Precarious Japan

Precarious Japan

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: November 2013

Author: Anne Allison

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, Cultural Studies

In an era of irregular labor, nagging recession, nuclear contamination, and a shrinking population, Japan is facing precarious times. How the Japanese experience insecurity in their daily and social lives is the subject of Precarious Japan. Tacking between the structural conditions of socioeconomic life and the ways people are making do, or not, Anne Allison chronicles the loss of home affecting many Japanese, not only in the literal sense but also in the figurative sense of not belonging. Until the collapse of Japan's economic bubble in 1991, lifelong employment and a secure income were within reach of most Japanese men, enabling them to maintain their families in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Now, as fewer and fewer people are able to find full-time work, hope turns to hopelessness and security gives way to a pervasive unease. Yet some Japanese are getting by, partly by reconceiving notions of home, family, and togetherness.


Precarious Japan is a forward-thinking commentary on the current state of Japan, detailing a progressive history from the economic collapse in 1991 to how the country functions today in a modern, post-earthquake society. . . . For those wondering just how precarious Japan’s future really is, this book is a good place to start.” — Jordan Sievers, Japan Times

“The only reason that I didn't burst into tears while reading this book is because of extreme self-control.” — Eustacia Tan, With Love from Japan blog

"Allison’s book is an impressive tour through important public discourses in Japan today, rooted in extensive discussion of contemporary popular literature and media."     — Kathryn E. Goldfarb, Somatosphere

“[A]n important, thoughtful, and moving ethnography that deserves the attention of a wide audience.” — Carla Nappi, New Books in East Asian Studies

"It will prove fascinating for almost any audience. Recommended. Undergraduate and graduate collections on Japan, consumption, globalization."  — D. C. Gainty, Choice

" . . . Allison's work reminds us of why ethnographic work is important. She skillfully weaves recent theories of the 'precarious' between personal accounts, interviews, statistics and textual analyses, making Precarious Japan as much an exemplar of the ethnographic methodology as an account of the vicissitudes of life in post-bubble, post-crisis and post-Fukushima Japan." — Jamie Coates, Social Anthropology

Precarious Japan is a compelling collection of examples and theories that connect overwhelming or shocking social problems in contemporary Japan with the realm of labor. . . . Although many of the examples are emotionally difficult to read, I am sure they will be very hard to forget.” — Allison Alexy, Anthropological Quarterly

“Allison’s book announces a paradigm change. . . . The book is a valuable provocation. . . . Precarious Japan is a valuable incitement to imagine new narratives for Japan’s present and future—and to locate Japan’s experience in the context of global precarity. . . .” — Amy Borovoy, American Ethnologist

Precarious Japan is essential reading for anyone working on contemporary Japan, and it will have a significant impact on wider research on precarity in today’s world.” — Chika Watanabe, Current Anthropology

Precarious Japan offers a sobering portrait of the economic, political, and geological instabilities (the latter being especially palpable in the post-3/11 climate) that have shaped Japan's historical present. Through a lens informed by affect and social theory, and augmented with touching ethnographic narratives, Allison's study focuses on precarity—the sense of instability and uncertainty, particularly that felt by Japan's under-educated and under-employed—’the precariat’—but equally applicable to the marginalized homeless and under-valued elderly.” — -David Holloway, Studies on Asia

"Allison’s ethnography of contemporary Japan, framed in terms of instability, poverty, hope, mud and the desire for belonging, is a compelling and timely work." — Laura Dales, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

Precarious Japan has implications far beyond Japan not only because similar problems exist in other market-dominated countries but also because she draws on the relevant theoretical literature to analyze Japan from a broader perspective. The breadth and depth of Allison’s scholarship—and her insight into Japanese culture—are impressive. … I highly recommend Precarious Japan for those interested in contemporary societies, especially Japan. It is also a good textbook for social sciences and humanities courses, inspiring students and generating fruitful discussions.” — Yohko Tsuji, American Anthropologist

“[A]n impressive ethnographic study of exclusion, precariousness and struggle that will leave no reader untouched. . . . Allison’s new book will surely be highly impressive for many readers and a good resource for discussions in courses on contemporary Japan.” — David Chiavacci, Pacific Affairs

“Walking through carefully selected news accounts, popular books, films, and her interviews, Allison—a distinguished anthropologist whose earlier work has dealt with topics as diverse as Japan’s sex industry, family relationships, and monster toys—explores the emergence and the growth of precariousness in [post-war Japan]. Sophisticated, but written with clarity and restraint in its use of jargon, this book will appeal to academics and undergraduate/graduate students alike who have interests not only in Japan but also in broader issues related to neoliberalism, development, gender, family, disaster, and temporality.” — Satsuki Takahashi, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

“Allison focuses astute observations on an ethnography of precarity, intermingling serious research with episodic story retellings, ranging from the current affairs of newspaper headlines to citations of relevant philosophical discourse. In so doing she carefully unravels many of the threats that combine to make up the tapestry of contemporary Japan mired in a localised diaspora of disenfranchised and casualised workforce. ...Allison’s detailed examination of the crisis of precarity in Japan via the commonplacetropes of aging societies, disenfranchised workers and neoliberal politics serves as a wakeup call for the rest of the world.” — Roman Rosenbaum, Japan Forum

