Inside the Japanese company


In early Japan literature, the stereotype of the Japanese company was a large, white-collar company with hundreds or even thousands of employees. It has only been in the past decade that this picture has been balanced by studies of other types of Japanese companies and employees — blue-collar companies, small companies, female workers and so on. In fact, the backlash has been so great that the large white-collar company has now become somewhat neglected. This book seeks to redress the balance by providing an in-depth view of employee life inside a rather typical, large, white-collar traditional company. It looks at what everyday life is like for the very many Japanese employees who work in such companies, and investigates the dynamics of the social relations inside the company. In the process, we find out how these companies are faring in the economic downturn and how employees’ attitudes are changing. On one level, then, this book is an ethnography of C-Life, a white-collar Japanese organisation, offering a detailed description of life at one such company as I found it during three separate rounds of fieldwork, including a two-year stint as a regular employee. But on another level the book focuses on the relationship between the ideology and the reality in the Japanese company. It focuses on the ideology that Japanese companies subscribe to, the way in which they like to describe themselves and portray themselves to the outside world. It raises such questions as:

What do we mean by “ideology”, and at what different levels does it exist?

What is the ideology in the company?

Who is the ideology aimed at and how successfully is it promoted – and who does the promoting?

How aware are the employees of an underlying “reality”, if there is such a thing?

Do they sincerely believe the ideology?

When do they subscribe to the ideology and when do they admit that it doesn’t exactly match reality?