The ʻstandard family’ consisting of a breadwinner salaryman and a full-time housewife (sengyō shufu) has become one of the major socio-cultural identifying marks of postwar Japan with its focus on economic growth. My argument is that this pattern could not have developed independently from what I refer to as the ʻJapanese corporate gender contract.’ The alliance between corporate warriors and full-time housewives has been strongly promoted by the ‘Japanese state’, understood in this context as a conglomerate of various agencies, including the corporate sector, the media and the market.
The burst of the economic bubble has undoubtedly had an impact on the corporate system and its strength. In my talk I will raise questions about the relationship between corporate changes and possible changes in the social contract between men and women in post-bubble Japan.
Gender contract is usually considered in terms of welfare regimes, social policies and economic arrangements. By highlighting the ʻcultural’ aspects of this so-called contract, I show how the gender contract culturally shapes the concepts of women and men about their social roles both in the home and in society.
Data for this study was mainly collected through extended fieldwork conducted in a typical middle-class neighborhood in Osaka. On top of over fifty in-depth interviews, tea parties and an active internet forum with the women of the neighborhood, the unique ethnographic inquiry also included an innovative use of e-correspondence between the ethnographer and her interlocutor, which was used as a reflexive ethnographic tool to explore ideas, theories, and personal commitment.
Dr. Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni is the chair of the department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University, where she holds a joint position with the Department of East Asian Studies. Her latest book Housewives of Japan: An Ethnography of Real Lives and Consumerized Domesticity was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan. She is also the author of Packaged Japaneseness: Weddings, Business and Brides.