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Society / Culture

Re-reading the Salaryman in Japan: Crafting Masculinities

(Routledge 2012)

Romit Dasgupta

Japan’s salaryman is its dominant masculine trope: the post-war “everyman”, the committed corporate soldier, the husband, the provider, the (often absent) father. But Japan is gradually moving away from the traditional corporate paternalism under which the salaryman flourished: lifelong employment and rewarding employment length over performance are increasingly rare as companies are downsize, restructure, and reconsider practices in order to succeed in a corporate framework driven by neo-liberal and globalised ideologies. Here, the salaryman is expected to demonstrate efficiency, individual ability, and measurable outcomes.
Much has already been written on the salaryman, but rarely has the focus been on gender: the salaryman as gendered construct, as metonym for “man”. These are the questions that Dasgupta puts at the very center of this thoughtful and focused book. He argues that the salaryman represents “hegemonic masculinity” as crafted in response to upbringing, cultural experiences, and economic and political conditions. However, this ascendant form of masculinity has unraveled over the course of the Lost Decade and now, millennial salarymen must navigate through evolving expectations and aspirations of masculinity. The voices of these young men illuminate how this generation struggles with a shifting discourse.
The book first frames the salaryman in macro-history before drilling down to the micro-level, revealing the experiences that traditionally shaped boy into adult and man into salaryman, and examining how shifting socio-cultural and corporate culture realities have changed these experiences. The intersection with heterosexuality is also considered, as is the significance of intra-organisational same-sex homosociality to salaryman masculinity.

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