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> The Neo-Liberal Subject of Lack and Potential: Developing “the Frontie, Creating a Reserve Army of Labor in 21st Century Japan
post Nov 12 2006, 11:28 PM
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The Neo-Liberal Subject of Lack and Potential: Developing “the Frontier Within” and Creating a Reserve Army of Labor in 21st Century Japan
Andrea G. Arai

[1] In 2002, at the height of a decade-long recession, the Japanese government enacted its third big reform of national education. Promises of relaxed requirements, individualized and lifelong learning went hand in hand with the more ambiguous-sounding slogans of “the strength to live” (ikiru chikara) and “the frontier within.” Coinciding with a Japanese media boom that focused anxieties over personal futures and their relationship to national ones on “collapsing classrooms,” “deteriorating homes” and “strange youth,” these reforms and their pledges to the public seemed to suggest a new positive role for government in local affairs. In fact, these terms did foreshadow a new relationship between the individual and the State, but a relationship replete with new responsibilities and less security – a relationship driven by the globalization of markets and efforts on the part of the Japanese State to bring about the final structural and ideological overhaul of the postwar ideas of “homogeneity” and “democracy.”

[2] In this paper, I examine how the education reforms, defined by a new relationship between education, labor and nationalism, forecast a previously unimagined rationalization of everyday life. I focus first on the larger context of the reforms, and the discursive constructs of strengthening and an inner frontier. I discuss how these constructs became the new notions of necessary personal and national development, as the Japanese government, enlisting “cultural” expertise, embarked on an unprecedented presentation of the reform rationale to the public. As I have discussed elsewhere in detail, this presentation, was accompanied by the creation of crises around the home, child and school. (1) Here, I want to emphasize that the production of crisis linked to a recasting of problems and the shunting off of older ones, should be understood as particular techniques and practices of government (aptly termed “the art of government” by Foucault). Thomas Lemke, writing of Foucault’s notion of governmentality and its relation to neoliberalism, has called these practices and techniques, “the indirect means for leading and controlling individuals by shifting the burden for the social risks of poverty, illness and unemployment into the individual’s domain and rendering them responsible for themselves.” (2) This agenda, continues Lemke, becomes visible as a “positive” technique or practice of government (versus a negative political response) designed to produce citizens who conform to the new requirements of global competition or accept the risk for their own failure.

...[26]As this was happening, the Japanese government moved to translate its slogan “strength to live” into action. In 2000, as economic trouble worsened and youth trouble seemed to be on the increase in the schools and homes, then prime minister Yoshirô Mori (infamous for his expression that Japan is a “Land of the Gods”), convened the now well-known “people’s committee for economic reform” (kyôiku kaikaku kokumin kaigi). Unlike other committees of this sort, this one produced highly concrete results. (27) The committee resolved to create a means of “raising a moral Japanese person,” by extending education in the schools into the homes. They proposed the return of morals education to the schools (gakko wa dôtoku wo oshieru koto wa tamerawanai); and the establishment of national service (hôshi katsudo), reminiscent of the prewar forms of labor for the nation (kinrô hôshi) requiring all children of school age to participate in a service program of the State’s origination from two weeks for the youngest ages up to one year (at its most extreme extent) for the older students. Coupled with this were recommendations for harsher steps against problem students in the schools, including suspensions and expulsions where necessary. (28) For many, the committee’s most influential decision was the proposal to make the Fundamental Law of Education (kyôiku kihonhô) more “suitable” (fusawashii) to the current conditions of education and society.

[27] The citizens’ committee was followed up last year by an even higher-level committee set on the revision of this hallmark of postwar democracy. The logic that the members of this special committee employed was in line with the various meanings of “the strength to live.” Specifically, these officials argued that individual responsibility was based upon national knowledge and responsibility. The problem at present was that the Fundamental Law did not include provision for the necessary cultivation of this sense in the Japanese public.

[28] Crafted as it was in 1947 under the American Occupation, the writers, unaware of the importance of Japanese tradition and a “rich Japanese heart” (yutakana kokoro no Nihonjin), had omitted any reference of this from the Fundamental Law. The current condition of Japanese youth and the larger Japanese public, wrote these officials, made the cultivation of a “proper Japanese heart,” more urgent than ever. By linking the individual to the Japanese national past, this “rich heart” would provide the basis or foundation for strength and responsibility. At present writing, the revision of the Fundamental Law has the support it needs to pass the Japanese Diet this next fall. (29) According to Fujita Hidenori, who has written extensively about this revision, changing the Fundamental Law to include “patriotic education” is the single most important step along the path to the possible revision of Article 9—the peace clause of the constitution. (30)

[29] The greatest obstacle for those who wish to see Japan re-militarized is the two-thirds vote required for constitutional amendment. At present these proponents are working to change the requirement of this two-thirds majority. Although the revision of Article 9 still remains highly contested in Japan, the tide may be turning, reports Fujita. This is due in part to the rise in neo-nationalist feelings and the support for re-militarization among the younger generation. The question for Fujita and many others is the nature of this new youth subjectivity.

