Yoshio Sugimoto

An Introduction to Japanese Society Second Edition

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003, 316 pp.
ISBN 0 521 821932 hardback; ISBN 0 521 529255 paperback.

review by James Boyd

When it was first published in 1997 Yoshio Sugimoto's An Introduction to Japanese Society was well received. The object of the book was to re-examine contemporary Japanese society taking into consideration the importance of a wide range of aspects of this society, such as generation, occupation, education, gender, minority, and popular culture. In addition, Sugimoto, as he explained in the Preface, was also seeking to rectify three imbalances that he perceived in the study of contemporary Japan. The first concerned the view that Japanese society was an extremely uniform and homogeneous society despite studies to the contrary. The second concerned the continued dominance of the so-called group model of Japanese society, which maintained that the Japanese are essentially faithful to their groups and uniquely oriented to their consensual behaviour. Finally, Sugimoto sought to strike a balance between the Japanese- and English-language sources used to allow students new to Japanese studies the opportunity to familiarise themselves with contemporary debates and controversies among Japanese analysts who write only in Japanese.

In his re-examination of a wide range of aspects of Japanese society, including class and geographical distinction, in addition to the others listed above, Sugimoto was extremely successful, and his book was used in a large number of universities around the world. The book, by addressing the three imbalances perceived by Sugimoto, conclusively challenged the traditional notion that Japan comprised a uniform culture and showed how Japan, like most countries, had subcultural diversity and class competition. The first edition of Sugimoto's text was well written and easy to read, with the ten chapters covering a number of important topics that stressed Japan's heterogeneity in a manner that some of the nihonjinron [theories about the Japanese identity] specialists in Japan might like to have been left unstudied.

One result of the success of the first edition is that Sugimoto felt the need to revise his text taking into account the changes that have occurred in Japanese society since 1997. As Sugimoto explains in the 'Preface' of this new edition, he felt obliged to update factual data and statistical information to make the text more accurately 'reflect Japan's contemporary landscape'. He notes, however, that the 'structure and organization of the book remains unchanged since there was no need to alter the framework of analysis'.

This is not a review of the actual book, as what was said in reviews about the first edition applies equally to the second.[1] Rather, this review is an overview of what has changed between the two editions. The second edition, like the first, still has ten chapters, the titles of which are unchanged. However, the second edition is longer, being now 316 pages in length, an increase of thirty-one pages. As this review is for Intersections, the principal focus of which is gender, I will confine my comments to the number of changes that have been made to Chapter Six, 'Gender Stratification and the Family System.' The first is the addition of the results of a 2001 survey by the Prime Minister's Office in the section concerning 'surname after marriage' (2nd edition, pp. 150-51). The question of which surname a couple could use after marriage had become a political issue at this time, although Sugimoto fails to mention this. He simply states that the survey found that the majority of Japanese were in favour of amending the Civil Code to allow couples to assume different surnames, and then notes that the status quo has prevailed because of conservative elements in the governing Liberal Democratic Party.

In the section in which the author discusses the two-tiered structure of Japan's internal labour markets (2nd edition, pp. 156-60) there have been revisions made to a number of the paragraphs. In particular, the section on the Equal Opportunity Law (1999) now covers a Tokyo District Court ruling of 2002, which ruled that the practice of dividing female employees between sôgô shoku [career posts for women] and ippan shoku [non-career posts for women] contravened the principle of equality as defined in the Japanese Constitution. What this ruling meant for Japanese women was that the court was upholding the right of all employees, both male and female, to be treated equally as laid out in the present Constitution. Sugimoto points out, however, that within Japan the 'harsh realities of gender inequality' (2nd edition, p. 158) can still be seen in the low percentages of women who occupy positions of power.

At this point I would note that there are some inconsistencies between the translations of the Japanese terms that are used in the text and in the index. For example, when first used, sôgô shoku is translated as 'all-round employee' and ippan shoku as 'ordinary employee'. However, in the index, the term sôgô shoku is not included, while ippan shoku is given as 'non-career posts for women'. This is a problem with editing; the kind of problem that will present difficulties for beginners in the field, undoubtedly a significant majority of readers of this volume.

