AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 425

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Session 425: The Politics of Social Change in Japan

Organizer: Liv Coleman, University of Tampa, USA

Chair: Deborah J. Milly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, USA

Discussant: Deborah J. Milly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, USA

From the time of the “Lost Decade” of the 1990s, Japan has experienced many social, economic, and demographic changes. From a yawning economic gap to an aging society with a persistently low birthrate, Japan’s social changes present new challenges for political action and social policymaking. How do political actors understand, explain, and grapple with these changes in the social fabric? What political actors are involved and what new types of political coalitions are arising? How are social policies being developed to adjust to new social conditions and how successful are they? This panel uses different theoretical lenses to explore political changes and policy developments in the context of large-scale social changes. Yves Tiberghien focuses on the politics of inequality since the issue burst to the fore of the political agenda in 2006. Jiyeoun Song investigates the rise of labor market dualism and inequality and the government’s policy responses to growing economic gaps, focusing on political coalitions between employers, regular workers, and policymakers. Liv Coleman examines family policies to boost the birthrate amidst growing recognition of economic inequalities. Patricia Boling analyzes the bureaucracy’s role in shaping policies to address the needs of working parents. Ito Peng explores the global politics surrounding immigration policies for care workers.

The Political Response to the Inequality Problem in Japan since 2006
Yves E. Tiberghien, University of British Columbia, Canada

This paper focuses on the political response to the inequality issue since it became a national political issue in 2006. The paper focuses on two main questions. What explains the politicization of the inequality issue since 2006? What have been the political responses to the issue under both the late LDP governments and the DPJ governments and why? It is argued that the strong popular response to rising inequality (a slow trend that has accelerated since the mid-1990s) represents a partial backlash against the ongoing structural transformation of Japan. Although the policy response is slow and mixed, the inequality crisis has become one key fault lines in the latest phase of political realignment. The paper uses opinion poll data, as well as process-tracing evidence from the battle over the reform of dispatch and temporary worker legislation, to analyze the position of key actors and the new divides within Japanese political economy.

The Rise of Labor Market Dualism and Inequality in Recessionary Japan
Jiyeoun Song, Seoul National University, South Korea

Japan’s protracted recession after the collapse of the asset bubble has put intense strain on its economy since the early 1990s. To restore the country’s sluggish economic growth and to transform its problem-ridden economy into a more market-oriented one, Japan launched market reforms across the labor market, financial system, and corporate governance structure as well as fiscal reforms over the past two decades. While Japan has experienced slow economic recovery since the mid-2000s, a rise of labor market dualism and inequality has debunked the myth of Japan’s postwar egalitarian and middle-class society (ichiokuchuryu shakai). In particular, a series of labor market reforms have lead to a rapid expansion of the hiring of non-regular workers and a widening economic disparity between regular and non-regular workers. This article investigates the rise of labor market dualism and inequality in Japan, and the government’s policy responses to growing economic gaps. It argues that political coalitions between large employers and core regular workers result in the preservation of protection for core regular workers, while liberalizing the labor market for non-regular workers, most of whom are female and young workers.

The Bureaucracy’s Role in Shaping Work-Family Policies: Japan in Comparative Context
Patricia Boling, Purdue University, USA

This paper analyzes the role of national bureaucracies in drafting and promoting policies to address the needs of working parents in Japan, drawing comparisons to France, Germany and the United States. In addition to considering power resources (partisan politics, unions, advocacy groups), one must attend to political-institutional structures and path dependent policy development if one wants to explain differences in such policies. Bureaucrats play a key role in crafting policy proposals in Japan, their influence augmented by the ability to gather, analyze and control access to relevant data, appoint members to deliberative councils, and the central government’s relatively weak political control over bureaucratic decision making. But the story is nuanced: policies to support working parents typically fall under different ministries (e.g., child care falls under health and welfare, early childhood education under education, parental leave is controlled by labor, and tax supports fall under internal revenue or finance), and the institutional clout and policy repertoires of different ministries vary considerably. The other countries offer illuminating contrasts that can move us toward theorizing about the role played by the bureaucracy in crafting social policies, with France also according bureaucrats enormous respect and relying on them to interact with stakeholders and shepherd proposals through legislative bodies. In Germany and the U.S., bureaucrats must deal with a federal system where many work-family policies are controlled by local governments, and policy initiatives reflect local variation in political power and values and suspicion of national-level policymaking, and there is a cleavage between political appointees and career bureaucrats.

The Global Politics of Social Change: Political Economy of Care Migration in Japan and South Korea
Ito Peng, University of Toronto, Canada

The demand for care workers in rapidly ageing middle and high-income East Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, are creating new political economic dynamics centered on the issue of care migration. Over the last decade, both Japan and South Korea have revised their immigration and labor policies to enable more care workers from designated South East Asian countries to enter and work as temporary care workers. This is a significant shift from previous public and policy perspectives that resisted the opening up of immigration, and marks an important change in approach to dealing with demographic issues in these countries. This paper examines how the changes in demographic patterns, female labor force participation, notion of familial care, and social care policies over the past 20 years in Japan and South Korea have impacted the politics of care and care migration. The paper focuses in particular on reforms around immigration policies related to elderly care workers, and discusses the role of migration in the organization and provision of care in a global world.

Who Can Afford to Marry and Have Kids? A Focus on Japanese Family Policies in Hard Economic Times
Liv Coleman, University of Tampa, USA

Japan has pursued one of the longest-running policy programs to encourage childbirth of any advanced industrial country, spanning from 1990 to the present. Japan’s shoshika taisaku, or policies to boost the declining birthrate, were originally focused on expanding childcare options for working parents, particularly mothers. Yet policymakers in the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare and Ministry of Education as well as politicians from several different political parties increasingly understand the problem of the declining birthrate as intimately connected with the problem of growing economic gaps in society. This paper investigates how policy options to increase fertility rates are being shaped by these discussions broadly in society, tracing the intersection of the discourses of shoshika, the declining birthrate, and kakusa shakai, a society with economic disparities. The paper also looks at these new policy dimensions in comparative context with other advanced industrial countries facing declining birthrates and aging populations.