31 Years in Japan

This book deals with two stories: mine and my object of study, contemporary Japanese society. Both merge into the 31 years I spent in Japan. The reader will find passages in which I highlight the points of contact between the two stories and others where I distance myself from my personal history to analyze various aspects of Japanese society in an accessible way, trying to avoid academicism. In some chapters I refer to the historical sources of its current situation, history understood as an essential tool for understanding the present. And the same goes for myself. I refer to the history of my long stay in Japan to understand the origins of a vital crisis that I overcame during the process of writing this book. This crisis and its overcoming are the subjects of the first and the last chapters.

Before entering my personal history, I dedicate 5 chapters to studying some characteristics of contemporary society closely related to my experience. As I spent the 31 years of my stay in Japan in various universities, I refer there to the educational system (chapter 2) and the role of the university within it (chapters 4 and 5). Throughout the socialization process that takes place during the nine years of compulsory education, emphasis is placed on certain patterns of behavior that are often confused with essential features of Japanese culture. I refer to them in the third chapter. For its part, university education has a particular link with the job market. Private enterprise has a great influence on university life and on other institutions of Japanese society. That is why I dedicate Chapter 6 to study the “company-centered society”, in Japanese kigio shakai or kigio chushin shakai.

Of the 42 chapters in the book, 20 are dedicated to my personal history and 22 to various aspects of contemporary Japanese society and the historical process that gave rise to its particular characteristics. The chapters dedicated to my personal history are 1, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39 and 42. I begin by the end and return to the beginning to tell some of my experiences during all these years until culminating in the beginning of the book under a new look. In these chapters I usually make considerations about characteristics of society that help explain my experiences. Likewise, in the rest of the chapters I usually mention some of my experiences as examples. In some cases, I refer to aspects of society related to my own experiences discussed in the previous chapter. In other cases, I deal with issues related to Japanese society, the knowledge of which I consider essential even though they are not directly linked to the account of my experiences. I think the best alternative is to read the book in the same sequence as it is written. However, the reader can go directly to the topics of their choice. If you are interested in my personal history and already have some knowledge of Japanese society, you can read the 20 chapters dedicated to that topic, although my experiences will make more sense if you link them with the content of the chapters on Japanese society. If you are not interested in dealing with my experiences and prefer to focus on my point of view on contemporary society and its historical background, you can read only the 22 chapters dealing with these topics, preferably in the order in which they are written as I often cite the points discussed in previous chapters.

I try to make my story the closest to life itself, where work, love, studies, travel, field work, encounters, plans, chance and improvisation are mixed. I follow a time sequence from a trip to Japan prior to the start of my 31-year stay to the last day of that period. The account of the events alternates with their sociological, economic or psychosocial analysis, with the account or analysis predominant depending on the case. I privilege certain facts and processes at the expense of others, since to cover everything that happened in these years I would need several volumes. I am politically incorrect, trying to be faithful to what happened and leaving the value judgments in the hands of the reader. The account of my experience transcends the limits of Japan including trips and field work carried out in Europe and Latin America.

My goal is that both the experience of the researcher and Japanese society as an object of study appear as part of life itself in its various dimensions and not as part of a self-sufficient academic discipline far from the miseries and miracles of daily life. The researcher presented as a human being and the Japanese society shown in its closest version to everyday life. Hopefully I could have bridged life and the academic world in two ways: 1) showing that the researcher is a human being who not only reads, thinks and writes, and 2) that in this case his object of study is human beings of flesh and blood so they should be placed as close as possible to their concrete reality even though as part of their study it is not possible to avoid resorting to abstractions.

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