Men of Uncertainty

The Social Organization of Day Laborers in Contemporary Japan

By Tom Gill

Subjects: Anthropology
Series: SUNY series in Japan in Transition
Paperback : 9780791448281, 281 pages, January 2001
Hardcover : 9780791448274, 281 pages, January 2001

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Note on the Text

1. Introduction


First Encounter
Day Laborers in the Political Economy of Japan
Outline of the Present Study


2. General Historical Background


Mushuku and Hinin
Hiyatoi : Burakumin :: Hinin : Eta?
The Preindustrial Proletariat
License, Welfare, Control
The Ninsoku Yoseba of 1790
The Industrial Revolution
The Interwar Years
The Postwar Yoseba
The Modern Construction Industry


3. Ethnography of Kotobuki


Play and Other Network Activities
Bureaucratic Systems
The Union


4. Ethnography of Other Doya-Gai and Yoseba


San'ya (Tokyo)
Kamagasaki (Osaka)
Sasashima (Nagoya)
Day Laboring in Fukuoka Prefecture
Other Yoseba


5. Who Are These Men?


Geographical Background
Occupational Background
Marital Status
Sibling Group Size and Sibling Birth Order
The War and the Big Move


6. The Meaning of Home


Why Mr. Shinohara Sleeps in the Street
Homelessness: Narrow and Broad Definitions
Symbolic Representations of Home


7. Marginal Identity in the Yoseba




8. The Role of the Yoseba in Contemporary Japanese Society


Zoned Tolerance
Marginal Geography
The View from the Mainstream
The View from Inside
Yoseba versus Skid Row
Containment versus Dispersal


9. Epilgue: The Rise of Uncertainty, the Fall of Solidarity

Appendix: Statistical Tables
Glossary of Yoseba Terms

A fascinating exploration of the subculture of Japanese day laborers, whose lives depart radically from the traditions of stability Westerners associate with Japan.


Men of Uncertainty presents an unknown side of Japanese society—the world of Japan's day laborers (hiiyatoi rodosha), the urban labor markets where these men gather to find work (yoseba), and the cheap lodging districts where many of them live (doya-gai). Nearly every major Japanese city has a yoseba. These are centers of proletariat culture in the heart of the postindustrial metropolis, similar in many ways to the prewar American skid row. Within these districts, day laborers tend to live outside the two dominant institutions of contemporary Japanese society: the nuclear family and the company.

Focusing mainly on the day-laboring district of Yokohama, and with extensive comparative ethnography from five other cities, author Tom Gill finds a society of men who have opted out of the regular, communal way of life. This book details their libertarian, egalitarian lifestyle, oriented to the present yet colored by an awareness that in Japan today being a yoseba man usually means exclusion from mainstream society, absence of family life, and a career that can easily lead to homelessness and an early death on the street.

Tom Gill is Associate Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, Tokyo University.


"The topic is important because it illustrates one of the little-known underlying bases of Japan's huge economy, as well as internal contradictions in Japan's supposedly smooth-running society, and Japan's poor record at handling specific social problems. The writing is elegant and crisp. The topic is fascinating. The author knows the subject extraordinarily well, and has organized his material into a truly fine book. " — Roman Cybriwsky, author of Tokyo: The Shogun's City at the Twenty-first Century

"This is an important book, comprehensively treating a stratum of Japanese workers who have not yet been thoroughly described in an English-language monograph. It will make a major impact. " — Gary P. Leupp, author of Servants, Shophands, and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan