electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies
Discussion Paper 2 in 2007
Abe Kobo's Woman in the Dunes as a Metaphor for Human Relations Within Japanese Companies
Suna no onna (The Woman in the Dunes) is one of Abe Kobo's masterpieces. In this novel, the protagonist, Niki Jumpei, visits a village while out collecting insects and is tricked by villagers, who take him to a house situated in a deep hole in the dunes. Being unwilling to stay there, he struggles to escape. This story may appear to be portraying a surreal world; however, in my opinion, such a world really exists. Japanese organizations such as schools and government ministries and agencies are examples of such a world. Of these, in this paper, I will consider the Japanese company (kaisha) since it befittingly symbolizes Japanese society. From my perspective, the story of this novel explains the process of marriage between a salaryman and the kaisha. Here, the word 'salaryman' is not a genuine English word but a Japanese-English one. Such a person would be referred to as a 'company employee' in English. However, I deliberately use the word 'salaryman' in order to express the traits of a Japanese company employee. Similarly, I use the Japanese word 'kaisha' to express the characteristics of a Japanese company in which shūshin koyō is one of its main attributes. Moreover, it is appropriate to compare shūshin koyō to marriage, since 'illicit love', or adultery, is prohibited in both cases. Even if a married person is attracted to another, the former has a moral obligation to abandon the adulterous relationship. Similarly, even if a salaryman is attracted by re-employment at another company, he has to abandon this desire because the kaisha regards it as serious treacherous behaviour. In this way, ‘marriage' could be understood as a form of confinement. Thus, although almost all Japanese-English dictionaries translate the Japanese term shūshin koyō as 'lifetime employment', and James Abegglen insists that the accurate English translation of this term is 'lifetime commitment' (Abegglen 2004: 27), in this paper I will argue that shūshin koyō should be translated as ‘lifetime confinement', implying that the salaryman is a prisoner in the kaisha.
It should be noted that a salaryman's married life with the kaisha does not end until he dies. He leads this married life until the retirement age of sixty or so. However, after retirement, he spends the rest of his life with the business title that was conferred on him at the time of retirement. Therefore, psychologically, he continues to be married to the kaisha. This is the true meaning of the word shūshin (lifetime). Furthermore, a president or a chairperson assumes the role of a corporate adviser or a chairperson emeritus after his retirement. Hence, such people virtually lead their corporate married lives until their death.
Furthermore, a recruit who joins a firm characterised by shūshin koyō is expected to display 'cooperativeness' with his sempai, or the other salarymen who have already married the kaisha. I refer to these individuals as 'senior salarymen', who are core members of the kaisha. The recruit, however, is a kōhai, or junior salaryman and, as such is still on the company periphery. As part of his training, the senior salarymen compel the recruit to acknowledge the importance of cooperativeness, but the recruit is often rebellious towards this pseudo-cooperative culture. However, he gradually acknowledges the fact that he has to survive in the kaisha and, eventually, he also becomes a senior salaryman and teaches the importance of cooperativeness to other recruits. This structure helps in maintaining order in the kaisha.
Apart from the salarymen, there are certain marginal people in the kaisha. These are the part-timer workers (pāto and arubaito) and the temporary employees that are dispatched by personnel agencies (hakenshain). At the onset of a business depression, such workers become the objects of dismissal; this is because the kaisha cannot easily dismiss senior salarymen (Kumazawa 2003: 57-61). In other words, the marginal workers function as disposable shock absorbers. Unlike the salarymen, while the part-time workers are free to choose their occupations their future is not secure since they do not have any guarantee of employment. Moreover, although the temporary employees dispatched by personnel agencies are guaranteed employment, this guarantee does not cover the nature of their work. Due to several factors such as business depression, the kaisha may choose to violate their side of the labour contracts signed with such employees.
Unlike the temporary employees, senior salarymen do not have the freedom to choose their occupations. However, their future is secure since their employment is protected by the kaisha. At least, they have the illusion of being protected unless they are dismissed due to risutora, death resulting from overwork (karōshi), or the bankruptcy of the kaisha. Of all these people, I would like to focus on the new recruits and the senior salarymen. In particular, I aim to describe the manner in which the kaisha transforms the recruit into a senior salaryman.
