ASCJ 2009
Session 35: Room 11-405

How Japan Works: Patterns of Diversification in the Labor Market

Organizer: Volker Elis, German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ)
Chair: Yukiko Yamazaki, Tokyo University

Japan’s labor market for some years has been undergoing fundamental changes. Diversification is under way as the nation’s workforce is aging and shrinking and social stratification impacts increasingly many parts of society. The “working poor” are part of Japan’s new labor market just as “freeters” and unskilled foreign workers are. A rising labor participation of elderly can be observed, while, ironically, companies are more often facing the question of how to ensure knowledge transfer in times of mass retirement. This panel brings together scholars from a background in business, economics, politics and sociology. They will address the causes and implications of Japan’s labor market diversification and study the underlying political regulatory measures as well as the interdependence of labor market diversification and societal change.

1) Carola Hommerich, German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) 
Freeter and Beyond: Are Work Attitudes Changing? Development of Work Values of Entrants to the Labor
Market in Japan 

The cohort of Japanese born between 1975 and 1985 increasingly faces a labor market of non-regular employment. Do the changed conditions on the labor market lead to a change in this cohort’s attitudes towards work? Do they differ from older cohorts? Can we identify “new” attitudes towards work emerging in the course of this development? In order to find answers to these questions, a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods is applied. First, data from the World Values Survey is used to identify possible changes of work values of entrants to the labor market from the 1980s until today. Then, in order to take a closer look at possible new value groups, work attitudes of freeter are analyzed drawing upon the results of 30 qualitative interviews. By bringing the results of both steps together, this paper will try to give on overview of work attitudes amongst young people in Japan as well as to answer the question as to what is important in a job to this group.

2) Gracia Liu-Farrer, Waseda University
Making Careers in the Occupational Niche: Chinese Migrants in Corporate Japan’s Transnational Business

This study investigates contemporary Chinese migrants’ career experiences in corporate Japan and examines their career outcomes under the conditions of expanding global economy. This paper suggests that an occupational niche for Chinese migrants has emerged in Japanese firms. This occupational niche is consisted of a set of corporate positions that specifically deal with businesses in China. Firms preferentially recruit Chinese migrants to fill these positions. And consequently that is where majority of Chinese migrants end up. This paper discusses the mechanisms for shaping such an immigrant occupational niche and the opportunities and constraints it brings to Chinese migrants in Japan. By examining Chinese migrants’ employment characteristics and career mobility, this study discusses the paradoxical effects the existence of an occupational niche has on Chinese migrants. I argue that it provides an access for immigrants to enter a previously inaccessible labor market. However, the existence of an immigrant occupational niche itself reflects the institutional, structural and cultural barriers persisting in the host society.

3) Volker Elis, German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) 
High Labor Force Participation of the Elderly in Japan: Just for Fun or Bitter Necessity?

The working situation of elderly people in Japan is by no means a homogeneous one: jobs range from high-ranking executives in large corporations over farmers keeping up agriculture in the countryside to working poor eking out a living by collecting and selling garbage. As the high labor force participation ratio in Japan is frequently interpreted as an important asset that could as well be seen as a model case for other highly developed countries affected by demographic ageing attempts to explain the phenomenon by applying the culturalist notion of a particularly high working ethos of Japanese have to be taken with a grain of salt. The aim of this paper is to elucidate the topic from the perspective of life course decisions shaped by a changing institutional environment. While the Japanese government has already taken steps to introduce various policies which facilitate senior employment the labor market for older people is no exception with respect to the impact of policy shifts on the macro scale including the general trend towards precarious living conditions and increasing social inequalities. To put the recent changes in perspective the analytical framework of regulation theory is used, which makes it possible to relate shifts in the regime of accumulation to changes in the mode of social regulation.

Discussant:  Yukiko Yamazaki, Tokyo University