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Tue, Jul. 20th, 2004 09:45 am
Superlegitimacy: passion and ecstasy of a Tokyo train driver

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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 6th, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)
Re: Superperceptive

Hi there Momus. A late poster for your 2004 article on train drivers and super-legitimacy, I`m afraid. As a medium-term resident of Japan I have also been fascinated by some of the oddly ritualistic behaviors I`ve witnessed in train drivers. While I agree with your analysis of superlegitimacy and it`s nexus with collectivism, I`m not so smitten by your attempt to contrast it favourably with a supposed `false` individualism in the west. One severe deficiency in this form of experience is that the strength of personal immersion and individual submission it requires makes it rather impervious to reform from within (ie by it`s practitioners). Another is the often severe psychological strains imposed by participation - subjection to exacting behavioral norms, policed by colleagues and superiors, and shaming and scapegoat-like bullying from the same for those who do not fit in properly or who fail to meet behavioral expectations (and who won`t or can`t get those ritualised gestures "right").

An alarming phenomenon in the past few decades has been the numbers of Japanese people who react to these problems not by pressing for reform, but by dropping out, sometimes in ways more severe than observed in western societies. They include school drop outs, "Stay-at-home" hermits, NEET`s, Freetas, and parasite singles. No doubt uncertain economic conditions play a part in explaining these tendencies, as people grasp that immersion in and loyalty to a company ethos will not be repaid as loyally as in the past. Still, I think a lot of this has to do with people in these groups grasping (sometimes too sensitively) the psychological costs of participation in particular social relations, and their imperviousness to reform. Of course, the latter problem then becomes self-perpetuating. Increasing numbers of young women are reacting to the high social expectations and behavior norms associated with being a housewife by putting off marriage and child-bearing as long as possible - or indefinitely. But these same young women often seem indifferent to the prospect of gender reform. And so while female workforce participation rates have grown and women`s value-orientation towards marriage and employment has shifted quickly, little has changed in the sexual division of family labour since the passage of Japan`s first sexual discrimination legislation over 20 years ago.

So I would say that the sort of socially harmonising behavioral norms and rituals you associate with super-legitimacy are co-existing with rising levels of anomie, psychological isolation and a growing individual rejection of conformist social expectations. Like I said, I see these trends as alarming, because instead of becoming sources for reform drop-outs are marginalised or otherwise accommodated and neutralised. Makeinu, parasite singles or freetas become tolerated much like village idiots and eccentrics were tolerated in the collectivist communities of old.

One more thing, I wonder if your perception of civility in Japanese trains has changed in the past few years. I have witnessed dreadful acts of selfishness and some farty "oyaji" salarimen on Osaka, Tokyo and Saitama trains.

Shaun O`Dwyer
(shaunodwyerjp@yahoo.co.jp)


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