It may be assumed that a senior salaryman is an old-fashioned concept in Japan. Indeed, the novel Suna no onna was first published in 1962. At the time it was not easy for the Japanese to travel to foreign countries and they could not imagine developing contacts with people around the world with the help of the Internet. However, in contemporary society, Japanese people can easily travel abroad and exchange e-mails with foreigners. Therefore, one may suppose that, due to worldwide contacts, individualism has finally developed among the Japanese. However, Japanese universality—being their emphasis on cooperativeness—also hides under the mask of Japanese individualism. Abe Kobo's novel excellently portrays this state of affairs. The kaisha is one of its forms. In fact, Japanese business scholars continue to emphasize the importance of shūshin koyō that compels salarymen to cooperate with their colleagues (Itami, Nishiguchi and Nonaka eds. 2000, Itami 2002 and Iwai 2003).
This paper aims to consider this Japanese universality by discussing the internal relational dynamics of the kaisha. Below I will describe the kaisha with reference to Abe's novel and I will conclude with a reform proposal for the kaisha. In these arguments, I will focus on large Japanese companies, since they represent a microcosm of Japanese universality. However, medium and small companies also show a restricted version of Japanese universality due to their economic uncertainty, which results in greater labour market flexibility. Thus, when such companies develop into large companies, they are likely to fall prey to the same illness that affects large companies. Hence, in this analysis, I aim to explore the nature of this illness and suggest a method for its treatment.
The Plot of the Novel
One day, Niki Jumpei, the protagonist of the novel, visits a village in the dunes while out collecting insects. He dreams of discovering a new variety of insect and of his name appearing in the illustrated encyclopaedias of entomology. So engrossed is Niki in insect collecting that he misses the final return bus. Therefore, he requests a villager to help him locate an inn. Under the pretext of kindness, the villager and his colleagues trick Niki and confine him in a solitary house that is situated in a deep hole. In this hole lives a woman who is involved in the activity of clearing away sand from the hole. The villagers compel Niki to cooperate with her in shovelling the sand because if the sand is not cleared, the entire village is in danger of being buried. He refuses to help and even attempts to escape from the hole on five occasions. His first attempt involves repeatedly scooping out sand from underneath the cliff that surrounds the hole on the assumption that the ground level under his feet will gradually rise and he will ultimately reach the level of the top of the hole. His second attempt is to restrain the woman and threaten the villagers. The third attempt is to escape from the hole while the woman is asleep by using a rope that he has made himself. His fourth attempt involves attempting to capture a crow and use it as a carrier pigeon. The fifth attempt is to try to negotiate with the villagers to allow him to climb up the cliff and momentarily look out over the sea. However, all his attempts meet with failure. His third attempt at escaping is particularly dramatic; he even temporarily succeeds. However, he falls into another more terrible hole, shioanko (quicksand), and cannot move at all. He fears that this could have led to his death without any records, not even a death certificate. However, the villagers rescue him and return him to the hole. Yet, he still does not give up. He tries to establish contact with people who lie outside the village and to this end, he sets up a trap for a crow that regularly visits the hole. However, he is unable to catch it at all and strikes water instead. Following this, he becomes engrossed in the water trap, thinking that it gives him some independence from the villagers.
Meanwhile, the villagers are under the impression that Niki will eventually abandon the idea of escaping from the hole because they believe that he will have a sexual relationship with the woman, which will become a de facto marriage. It is with that expectation that they make the two live together from the beginning. As expected, he does have sexual relations with her and she becomes pregnant with his child. When she goes into labour, the villagers lower a rope from the top of the hole so as to take her to the hospital. For some reason, this rope remains even after she is taken to the hospital. Niki finally gets an opportunity to escape; however, he does not do so because he has become so engrossed in recording the actions of the water trap.
