One of the enduring symbols of masculinity in Japan is the daikoku-bashira: the central pillar supporting the roof of a traditional Japanese farmhouse. The word is also used to describe the supporter of the household, typically the father; and the eldest son once the father is too old to maintain the illusion of permanence. It is an image of strength and stasis: but also implies a heavy burden on the shoulders of a man.
The men who are the subject of my presentation at the DIJ, and also of my recently published book, Men of Uncertainty (2001; SUNY Press) are day labourers, who look for casual work in urban labour markets called yoseba. Although they gather in major cities, most of them have rural backgrounds, and are old enough to have been brought up in an environment where the ideology of the daikoku-bashira was still very strong. Yet they tend to be estranged from their families, even the substantial minority who are eldest sons and would therefore be expected to inherit the household.
Many of these men lead transient lives, alternating spells at various yoseba around the country with periods working at hanba, workcamps at construction sites away from the big cities. Many are drinkers and gamblers. If they get into trouble, or simply tire of their present situation, they may suddenly leave town - a process described as 'evaporating' (johatsu suru). From the stasis of the daikoku-bashira to the transience of the evaporating day labourer, this presentation will discuss issues of mobility, freedom and responsibility as they relate to Japanese men.