Japan’s post-war history has permeated the lives of all her citizens. Her institutions also have been moulded by the post-war experience. The Economic Planning Agency for example began life in 1946 as the Economic Stabilization Board, charged with the task of economic recovery and stabilization. In our belief that learning from the past will help create a brighter future, we hope that Japanese reading this White Paper will regard it as one document of their own history.
Following the period of economic recovery, the Japanese people worked hard to improve their standard of living. Real per capita national income grew to eight times pre-war levels and in 1987 per capita national income overtook that of the United States in dollar terms. Also, although Japan’s economic growth rate could not match the remarkable growth of other Asian countries in the aftermath of the First Oil Crisis, it remains one of the highest amongst advanced industrial countries.
Over 90% of Japanese think of themselves as middle class, and those expressing satisfaction with their lifestyle have consistently outnumbered those expressing dissatisfaction. However, surveys reveal that, in international comparison, young Japanese do not register such strong satisfaction with their lifestyles whether in the workplace, the home, or society in general.
The Japanese people have not gained the level of satisfaction warranted by their remarkable post-war achievments. Many feel that undoubtable economic success has somehow not been reflected in their lifestyles. In this conclusion, we look again at the working, domestic, and social lifestyles of the Japanese people, summarizing both the actual state of those lifestyles and people’s feelings towards them.
The Japanese employment system gradually emerged amongst Japan’s large corporations in the 1920s, spread widely in the era of mass production and mass consumption when Japan caught up with the advanced industrial countries of the West, and reached its fruition during the high growth period. The seniority wage curve of Japanese white-collar workers reached its peak around 1970, at a time when developments in Japan’s industrial structure caused a significant rise in the number of white-collar workers.
However, certain elements of the Japanese employment system, supported in the past by a high growth rate and an abundance of young workers, are now in a process of change. The seniority wage curve is becoming less steep, and there is a strong feeling that white-collar workers are in oversupply, with almost 70% of large corporations confessing that, "We have too many managerial workers."
The attitudes of working Japanese are also changing. In 1970, when new company employees were asked the question, "With whom do you normally spend your holidays?", 40% answered, "With friends and others not associated with my job." By 1994, this percentage had risen to 60%. However, this does not mean that the young generation is evading work. Indeed, the percentage of Japanese males in their 20s stating that, "I don’t mind making sacrifices in my private life for a job that I enjoy," is no less than that for those in their 50s. In other words, it is not that the diligence of the younger generation is declining, but rather that they are pursuing a new working lifestyle.
The Growing Importance of the Psychological Function of the Family The nature of the family is also changing. The Japanese family can be seen as having four broad functions, namely the assurance of economic welfare, the raising of children, caring for elderly parents, and providing comfort and relaxation to its members. However, the post-war phenomenon of the salaryman has led to the gradually disengagement of working and domestic lifestyles, with only the husband working at a distance from home. A number of factors have also worked to reduce the number of children produced by a family, in particular the trends towards later marriage and remaining single, the increasing opportunity cost of having children as women participate more in the workforce, and the rising burden of education costs. Likewise, the number of elderly people living with their children has declined, with the result that average household size has fallen from five persons to three. Finally, the marriage rate is falling and the divorce rate rising.
Family attitudes are also changing. The number of males agreeing with the statement, "Husbands should go out to work and wives look after the home" has declined from 84% to 66% over the past 20 years. The acceptance of divorce is also spreading, especially amongst the younger generation.
The Japanese family is being fundamentally transformed, and yet the psychological function people want from a family has not changed. Many people stress the family roles of, "helping each other" and "providing a source of comfort and relaxation." In other words, the family’s psychological function of binding its members together is becoming more important.
As Japan has become more affluent, the social problems that accompany poverty have been eased; the cirme rate, the high school drop-out rate and the suicide rate all declined over the period to 1970. Since then however, the trend in these social indicators has either turned flat or shown a slight rise. Even if affluence can ease the problems of society, it cannot ease the concerns of the mind. However, even though there is no evidence of decline in the social envionment, and even though Japan has become more affluent, very few social indicators reflecting security or stability have improved since the 1980s.
Japan’s young generation do express a certain degree of satisfaction with the new affluence, but see themselves as powerless to rectify their dissatisfaction with society. They believe that "the individual is not respected" in Japanese society.
On the other hand, young Japanese demonstrate an increasing desire to participate in social activities. In the three months following the Hanshin Earthquake 1.17 million people participated in volunteer activities, and 70% of them were from the young generation.
Japan has experienced enormous change over 50 post-war years, but that is not grounds for hating change. Indeed, many of the things we credit with long tradition have but a very short history. The Japanese employment system for one only emerged in the 1920s, and only reached fruition in the post-war high growth period.
Similarly, professional housewives were all but non-existent in the pre-war period, when farming households and small family businesses dominated Japanese society.
Most of the things we Japanese regard as traditional are in fact the products of reform. The Japanese employment system was was well suited to the circumstances of the post-war high growth period, and duly succeeded. Because that reform worked, the system reenforced itself and became tradition. Today, the existence of a system which we have garbed as tradition, is proof that social reform in a previous era was successful. However, all success is conditional on prevailing circumstances, and if circumstances change, so reform must once again happen.
Japan now has fifty post-war years behind her, and the Japanese people now desire to consolidate the affluence created in that period.
Working Japanese want a greater choice of working lifestyle. As a result of the changes affecting the Japanese employment system, companies are finding it more difficult to provide employees with the promotions and rising salaries that they have come to expect. There is an increasing gap between what companies want from individuals and what individuals want from their companies. The logic underlying the "company servant" mentality is being eroded, and the young generation in particular are leaning towards a "conscientious worker" mentality, which values their special skills and abilities. Japanese people desire an new system which allows a greater diversity of lifestyles, and where "starting again" and "changing direction" are possible.
Women also are able to choose between a greater variety of lifestyles. It was once far more difficult for a woman to choose an unmarried lifestyle. In contrast, many now face a realistic choice between staying at home and going out to work. All in all, the changing circumstances of the Japanese employment system should mean that a greater variety of lifestyles open up to a greater variety of individuals.
Children and young Japanese likewise desire a greater choice of lifestyle, and that too is becoming a possibility. The increasing participation of young Japanese in volunteer activities is proof of the greater choice they now have, and testifies also to the remarkable reserves of energy that they possess.
Affluence is creating a new diversity in society and expanding the choices open to individuals. This new diversity must be seen as an opportunity to create a more affluent lifestyle for Japan, and not as a source of confusion. After all, the pursuit and realization of new lifestyles has always been the hallmark of the Japanese people.
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