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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Comparatively Happy – Objective Precarity and Subjective Exclusion in Germany and Japan

Model of resources and PrecarityOver the past decade, a new awareness of social inequality has emerged in Japan. The so-called gap society (kakusa shakai) has become a dominant topic in the media as well as the public and academic discourse. The topic’s popularity is closely connected to an individual fear of social decline on the micro level. Statistics show that the Japanese outlook on the future is rather bleak: 29% assume that their standard of living will worsen in the future – in 1992 only 10% had been of that opinion. Likewise, the share of Japanese who feel worried or insecure in their daily life has grown continuously since the early 1990ies and reached 70% in 2007. “Happiness” in a sense of subjective well-being seems to have become an increasingly rare commodity in contemporary Japan.

This raises the question as to what extent a subjective perception of one’s social status is actually congruent with one’s objective positioning in the social system. Recent sociological discourse on social inequality starts to pay attention not only to objectively precarious living conditions. A strong influence on individual courses of action is also ascribed to the subjective perception of social status. Who perceives themselves as socially integrated, who as excluded? Which factors are responsible for an evaluation of one’s position? Access to financial resources? Participation in social networks? Personal skills in comparison with others? Which interrelationships do exist between the different factors?

Just as in Japan, also in Germany the increasing precarity of living conditions is a prominent topic in the media as well as the academic discourse. In order to reach a better understanding of the interrelationship between discriminating positions of marginalization and subjective perceptions of social exclusion, researchers at the University of Kassel, Germany, developed a theoretical model which combines external and internal resources, objective exclusion and precarity as well as subjective perception of exclusion to one interactive system. In cooperation with the DIJ, the theoretical model will be tested in an empirical survey simultaneously in Germany and Japan. Thereby, it will not only be possible to analyze the interrelationships of the different factors in the respective country, but also to compare cross-culturally. Research at the DIJ will focus on the Japanese part of the survey.

For more information on the survey and results, please refer to Sources and Reference Materials.


Previous Staff

Carola Hommerich
Head of German-Japanese Relations and Comparisons Section

Selected Publications


[Wördemann, Raimund; Yamaguchi, Karin] Länderbericht Japan. Die Erarbeitung der Zukunft. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.
[Hommerich, Carola] Fear of social decline – first results of the DIJ survey . Sources and Reference Materials.
[Hommerich, Carola] Questionnaire 調査票 - Comparatively Happy, DIJ 2009 . Sources and Reference Materials.


[Yamada, Masahiro; Kobayashi, Jun] 孤立感―なぜ不安を抱くのか?[Feeling isolated – explaining experiences of uncertainty]
In: Yamada, Masahiro; Kobayashi, Jun (Ed.) データで読む現代社会:ライフスタイルとライフコース[Looking at present society through data: Lifestyle and lifecourse]. Tokyo: Shinyōsha. pp. 178-181.
[Trommsdorff, Gisela; Assmann, Wolfgang R.] Are Satisfied People Happy? Disentangling Subjective Well-being in Japan
In: Trommsdorff, Gisela; Assmann, Wolfgang R. (Ed.) Forschung fördern. Am Beispiel von Lebensqualität im Kulturkontext. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft. pp. 201-216.
Feeling Disconnected: Exploring the Relationship Between Different Forms of Social Capital and Civic Engagement in Japan
In: VOLUNTAS. 26 (1). pp. 45-68.
Adapting to risk, learning to trust: Socioeconomic insecurities and feelings of disconnectedness in contemporary Japan
In: Asiatische Studien/Etudes Asiatiques. 67(2). pp. 429-455.
The advent of vulnerability: Japan’s free fall through its porous safety net
In: Japan Forum. Vol. 24:2. pp. 205-232.
ステータス不安、孤立感、幸福度をめぐるメカニズムー日独比較調査の結果から (Mechanisms shaping status anxiety, feelings of disconnectedness and happiness – results of a German-Japanese comparative survey)
In: 中央調査報 (Chūō chōsa hō). No. 654. pp. 1-5.
Trust and Subjective Well-being after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Meltdown: Preliminary Results
In: International Journal of Japanese Sociology. Vol. 21. pp. 46-64.
[Chiavacci, David; Wieczorek, Iris] Neue Risiken, neues Selbstbild: Japan in verunsichernden Zeiten
In: Chiavacci, David; Wieczorek, Iris (Ed.) Japan 2011: Politik, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft. Vereinigung für sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung. pp. 259-294.

Working Papers (Book)

[Hommerich, Carola] Feeling Disconnected: Exploring the Relationship between Different Forms of Social Capital and Civic Engagement in Japan . Working Papers | Reports. Tokyo: Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien. 22 p.
[Hommerich, Carola; Schöneck, Nadine M.] Vorzeigenationen unter Druck? Wahrnehmungen von sozialer Ungleichheit und Statuserwerbsprozessen – Deutschland und Japan im Vergleich . Working Papers | Reports. Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien. Tokyo
[Hommerich, Carola] The Advent of Vulnerability. Japans' Free Fall through a Porous Safety Net. Working Papers | Reports. Tokyo: Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien. 35 p.


March 18, 2013
Social Inequality in Japan: A Reassessment

October 5, 2010
“Comparatively Happy” – Objective Precarity and Subjective Exclusion in Germany and Japan: Presentation and discussion of survey results

May 19, 2009
"Comparatively Happy" – Objective precarity and perception of social exclusion in Germany and Japan: Discussion of the German and Japanese Questionnaire