“[A] provocative, wide-ranging exploration of social life in post-Koizumi, neoliberal Japan. . . . Allison’s writing helps us be with her subjects, not out of pity, but because one doesn’t hope alone. This is perhaps why Allison’s book is so important—it exposes what is just below the surface of the headlines and casual remarks alike, what hides behind drawn curtains, but is nonetheless ubiquitous in Japan today.” — Jason Danely, New Books Asia

“Overall, Precarious Japan is a thought-provoking and troubling study of a society that appears to have stalled in the midst of an almost miraculous ascent…. Anthropologists of work, whatever their degree of familiarity with the Japanese case, will find that her sensitive reflections offer valuable insight into the rootlessness, uncertainty, and fragility shaping lives in Japan and much of the contemporary world.” — Kelly McKowan, Anthropology of Work Review

"For more than two decades, the Japanese societal fabric has been fraying, and this book offers a poignant anthropological commentary on its current insecurities, anxieties, and inequities….Precarious Japan is urgent anthropology, daringly written with passion and verve."
— William Kelly, Journal of Anthropological Research

"As a whole, the book has the feel of a wake-up call, inviting us to take a fresh look at Japan and at accepted representations of Japanese society and culture, and to rethink our ideas of social relationships in Japan.... This is an important book for the questions it raises and for the moving accounts it presents. It deserves to reach a wide audience and should be essential reading for anyone with an interest in contemporary Japan." — Louella Matsunaga, Journal of Japanese Studies

"Precarious Japan is an important work that draws attention to the very real problem of precariousness in contemporary Japan. Allison approaches her sources with a high degree of humility and compassion. She excels in posing questions rather than pretending to provide definitive answers, and demonstrates an awareness that 'truth' itself is always precarious." — Alexander Brown, Asian Studies Review

"[I]n Precarious Japan Allison employs her ethnographic craft to communicate a sense of precarity brilliantly, and were it not for her acumen in expressing this poetically—through the structure, rhythm, and tone of her prose—much of the effect might have been lost.... Precarious Japan succeeds in its task to make us feel rather than simply understand uncertainty in contemporary Japan, and consequently it makes for essential reading within all levels of Japanese studies, while also appealing to wider audiences interested in Japan more generally." — Daniel White, Monumenta Nipponica

"Precarious Japan is a timely discussion of the relationship between political economy, poverty, precarity and affective experiences, which bears great significance also for non-Japanese contexts. Precarious Japan is a poetically written, engaging read for those studying poverty and precarity, as well as for persons interested in social issues in contemporary Japan." — Fiona Seiger, Asian Journal of Social Science

"Anne Allison's moving and perceptive account of precarious existence in contemporary Japan cuts through the sheen of a society’s self-image to reveal an everyday weighted down by scarcity and a temporality dedicated to the daily struggle to stay alive. Where there was supposed to be permanent abundance and the well-being of all, is now a ruined landscape, vacated by hope, a constituency compromising globalization's version of the 'wretched of the earth,' who have appeared in Japan and everywhere the new global order has established its austere regime of insecurity and desperation. Allison’s stunningly thoughtful elucidation of the growing numbers of the homeless, hungry and the socially withdrawn will take its place with all those ethnographies that have courageously sought to capture the precarity of broken lives within our midst to make us see what continues to defy our capacity to confront, which is the mirror of our collective future." — Harry Harootunian, coauthor of Japan After Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the Present

"Precarious Japan is a harrowing read. Mummified corpses, the homeless housed in stacks of coffin-sized boxes, rivers of radioactive mud, and other horrific scenes capture the contraction of existence in contemporary Japan as the history of the sarariman (salaryman) gives way to a stagnant neoliberal future. While Anne Allison seeks to tell the story of a nation for whom hope looks backwards, readers will wonder whether they are also seeing the blueprint for a global condition emerging at the edge of the rising sun." — Elizabeth A. Povinelli, author of Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism

"Precarious Japan is a model of new modes of conceptualizing sociocultural theory. Here the theory is sober, mature, aspirational, hopeful, gracious. It pushes up against the limits of thinking categorically, of thinking that lived phenomena simply, magically, derive their force from the categorical—from identities, borders, inclusions and exclusions, ideals writ large. It will be important to scholars trying to get a better handle on what is going on in the historical present." — Kathleen Stewart, author of Ordinary Affects


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anne Allison is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. She is the author of Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination; Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan; and Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club and a coeditor of the journal Cultural Anthropology.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Pain of Life 1

2. From Lifelong to Liquid Japan 21

3. Ordinary Refugeeism: Poverty, Precarity, Youth 43

4. Home and Hope 77

5. The Social Body–In Life and Death 122

6. Cultivating Fields From the Edges 166

7. In the Mud 180

Notes 207

References 219

Index 231
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5562-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5548-9
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