Individualizing Japan: Searching for its origin in first modernity

Munenori Suzuki*, Midori Ito, Mitsunori Ishida, Norihiro Nihei, Masao Maruyama

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Since the mid-1990s Japanese society has entered a period of major change. The previous patterns of social order and social integration have collapsed, and it has become increasingly difficult to envision a stable life course for oneself. The 'secure' foundation has been weakening and anxiety has spread at an accelerated pace. Japan could enter the age of second modernity, or reflexive modernization. In Japan's first modernity, the mechanism responsible for risk management, an integrated society, and stabilized social order, was, first, private corporations that guaranteed long-term stability for employees and their families (company-centrism) and, second, land development rapidly implemented under the guidance of bureaucrats (developmentalism). From the 1990s, these systems were fundamentally destroyed by globalization and neoliberal policies. Private corporations limited the groups that could benefit from the seniority wage system, undermining in-house welfare benefits. The government abandoned its role of improving the industrial and economic conditions of surrounding areas through offering public works projects. After these risk-stabilizing mechanisms were gone, two problems became conspicuous - poverty among young workers in urban areas and the collapse of the local community in marginal areas. As the seniority wage system and lifetime employment were substitutes for the public social security system, public measures to deal with poverty remain inadequate. Now, the individualization of the family has advanced somewhat under compulsion as the rate of unmarried people and the divorce rate have climbed. The Japanese have a tendency to seek 'self-realization'; at the same time, they also want 'secure employment'. Thus, they are torn between individualization and the desire for security. What is now necessary is a more stable system that will ensure them adequate material and spiritual 'elbowroom' to allow them to make their own choices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-538
Number of pages26
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Sept
Externally publishedYes


  • Company-centrism
  • Developmentalism
  • Individualization
  • Japan
  • Risk
  • Social security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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