The Characters from the Viewpoint of Drama in the Kaisha
In this section, I will consider the characters in the novel as representing people in the kaisha and explore their situation from the viewpoint of drama. I have indicated their roles in Table 1. The protagonist, Niki Jumpei, represents a new recruit. In fact, Niki is not a recruit but a mid-career salaryman since he was a teacher before being confined by the villagers in the hole (Abe 1991: 19, Abe 2003: 23). Despite his being mid-career, from the perspective of the kaisha Niki is a new recruit, and I regard him as such because it facilitates the explanation of a marriage between the salaryman and the kaisha. The villagers represent senior salarymen, who are closely connected to the kaisha. Compared to them, the new recruit is a rather ambiguous person. Even though the recruit has entered the kaisha, he is not yet psychologically connected with it. Here, it may be noted that I have deliberately represented the senior salarymen in the plural form in order to lay emphasis on their cooperativeness. However, I consider the recruit as a singular entity because he has yet to learn the importance of cooperativeness. Finally, the woman and the hole together represent the kaisha. In this novel, the village is comprised of several holes. Each hole corresponds to a department or section within the kaisha. For salarymen, the kaisha indicates an immediate department (section) to which they belong. Similarly, for Niki, the kaisha takes on the form of the hole, in which he is confined.
Table 1: The Characters from the Viewpoint of Drama in the Kaisha
If these characters are considered as playing the above-mentioned roles, this novel can be interpreted as follows. One day, a man (Niki) obtains a job at the kaisha (the hole). Before his employment, the senior salarymen (the villagers) are kind to him. However, immediately after he joins the kaisha, they make him work very hard. He rebels against this compulsion and attempts to change his job; this attempt is interrupted by the resistance of the senior salarymen. They not only force him to continue working in the kaisha (the hole) but also encourage him to establish a close relationship with it (the woman). Finally, the new recruit gives up the idea of changing jobs; this implies that he too is ready to become a senior salaryman.
In summary, this novel describes the process of a 'marriage' between the recruit and the kaisha. However, the novel does not depict this marriage directly, as it is expressed by means of a sexual relationship between Niki and the woman (Abe 1991: 139-141, Abe 2003: 156-159). In particular, it was important that the woman became pregnant (Abe 1991: 238, Abe 2003: 264). This is commonly referred to as dekichatta kekkon (a shotgun marriage because of the birth of a baby) in Japan. From the novel, it cannot be inferred whether the woman gave birth to the baby without any trouble. It could have been a stillbirth since it is an extra-uterine pregnancy. In any case, because of her pregnancy, Niki and the woman cannot thereafter be separated.
During the process that leads to the marriage, the villagers indoctrinate Niki with the importance of cooperativeness. This implies that Japanese cooperativeness is not congenital but acquired. Tao also mentions that a recruit is trained to be a kaisha ningen (company man) (Tao 1998: 116). In this context, the kaisha ningen refers to a salaryman who emphasizes the importance of cooperativeness. In the novel, Niki represents a lone wolf who does not cooperate with his colleagues since he is expressing his independence by collecting insects 'alone'. His lone effort at collecting insects expresses the germ of independence. Had he teamed up with others to collect insects, cooperativeness, and not independence would have been cultivated. Of these two values, Niki respects independence rather than cooperativeness. He believes that his idea of independence will be reinforced when his name will appear in italics in the illustrated encyclopaedias of entomology. With this end in view, he has to catch a new species of insect all by himself. However, it is necessary for the villagers to correct his faulty way of thinking because if they do not, they are convinced that they will endanger their village. In fact, they regard him as a deterrent to their cooperative culture. Therefore, they have to teach him the importance of cooperativeness.
In the novel, the importance of cooperativeness is expressed as aikyō seishin (love your home) (Abe 1991: 22, Abe 2003: 26). This motto is written on a calligraphic plaque that is hung on the entrance to the village cooperative offices. Niki reads the letters before being confined in the hole by the villagers. This plaque suggests his future correct way of thinking. After being confined in the hole and when not yet aware of his confinement, the woman informs him that the villagers follow this motto. On hearing this, it seems that Niki laughs at his own future (Abe 1991: 37-38, Abe 2003: 44). The same applies to a salaryman. Interestingly, if a kanji (Chinese character), kyō, which is a part of aikyō, is changed into another kanji, sha, which is a part of kaisha, the motto becomes aisha seishin (love your company). This reflects the true nature of shaze shakun (a company's mission statement, the motto of a company) that the senior salarymen indoctrinate in a recruit.
