How far does Japan’s social structure differ from those of other societies? Mainstream scholars identify numerous points of similarity, arguing that Japan has been engaged in a process of modernization and convergence with western models. Revisionists tend to emphasize the shortcomings and the dysfunctional aspects of Japanese society, challenging the dominant view of Japan as overly rose-tinted. For culturalist analysts, Japanese social structure can only be understood through the study of distinctive patterns of order and behaviour that reflect longstanding cultural norms and mores. One view that borrows from all three perspectives is the metaphor of Japanese society as an onion, where the bulk of the population can be viewed in terms of different concentric rings. At the core of the onion are the most privileged members of Japanese society: male, permanent employees of large companies. In the outer ring are disadvantaged groups such as migrant labourers and minorities. The middle rings contain blue-collar males, women, the elderly, people hired on short-term contracts, the self-employed, and employees of small enterprises. Generalizing about the Japanese is difficult, since those at the core of society are vastly more privileged and comfortable than those on the margins.
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