Labour History

Recent Developments in Japanese Labour History

Labour History (2014), 107, (1), 211–220.


There have been remarkable changes in Japanese labour history since the 1990s, especially since the beginning of the twenty-first century. First, there has been a shift in subject matter and themes studied. The most striking progress in the last decade has been in historical studies of white-collar workers and female workers in the silk-reeling industry. Second, there has been a diversification in the academic disciplines dealing with labour history. Third, notwithstanding the disciplinary diversification, labour organisation and institution have continued to attract growing interest. To understand such changes, this paper first takes up Andrew Gordon’s epoch-making work which appeared in 1985, and described in detail the century-long development of the “Japanese employment system.” However, while much attention is paid to the issues of “power and conflict,” blind spots remain. Second, drawing on my own recent work on new frontiers in the history of the “Japanese employment system,” the paper offers insights on problems that cannot be explained by the “power and conflict” theory approach. Third, the paper surveys major works on Japanese labour history over the last decade and clarifies that a recent trend in this field is reflected not only in the themes taken up in my work, but also in the explanatory approach adopted.

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Author details

Sugayama, Shinji