The Characters from the Viewpoint of Jungian Psychology
I would like to analyse the aforementioned characters from another viewpoint—that of Jungian psychology. As shown in Table 2, Niki, the protagonist represents the 'ego', which is a Jungian term. The ego is the core of the conscious. Jungian psychologists consider the human heart—they refer to it as the psyche—to consist of the conscious (ego) and the unconscious (Kawai 1967: 194). Figure 1 depicts the psyche. Its lower part constitutes the unconscious, which is represented in black. It opens towards emptiness. This implies the boundlessness of the unconscious. In contrast, the upper part represents the conscious, which is white. The intermediate area between the unconscious and the conscious is represented by a gradation between black and white. This implies that as the psychological level deepens, the unconscious gradually becomes dominant as against the conscious. The core of the conscious—the ego—judges and recognizes the external world (Kawai 1967: 68). In this way, this novel is written from Niki's perspective and the other characters' relationships to Niki, as well as their role in his consciousness, are described in table 2 below.
Table 2: The Characters from the Viewpoint of Jungian Psychology
Figure 1: The Psyche.
Niki does not cooperate with his colleagues in insect collecting; however, he has the potential for acknowledging the importance of cooperativeness. Before being made aware of his confinement, he regards himself as a 'guest'. Strangely, he nevertheless 'voluntarily' helps the woman to shovel sand (Abe 1991: 34-36, Abe 2003: 40-43). In ordinary circumstances, the guest is unlikely to help his landlady since he pays her accommodation charges. It is also his intention to pay her (Abe 1991: 20, Abe 2003: 24). However, he considers it quite normal for him to help her (Abe 1991: 35, Abe 2003: 41). This confirms that he has a latent potential to acknowledge his shadow, cooperativeness.
The woman represents the 'anima', which is a Jungian term that implies the psychological female image of man (Kawai 1967: 193, 201-210). For example, Miyazaki Hayao, a famous Japanese animated film director, frequently makes films with female protagonists as heroines. In particular, Naucicaä is his typical image of the anima. She has a mutually contradictory character. On one hand, she is a kind girl. When other people try to kill an insect, she protects it by risking her own life. On the other hand, she is also a violent girl. When her father is killed by her enemies, she makes frantic efforts to kill them.
According to Jung, the anima is a bridge that connects the conscious (ego) with the unconscious (Jung 1989 : 392). In the novel, the woman actually plays a role in guiding Niki from the conscious world to the unconscious world. Here, the conscious implies a 'rational world' and the unconscious implies an 'irrational world'. Since Niki represents the ego, he is not familiar with the latter, barbarian world (Abe 1991: 67, Abe 2003: 77-78). Ironically, had he been familiar with it, he would not have been confined in the hole at all, or even if he were confined in it, he would have been able to escape. His conversation with one of villagers demonstrates his rational way of thinking. After the failure of his second escape attempt, he proposes various 'rational ideas' to a villager—for example, the development of a new sightseeing resort, the cultivation of crops that are suited to the sand and the construction of breastworks against the sand. The villager replies by stating that his confinement is 'cheaper' than these 'rational ideas'. Niki is discouraged by the villager's 'irrational idea' (Abe 1991: 148-153, Abe 2003: 166-171). However, what is a completely irrational idea for Niki is a rational idea for the villagers, whose rational idea, though completely selfish, is enveloped in cooperativeness. In other words, it is important for them to emphasize the importance of cooperativeness in order to hide their selfishness. Their attitude does not indicate cooperativeness in the strict sense of the word. They are ready to cooperate with their colleague only if he is at their beck and call. In other words, the villagers' cooperativeness is limited only to their circle (Ito 2005).
Their selfishness has come from the 'great mother', a concept that is represented by the hole in the novel. In fact, the hole confesses its selfishness through the woman's mouth (Abe 1991: 223, Abe 2003: 246). The Jungian concept of the great mother constitutes two aspects: positive and negative. The positive aspect refers to the productive function of children. This may lead to a misunderstanding that the great mother is not selfish but kind. However, this is not true—the great mother has a negative aspect as well, which is the function of engulfment of her children. In other words, the great mother produces her children in order to swallow them up. This confirms the selfish behaviour of the great mother, since she does not attach any importance to her children's will. Throughout the world, the great mother is portrayed by the mother earth (Kawai 1967: 91). The soil is a typical image of the great mother because it is a medium in which a plant grows as well as dies. However, in terms of its positive aspect (production of children), sand is much weaker than soil and in terms of its negative aspect (engulfment of children), sand is much stronger than soil. In fact, few plants can grow in sand. In particular, rice, a Japanese staple food, cannot grow in sand but in soil (a paddy field). In the novel, Niki is portrayed as stepping out of his familiar world of soil into the world of sand (Abe 1991: 7, Abe 2003: 8).
