The rise of a mass consumer society and the spread of commercialized leisure are aspects of global modernity in the 20th century. In Japan, these phenomena emerged to prominence in the transwar decades from the 1920s through the 1960s. This essay argues that the ascendance of middle-class lifeways, consumption and leisure prominent among them, took place through a process that involved the transposing of difference as much as the diffusing of sameness. It identifies a causal dynamic in ‘transwar’ history, which extends the concept beyond political economy and beyond the simple claim that continuities stretch across the purported break of World War II.
The New Life Movement in postwar Japan was a set of loosely connected initiatives of government offices, women's groups, and corporations. Aimed entirely at women, the movement addressed a range of concerns, from morality and democratic social relations to kitchen redesign and public hygiene, but gender issues such as sex roles, reproduction and the definition of the “housewife” were central. This paper looks at all these activities, it examines in particular the efforts of dozens of major corporations to set up outreach programs to train the wives of male employees in skills of household management and child rearing. The New Life Movement was part of two crucial social and cultural processes in postwar history. It powerfully reinforced the idea that the needs of the corporation “naturally” were congruent with the needs of all Japanese people. And it naturalized a model of gender relations in which women of all social strata managed the home, while men managed the work place. This paper concludes by comparing these processes in Japan to similar ones in Europe and America.