....[35]Dramatized in the news and through new best sellers, the now well-known name of Takafumi Horie with his ”libu-doa” (live door) company is one such new idol. Among the young generation of workers, he is perhaps best known for his best-selling Earning is Winning (Kasegu ga Kachi) on amassing millions of yen by the age of 30, and by the slogan, “even the soul can be won for money” (hito no kokoro ni kau).

[36] I was directed to this book and others by several of my recent interviewees. For them, the new economy is composed of a sense of insecurity and instability, the creation of an elite course in education, the fureeta, and this new get-rich quick literature. The new economy presents itself to them in the drastically narrowed possibilities of educational advancement and stable work opportunities: Tokyo University is no longer open to those that just work hard, despite what the Ministry of Education says. Those who have the money, they say, will get their kids into Tokyo University (Todai) by sending them to the most expensive and most competitive cram schools (juku). The only jobs open to those who haven’t been through this very top echelon of education, and new job skill training will have to settle for the worst. Employment follows suit, made up increasingly of harsh competition for fewer stable jobs. The openings that do exist are in sales and construction work in which the formerly exploitative nature of overtime (zangyô) now goes not only unpaid but is considered an integral part of the job. The choice beyond this, they say, is the condition of the boys on the bus in the drifting fureeta film. For my young interlocutors, the scenes of the fureeta in the NHK documentary, provoke the frightening image of a Japan that has not only lost out to, but is becoming China, where in their minds the cultivation of the worth of one’s labor power – its value as a commodity – would be judged by the global market.

[37] Complicating this position even further as I have suggested above, this new economy is defined by a new set of idols and ideals (even the popular manga, Shonen Jump now sports stories about stocks and speculation.) The phenomenal success stories of easy and quick millions, however, resonate for their readers in over-determined ways. They represent both the potential that this generation can aspire to and the lack that those who have recast problems and suggested solutions have inserted strongly into the larger discursive field. As my respondents rehearse “the terror” of these times, they also articulate the nostalgia. The past, now distanced even further across the divide of modernity and the new problematizations of the State, has been re-idealized, serving across these new divides and discourses, to animate a new group of nationalistic cultural productions and sensibilities.

[38] In recapitulating this history, they also announce themselves to be the result of Japan’s failed postwar democracy – a democracy they say that is now coming to an end. By renouncing its connection with its past; teaching atrocities rather than history, Japanese officials have emasculated the nation. They lack guts (konjo) (ostensibly the guts that would have allowed them to succeed in this new economy in spite of the obstacles they know and say now exist) because, they announce, they do not know war. This “I know but nevertheless” position is precisely the space within which the best-selling manga series “Sensoron” (On War) by the highly prolific Kobayashi Yoshinori operates. The scandal about this series, which transforms Japan’s wartime responsibilities into what Marilyn Ivy has called an exemplar of Freud’s kettle logic: “photographs of Japanese atrocities are spurious – we didn’t commit any atrocities, our atrocities are not worse than anyone else’s, was it’s popularity among the young.” (34) In fact, Kobayashi’s focus in this series and in his many offshoots is the young, in particular their lack of strength – the strength to live or to die for anything. My informants self-portrayals echo the materialization of the new discursive field shared by the reforms and these various cultural productions.

[39] Like the kids who must battle it out in the now cult film “Battle Royale” they have been deprived of the means of survival in the new economy, and arguably this is true. The recent economic decline, the rising power of China, and even the smaller defeats of the nation all add up for them to the fact that the Japanese (like the soccer players at the recent match with North Korea who couldn’t even sing “kimigayo” – the prewar Japanese national anthem) don’t know Japan.

[40] The capillary-like distribution of the discursive constructs of “the strength to live” and “the frontier within” through society framed the troubles of the recessionary period in Japan in a way that suggested a need for particular psychological expertise and a recasting of problems. I have insisted on the necessity of situating the discursive products of the reforms alongside the restructuring of labor in order to understand how the objects of education and labor are now both undergoing a foundational change. This change, as I have argued is informed by discourses that should collide, but instead coincide. It is expressed in the emergence of a new subject of neoliberalism – a subject of lack and potential.


i doubt many will read the entire report, but a very rough summary is that modern japan's neo-liberal movement is towards entirely shifting the responsibility for employment onto the individual (ending the beleif that govt should play a part in creating employment opportunities), emphasising nationalistic values in education, and enforcing a scheme where schoolkids have to take part in national service programs, and continuing the movement to a low-security jobs system, especially divided into two elements where the lowest employment is almost wholly short term 'employment agency' type work with little benefits and as low wages as possible, as the article says in an apparent emulation of china.

it also hints at the growing movement away from japan's constitutional pacificism, although it does not explore the links between having a 'reserve army' of millions of low paid and desperate workers and a resurgent militarism, perhaps it assumed that was obvious enough that the dots could be connected by themselves.
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