The Relationship among the Criminals and the Purpose of the Crime
In the previous section, I described the characters with reference to Jungian psychology. In this section, I will discuss the relationship among the criminals and the purpose of their crime by taking into account the previous section. First, I want to clarify the identity of the true criminal. The novel mentions that the villagers and the woman imprison Niki in the hole. However, in my opinion, the hole (great mother) is the true criminal. The villagers (shadow) and the woman (anima) are accessories to this crime. From the Jungian perspective, all of them are unconscious entities, and there should be no hierarchical relationship among them. However, in this novel, as shown in Figure 2, the hole (great mother) is in a deeper part of the unconscious, and it manipulates the villagers (shadow) and the woman (anima), who are in a comparatively shallower part of the unconscious. This viewpoint is explained by the fact that Niki (ego) can personify the images of both anima and shadow as the woman and the villagers, respectively. This implies that Niki (ego) is somewhat aware of their images but he is unable to personify the image of the great mother, which implies that unlike the way in which he imagines the anima and the shadow, he cannot be conscious of the image of the great mother. In this conception, the woman is only a puppet controlled by the threads of vision (Abe 1991: 90, Abe 2003: 99). Niki is barely aware that there are a million eyes behind the woman; however, he fails to identify the existence, i.e. the hole (great mother).
Figure 2: The Relationship among the Criminals
Such a situation is advantageous for the hole (great mother) in order to achieve its purpose—the acquisition of a slave who can protect the hole from the sand. It is interesting to note that the hole has an ambivalent attitude towards the sand. The hole can only exist by virtue of the sand since it is situated in the sand; however, it fears the sand since it is in danger of being buried by it, which would imply the death of the hole. In short, the sand is the hole's Creator as well as its Grim Reaper. This implies that the sand is the great mother for the hole. As mentioned in the former section, the sand almost lacks the positive aspect of the great mother―the productive function of children. However, in its relationship with the hole, the sand is a genuine great mother with both the positive and the negative aspects. In this context, the great mother (the hole) is afraid of an even more powerful great mother (the sand).
Therefore, it is necessary for the hole to protect itself from the sand. Before Niki comes to the hole, the woman (anima) temporarily protects the hole since from the hole's perspective, she is nearer to the ego (see Figure 2). However, she does not possess sufficient ability to do it (Abe 1991: 59, Abe 2003: 68). For this reason, it psychologically manipulates the villagers, i.e. Niki's shadow, and makes them bring him to the hole. It is not sufficient on the part of the villagers to bring him to the hole since he constantly attempts to escape from it. Therefore, the hole has to tie him to itself and the woman, i.e. his anima is its means to do so since as mentioned in the previous section, the anima connects the ego with the unconscious. The hole (great mother) operates the woman (anima) and binds him (ego) to the hole by making him have a sexual relationship with the woman instead of with the hole. He is aware that if he were to embrace her, it would be his turn to be controlled (Abe 1991: 90, Abe 2003: 99); nevertheless, he eventually has sex with her.
As mentioned above, the hole is the master of the villagers and the woman; however, it shares a common feature with them. Keene (2003: 14) mentions that the woman does not have a name. However, not only the woman but also the villagers and the hole do not have names. In short, they are nameless entities. Kawai mentions that knowing the shadow's name is the first step towards being aware of it. This also applies to the anima and the great mother. However, Niki does not know their names; interestingly, he does not try to enquire their names even once. This fact implies that his (ego's) power is insufficient for him to be conscious of their true nature. In fact, Niki almost looses his own name after being confined in the hole (Kimura 2003: 225). Eventually, he too is likely to become a completely nameless man because of his marriage with the nameless woman—a scenario that is diametrically opposed to his dream that his name would appear in the illustrated encyclopaedias of entomology.
