Course title
Contemporary Society: Changes in Japanese Work Culture

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Course description
This course is conducted completely in English.
In Spring 2021, for the safety & health of students, professors, & guests, all sessions will be conducted online.

This is a discussion course about changes in Japanese work culture within international context.
We will start with a brief history of how concepts of work changed from the Edo period’s social class system, through the Meiji period’s industrialization and modernization, and into the postwar high growth period.
From this base of understanding the expectations within modern Japanese company systems (such as lifetime employment, seniority system, identifying with one organization, and gendered division of labor), we will analyze recent changing expectations in individuals and organizations regarding:
diversity, hierarchies, work environment, work flow, inter-generational & international team communication, motivation, work/life balance, and remote working.
In addition, we hope guest speakers from various industries will join us for 20-30 minute interviews and discussions online during the second half of the course. These depend on the availability of the professionals.The professor has experience as an Executive Coach, Management Trainer & Team Communication Consultant as well as a professor of Social History.
Weekly readings, participation in discussion, short response papers, group presentation on a historical topic, outside fieldwork, and final fieldwork presentation are required.
Purpose of class
This course is designed to help students from a variety of backgrounds understand the development and changes in key concepts, values, and behaviors expected in Japanese work cultures in modern history and contemporary society. After completing this course students should have a deeper understanding of both the history and recent changes in work culture in Japan and should be well-prepared to work in or deal with Japanese organizations in their future careers.
Goals and objectives

Goals and objectives Course Outcomes
1. Students will understand the historical basis of key concepts regarding work in Japanese society from the four main economic classes in the Edo period to the present and changes in those concepts over time with an emphasis of remaining traditions such as hierarchy in communication, focus on craftsmanship and precision, and one identity.
2. Students will be able to assess remnants of the high growth era’s pillars of Japanese employment: the trade-offs expected in lifetime employment, seniority system for promotion & salaries, enterprise-based in-company identity & unions, gendered division of labor, one main identity, status divide between management-track, full-time employees and short-term contract, part-time, and other workers.
3. Students will be able to analyze expectations in Japanese organizational behavior and styles of communication related to status, time, and division of labor (by gender, age, geography, educational background, type of contract), and be able to develop strategies for handling those expectations.
4. Students will be able to compare and contrast Japanese and international interpretations of 21st century trends in: work/life balance, work/life integration, diversity & inclusion, remote work, “freetahs” freelance workers & temporary workers, downsizing, application of robotics/ algorithms/ & limited AI, start-up businesses, multinational corporate M&A, and assess how these policies and trends affect the lives of working people.
5. Students will become familiar with general models of how human needs and behavior are manifested differently in cultures, specifically in business and work interaction.
Class schedule

Class schedule HW assignments (Including preparation and review of the class.) Amount of Time Required
1. Intro. to Course & Cultural Studies (Approaches to J. Studies)
What is culture? What is Japanese? What is the work culture “map”?
Reading & discussion prep 90分
Review 30分
2. Concept of Work Culture
Stereotypes of Japanese Society & Work Culture
Edo Period Work Culture – 4 classes, division of labor, communication: 1-level up / down, city & countryside
Hierarchy in communication
Focus on local/ regional craftsmanship & precision
Reading & discussion prep 120分
Project prep 120分
3. End of Tokugawa Era & Beginning of Modern Japan “Bakumatsu” & “Meiji Isshin”(revolution)
Discontent in provinces, Response to foreign threat & stimulation:
Unequal port treaties, Using the barbarian to control to the barbarian & "catching" up with industrialization
Example: “Choshu 5" study in the UK
Reading & discussion prep 120分
Project prep 120分
4. Meiji Transformation:
Modernization, Standardization & Militarization, Government-Industry Relations,
Innovation from mid-level associations in provinces,
Division of Labor: female factory workers
Reading & discussion prep 90分
Project prep 120分
5. Roots of Modern J. Company Culture 1880s - 1940s: Rise of the “zaibatsu” group companies
Militarized Economy, Self-Sacrifice
Postwar: 1945-1964: from Survival toward Prosperity, Labor Movement
Group Presentations
Reading & discussion prep 90分
Project prep 90分
6. High Growth Period 1960s-1980s
Classic Japanese Company Style:
Pillars of Japanese Employment
One organizational identity
Group Presentations
Presentation prep 180分
7. Mid-semester Group Presentations Reading & discussion prep 60分
Project prep 60分
8. "In Japan Diversity Means 'Women' ":
Hiring & Promoting Women for Mgt. From "Bubble Era" to "Job Hunting Ice Age" to Contract Employment
The Continued Gendered Division of Labor
Reading & discussion prep 90分
Fieldwork/ project prep 120分
9. Being “International”
Post-Lehman Shock: Retreat from foreign companies Multinational M&A
Final Fieldwork Plan & Presentation Schedule discussed
Reading & discussion prep 60分
Fieldwork/ project prep 180分
10. Rise of "freetah," freelancers, part-time workers, short term contract employment Reading & discussion prep 60分
Fieldwork/ project prep 180分
11. From one identity to multiple identities
Work/Life Balance, Work/Life Integration
Reading & discussion prep 60分
Fieldwork/ project prep 180分
12. Responding to disasters & "risk society"
Remote work
Trends & Counter-trends
Reading & discussion prep 60分
Fieldwork/ project prep 210分
13. Student Fieldwork Presentations
Feedback & Discussion
Fieldwork/ project prep 90分
14. Student Fieldwork Presentations
Feedback & Discussion
Final discussion of the future of work in Japanese society
Fieldwork/ project prep 70分
15. (This is a 14 week course. There is no 15th week.) 0分
Total. - - 2650分
Relationship between 'Goals and Objectives' and 'Course Outcomes'

