Japanese Risk Society: The Changing Policies and the Role of Families

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Mika MERVIÖ , Department of Social Sciences, Kibi International University, Okayama-shi, Japan
While the Japanese state has used its power and financial resources without hesitation in some fields such as public construction it has conserved resources by making people face many social risks, such as most family-related risks and unemployment, the best way that they can. If people fall ill or face other individual problems Japanese society often has surprisingly little room for such values as social solidarity and compassion. On the other hand, there have been social practices that have served to soften the image of Japanese working life practices, such as the strong emphasis on lifelong employment and relatively small wage differences among employees, especially among the elite salarymen (sararîman).

The characteristics of the Japanese model of risk society are that the weak political leadership muddles along with the rest of the societies with globalisation and most sectors of the society need to adjust to the changed realities the best way they can. On the one hand Japanese society has its cultural values emphasising the merits of social harmony and virtues of intersubjective practices. However, conflicts have always existed openly or been managed under the facade of harmony and the new era of even weaker national governance, accelerated by the process of decentralisation (chihô bunken) and deepening fiscal crisis (making politicians powerless and leaving people on their own) have imposed individualisation on Japanese people from above. This individualisation has already encompassed every corner of Japanese society and the impact has been drastic for families. While the Abe administration has shown determination to address foreign, defence and economic & trade policies, the issues of social policy have clearly not been given priority and have been left to traditional institutions, especially to families.