The section dealing with contraception and abortion (2nd edition, pp. 165-67) has been revised and expanded to include the change made by Japanese health authorities to allow the use of the contraceptive pill in Japan in 1999. This section also notes in passing that while it took almost thirty years for the female contraceptive pill to be legalised, the pill for curing male impotence, Viagra, was authorised and freely marketed in 1999, after only six months of deliberation and debate. Sugimoto simply remarks that this is ironic. For this reviewer, the fact that the Japanese parliament is predominantly male and elderly deserves consideration when reflecting on the haste with which Viagra was approved.

Lastly, the section dealing with sexual harassment (2nd edition, pp. 168-69) has been expanded to describe two types of sexual harassment ('retaliation' type and 'environment' type) that, according to Sugimoto, are most common in Japanese society. For Sugimoto, 'retaliation' type sexual harassment refers to cases where women who have 'resisted and/or reported male sexual approaches are dismissed, demoted or subjected to pay cuts', while in the case of 'environment' type sexual harassment, 'photographs of nude females, sex jokes, and sexual innuendo in the workplace adversely affect the morale of female employees and de-value their achievements'.

Sugimoto also includes the results of surveys in 1997 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and in 2000 by the Management and Coordination Agency giving the percentage of women who have suffered sexual harassment. The first survey gives a percentage of 79.1, presumably for women who have suffered any kind of sexual harassment, while the second survey gives a figure of 48.7 percent in specific regard to sexual harassment experienced either on crowded trains or in the street. The inclusion of these numbers speaks louder than the actual text.

There have also been changes made to the figures and tables that were included in the first edition. In the majority of these cases the changes simply involve the use of more current information. However, in some cases there are extensive changes, which make the figure or table included easier to read or easier to understand. With regard to Chapter Six, 'Gender Stratification and the Family System', there are changes to the majority of the figures and tables that were included in the first edition.

If I have any criticism to make regarding the changes to the second edition it would be that in some cases the changes made, particularly in Chapter Six, mean that the figures and tables that are included are now less effective than those found in the first edition. For example, in figure 6.2 (2nd edition, p. 155) that shows the comparison of female labor participation rates in Japan and other Western nations, the scale used has been altered, making the M-shaped curve that exists in women's employment in Japan appear far less dramatic than it appeared in the earlier edition. The M-shaped curve shows the drop that occurs in the workforce when women leave to have children and then return at some point after the birth. With the other countries listed in figure 6.2 there is minimal change in the curve, indicating that women in these countries are able to work and raise children concurrently. In the case of Japan, in the first edition, because of the scale, the M-shape curve was quite pronounced, but in the second edition, it is less so. At first glance, it appears as if there has been a change in social conditions, but in reality the situation has remained the same: it is only the method of presenting the data that has changed.

Another case is with table 6.1 (2nd edition, p. 159), which shows the proportion of women in positions of power. As the purpose of this new edition is to take into account the changes that have taken place in Japanese society since the first edition, it would have been more effective if the information from the first edition had been retained to allow comparison. If the reader had had the data from both editions side by side, it would have allowed assessment of the changes that have occurred in Japan in such a short period of time. For example, by referring to both editions, it is apparent that the number of female parliamentarians has increased from 2.3 percent in 1994 to 10.2 percent in 2001, which seems a relatively large increase in the period of time under consideration. In addition, table 6.1 also now includes information regarding female members of prefectural and municipal legislatures, female lawyers, and female presidents in universities. As these categories were not included in the first edition, there is the question of to what extent the percentage of women in these positions has changed since 1995. I presume that there were women in all of the categories in 1995 and it is a shame that there can be no comparison made to see if the change has been similar to that in the number of female parliamentarians.

As mentioned earlier, the first edition of An Introduction to Japanese Society was a well written book, with its ten chapters covering a number of important topics stressing Japan's heterogeneity. The second edition continues to challenge the traditional notion that Japan comprises a uniform culture, while providing more up-to-date data and analysis of the changes that have occurred within Japan since the first edition hit the shelves.

Readers who have the first edition, will not find a whole slew of changes in this revised version, but those that Sugimoto has made render the second edition a worthwhile purchase. Indeed, the second edition of this text is an important addition to the bookshelves of anybody interested in Japan.


[1] See for example reviews by: Patricia G. Steinhoff, in Japan Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 1 (Jan-March 1998): 97-99; and Carolyn Stevens, in Pacific Affairs, vol. 71, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 108-109


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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