Discussion & response papers History Group Presentation Fieldwork Updates Final Presentation Total.
1. 5% 15% 0% 0% 20%
2. 5% 10% 5% 5% 25%
3. 5% 0% 5% 10% 20%
4. 5% 5% 10% 20%
5. 5% 5% 5% 15%
Total. 25% 25% 20% 30% -
Evaluation method and criteria
25% In-class participation in discussion & short response papers
25% Group presentations on historical topics
20% Fieldwork updates
30% Final individual fieldwork presentation
Textbooks and reference materials
Excerpts from:
Tsutsui J. (2020) Work & Family in Japan, Springer
Social Change in Japan (1989-2019), eds. C. Hommerich, N. Sudo, T. Kikkawa, (2021) Routledge
Ho SL. (2018) Friendship & Work Culture of Women Managers in Japan, Routlege
Kopp, S. (2000) Rice-Paper Ceiling: Breaking through Japanese corporate culture, Stone Bridge Press
Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works (2011), McKinsey & Shogakukan
Mouer, R. Sociology of work in Japan (2005), Routledge
Sugimoto Y. (2021) Introduction to Japanese Society, 5th ed. Cambridge UP
Sugimoto, Y. (2009) The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture, Cambridge UP
Steinberg, M (2019) The Platform Economy: How Japan transformed the consumer internet, U Minnesota Press
Shell, ER (2018) The Job: Work & its future in a time of change, Currency Press
Genda, Y. (2006) A Nagging Sense of Job Insecurity: The New Reality facing Japanese Youth, International House
Iwabuchi, K (2015) Resilient borders & cultural diversity: Internationalism, brand nationalism, & multiculturalism in Japan, Lexington Books
Gordon, A. (2014) A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, Oxford UP
Morris-Suzuki, T. (1995) The Technological Transformation of Japan: From the 17th to the 21st Century, Cambridge UP
Shirahase, S. (2014) Social Inequality in Japan, Tohoku UP
Kosugi, R. (2003) Escape from Work: Freelancing Youth & the Challenge to Corporate Japan, Trans Pacific Press
Ueno, C. (2009/ 1994) The Modern Japanese Family: Its Rise and Fall. Trans Pacific Press
Japanese Social Theory: From individualization to globalization in Japan today (2020) eds.
Internet sites. Nikkei Shinbun, Japan Times, & economic periodicals.
Office hours and How to contact professors for questions
  • Office Hours: To be announced
Regionally-oriented course
Development of social and professional independence
  • Course that cultivates an ability for utilizing knowledge
  • Course that cultivates a basic interpersonal skills
Active-learning course
Most classes are interactive
Course by professor with work experience
Work experience Work experience and relevance to the course content if applicable
Applicable Professor has experience as a business communication consultant, management trainer, and executive coach for Japanese and international business clients
Education related SDGs:the Sustainable Development Goals
Last modified : Sun Mar 21 17:21:16 JST 2021