Transfers and the Private Lives of Public Servants in Japan: Teachers in Nagasaki’s Outer Islands

Blaine Phillip Connor

PhD Thesis 2010

Women's workforce participation has been rising in advanced capitalist countries over the past decades, leading to a question about whether concepts of gender and work are changing. Answering the question is important, because that rise has been associated with a drop in marriage and birth rates, worrying governments concerned about who will pay into social security, replace retirees, do military service, etc. The theory linking these trends is that "traditional" gender concepts (e.g., women as the primary homemakers) hamper women's ability to succeed at work. To address this question I researched public school teachers in Nagasaki, Japan. Men and women teachers work under equal conditions, including the obligation to accept relocations several times during their careers. Relocations challenge teachers’ work and family arrangements. Studying how teachers have dealt with them should reveal changes in concepts of work and gender. Through ethnographic fieldwork (2003-2006) in Nagasaki’s outer islands and archival research, I find that even though men and women teachers have long been asked to perform the same duties in terms of teaching courses, leading homerooms, serving on committees, interacting with parents, and accepting transfers and relocations, they respond to this "on-paper" gender-blind work environment in a way which reflects "traditional" gender concepts. Although both choose to relocate alone rather than disrupt a child's education or a parent's elder care, women feel their absence from the home is a burden on others, so tend to race home often, whereas men feel their presence in the home is disruptive to others, so tend to "tough it out" without returning much. And if the family is threatened by the parents' absence from home due to work, the woman is the one expected to quit. "Gender-blind" policies permit men and women to combine work and family, but men's and women's gender concepts continue to shape how they balance these sometimes competing commitments and goals. These findings show that equalizing workforce participation does not lead to changes in concepts of work and gender, nor to a diminishment of gender's significance, even when work policies are "gender-blind." Culture can persist despite social and legal changes.