity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (Ch. 3: On ‘naturally’ becoming housewives).
Holloway, S. D. (2010). Women and family in contemporary Japan. Cambridge University Press. Ch.
9: Balancing work and family life).
Spring 2017 3
Nakamura. K. (2006). Deaf in Japan: Signing and the politics of identity. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Sugimoto, Y. (2010). An introduction to Japanese society y (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. (Ch. 1: The Japan Phenomenon and the Social Sciences; Ch. 7: ‘Japaneseness’, ethnicity, and
Siddle, R. (2011). Race, ethnicity, and minorities in modern Japan. In C. L. Bestor, T. C. Bestor, & A.
Yamagata (Eds.) Routledge handbook of Japanese culture and society. London: Routledge.
Lie, J. (2001). Multiethnic Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Ch. 4: Modern Japan,
Murphy-Shigematsu, S. (2000). Identities of multiethnic people in Japan. In M. Douglas & G. S. Roberts
(Eds.) Japan and global migration. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
The final decades:
Traphagan, J. W. (2000). Taming oblivion: Aging bodies and the fear of senility in Japan. Albany, NY:
State University of New York Press. (Ch. 7: Boke and the disembodiment of social values).
Bethel, D. (1992). Alienation and reconnection in a home for the elderly. In J. Tobin (Ed.) Re-made in
Japan. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Weekly reading discussion points and questions 80% (best 8 readings, 10% each)
(students must write a two-page report on each weekly reading they are assigned.
Students will submit 12 weekly readings; the scores for the top eight will be included)
Final written examination 20% (December 18)
Other Prerequisites: Ability to read academic English. Final written examination can be written in
English or Japanese.
Audit: Not permitted.
Language Used in Class: Principally English, but some groups choose to discuss in Japanese.