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Welfare society and welfare state in the Japanese-type discourse on civil society


This essay is a reexamination of the development of Japanese-type civil society theory from the analytical perspective of “welfare.” In postwar Japan a company-centric society was formed and dramatic economic growth was achieved, when the Japanese-type civil society theory came to uphold a center-left political ideology that examined the deficiencies of the Western–European-type welfare state and welfare state theory in Japan. But the welfare theory in Japanese-type civil society theory ultimately lacked a positive welfare state theory. From the 1970s to the 1980s, we could see the influence of “Japanese-type welfare society theory” that sought to bypass the welfare state and go directly to a welfare society, while Kiyoaki Hirata’s adoption of Gramsci could be positioned as an turning point in the history of this discourse where Japanese-type civil society theory crossed swords with “new civil society theory.”

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  1. Uchida had already been using the phrase “civil society” in his research notes since 1944.

  2. In Hegel, however, civil society was described as something positioned between the family and the state, and with the inclusion of the family it was not a simple dualism.

  3. For example, see Shinoda (2010) and Trägårdh (2007a, b) for studies pointing out how the theory of civil society/the state relied upon to defend the welfare state by the left in Sweden is close to Hegel’s approach. However, Yamaguchi (2004) points out that “Hegel’s focus on the problem of ‘poverty’ is laudable, but precisely speaking his theory, insofar as it makes the problem of ‘poverty’ an issue of ‘civil society’ and not ‘the state,’ today corresponds to ‘welfare society theory’ and cannot be described as ‘welfare state theory.’.

  4. “Typology of welfare regimes” and “varieties of capitalism” approaches refer to studies such as Esping-Andersen (1990) and Hall and Soskice (2001).

  5. Onodera (2015) deems the development of Japanese-type civil society theory exemplary of “modern” thought, and asserts that “Their [Japanese-type civil society theorists’] view was formed with an understanding that there is a “history” = development transcending spatial differences that humanity must realize, and that it should be possible to extract the universal framework that runs through human history from modern Western European thought. This universal framework was “civil society.” The formation of their discourse became possible because they elevated temporal universality over spatial particularity.”

  6. Regarding the dissemination and application of the concept of a civil minimum, see Muto (2017) from Sect. 2 onward.

  7. Okamoto (2016) argues that civil minimum theory and Kakuei Tanaka’s “Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago” that emerged during the same period around 1970 s were both conceptions of the welfare state unique to Japan.

  8. However, Wakamori (1998) points out that “what is lacking in Robson’s discourse is a theoretical examination of why a welfare state cannot create a welfare society.”

  9. See Masamura (1971, 1974, 1989, 2000) and Kishimoto (1979).

  10. The following account of Japanese-type welfare society theory is based on Fujita (2017).

  11. This article was mentioned in the Asahi Shimbun [newspaper] and was reprinted after 37 years in the March, 2012 issue of Bungeishunju. Today it is clear that conservative polemicist Kenichi Koyama, later the author of Eikokubyo [The British Disease], was at the center of the group.

  12. In the mid-1980 s the concept of welfare society, distinct from “Japanese-type welfare society theory,” came to be reexamined even in Japan. For example, Maruo (1984) made a new argument concerning the significance and validity of the provision of welfare through the market, and Masamura (1989) introduced the discourse of Myrdal and Robson.

  13. In 1978 Robson wrote a preface to the Japanese translation of Welfare State and Welfare Society in which he characterized Japan as an “incomplete or stagnant welfare state.”

  14. In an era in which welfare provided by families and family-like companies was being extolled in Japan, critical assertions such as the following made by Hirata would indeed have had difficulty finding agreement. “That which seems beyond the reach of we Japanese, that which seems absolute in Europe—that is where civil private ownership is to be found. This is a civil private ownership that has difficulty holding the place it should occupy in the traditional thought-patterns of Japanese who have lived in a family-structure society = state” (Hirata 1969).

  15. It can be speculated that if Japanese-type civil society theorists had been aware of the circumstances in various welfare state nations they would have praised Northern European countries like Sweden as near-ideal actual models at an earlier stage. In Sweden, from the 1870s onward, the formation of worker class consciousness overlapped with the formation of a “civil” or “national” awareness, and the Social Democratic Worker’s Party was made into a “national party (Ishihara 1996). Miyamoto (1999) highlights the intellectual role of Social Democratic Worker’s Party member Nils Karleby in the 1920s, and points out the similarities between his views and the “Marxism of the civil society faction” in Japan.

  16. See Hirata (1993). Hirsch (2005) describes that “speaking in terms of a comparison to Gramsci’s ‘integral state,’ an ‘integral economy’ way of thinking can be said to exist within the régulation approach … a relatively stable linkage of accumulation and régulation is connected to political and ideological hegemony.”

  17. Miyamoto and Ogawa (2005) point out that while with a civil form of social democracy perspectives and policies that overlap with the “reconstruction of individual property” in Japanese-type civil society can be found, there was also a relationship of tension with existing social democracy regarding the elevating of the logic of class over the logic of citizens.

  18. Hirata (1969) holds that the social division of labor is the substantial foundation that gives rise to civil society, thinks of this as bringing about the unity of the separation of production and interaction, and moreover asserts that “civil society is a society in which, while social labor is superficially divided up amongst individuals, social solidarity is confirmed by the external human act of exchange.”

  19. Regarding this kind of tripartite balance, there is presumably a strong connection to the discussion of markets, states, and communities and the corresponding values of freedom, justice, and care respectively. See Van Staveren (2001) and Fujita (2014).

  20. According to Rothstein and Trägårdh (2007), “until very recently the Swedish word “society” (samhälle) was used to describe both “state” and “(civil) society,” and “the Swedish state was administratively strong and centralized, but not authoritarian,” and when it came to the relationship between civil society and the state, a unique system was formed through the success of early neo-corporatism.”


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This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant number 17K03643.

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Correspondence to Nanako Fujita.

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This article is a revised and developed version of Fujita N (2018) Shimin shakai to fukushi shakai: Atarashii fukushi kokka no rinen to seisaku (Civil Society and Welfare Society: Ideas and Policies of the New Welfare State), in Yamada T, Uemura H, Harada Y, Fujita N (2018) Shimin shakai to minshushugi: regyurashion apurochi kara (Civil Society and Democracy: from Régulation approach), Fujiwara-shoten, Tokyo, 137–168. Permission for this usage has been obtained from the publisher, Fujiwara-shoten.

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Fujita, N. Welfare society and welfare state in the Japanese-type discourse on civil society. Evolut Inst Econ Rev 16, 503–521 (2019).

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  • Civil society
  • Welfare state
  • Welfare society
  • Japanese-type
  • Régulation

JEL Classification

  • B2
  • B3
  • H7
  • I3
  • N3