Reduction of Cognitive Dissonance
The hole succeeds in tying Niki to it by making the woman have a sexual relationship with him; nevertheless Niki is still unwilling to stay in the hole. The ultimate aim of the hole is to convince him into wanting to stay in it. Its means is his discovery of the water trap. In the last part of the novel, he sets a trap for a crow in the hole because he wants to call for help by using the crow as a carrier pigeon (Abe 1991: 211-212, Abe 2003: 233-234). However, he fails to catch any crows, but strikes water instead. After this occurrence, he becomes engrossed in the water trap (Abe 1991: 232-237, Abe 2003: 258-264). Because of this, he finds a positive meaning to his undesirable confinement (Currie 2003: 78-80, Kimura 2003: 238, Kobayashi Osamu 2003: 215, 217). His view about the world changes as a result of this water trap (Tsuruta 2003: 100-101). In social psychology, this phenomenon is called reduction of cognitive dissonance, the theory of which implies that one's behaviour changes one's mind (Nishida 1995: 115-137). For example, one knows that smoking is detrimental to health; nevertheless, one cannot quit smoking. Hence, the mind is dissonant to the behaviour (smoking). Thus, one actively tries to avoid understanding such knowledge or obtaining critical information on it. As a result, one can continue smoking without anxiety since one has been successful in reducing one's cognitive dissonance between one's mind and behaviour (Nishida 1995: 123-124).
The hole also reduces Niki's cognitive dissonance between his mind and his confinement. He is convinced that he 'voluntarily' discovered the water trap and he acquires a great sense of achievement by virtue of his 'discovery' (Abe 1991: 233-236, Abe 2003: 259-262). However, in reality, it is not a real water trap, but a trap set by the hole for Niki. Had he escaped from the hole, he would have had to abandon the water trap, and his efforts would have been futile (Kimura 2003: 237-238). Rather than abandoning his discovery, Niki is absorbed in studying it. Due to his study, he starts cooperating with the woman, and collectively, they acquire a certain common object. She has desired a radio for a long time (Abe 1991: 186-187, Abe 2003: 206-207, 263). He also wants it to know the weather forecast, which is indispensable to his study. When they finally get the radio, the woman becomes pregnant (Abe 1991: 238, Abe 2003: 264). The villagers lower a rope from the top of the hole and take her to the hospital. However, they leave the rope in the hole, thus finally offering Niki the opportunity to escape. He emerges from the hole with the help of the rope and looks back at the hole, his real shadow moves at the bottom of the hole (Abe 1991: 239, Abe 2003: 265). This implies that Niki acknowledges the importance of cooperativeness. Subsequently, he finds that his water trap is broken just near his shadow, so he 'voluntarily' returns to the hole in order to investigate the trap. He crouches down and does not stir an inch in the hole. The hole finally succeeds in capturing him.
The Story of the Transformation of the Ego
The above story narrates the process of transformation that takes place in the ego (Niki). The hole desires a subordinate ego, which I call a 'manipulated ego' which is depicted in Figure 3. In this figure, the white area is narrower than that in Figure 1, which implies that the conscious is corroded by the unconscious due to the passivity of the manipulated ego. On the contrary, I call an ego that fights against the unconscious a 'confrontational ego' which is depicted in Figure 4. In this figure, the white area is wider than that in Figure 1, which implies that the conscious becomes superior to the unconscious due to the activity of the confrontational ego. Niki could potentially be transformed into both types of ego. In other words, he is in the middle of adolescence, i.e. the growth period of the ego. However, the hole forcibly deprives him of the potential to become the confrontational ego and transforms him into the manipulated ego. In fact, some scenes indicate the possibility of his transformation in a confrontational ego. For example, when he voluntarily helps the woman at the onset, he is furious at the things that bind the woman (Abe 1991: 39-40, Abe 2003: 47). However, till the end of the story, he is unaware that the true object of his anger is the hole.
Figure 3: The Manipulated Ego
Figure 4: The Confrontational Ego
The reason why the hole wants the manipulated ego is that it has to form the psyche in order to avoid the sand's engulfment. It is important to remember the explanation of the psyche to understand this. As explained earlier, the psyche consists of the conscious (ego) and the unconscious (see Figure 1). This suggests that it will no longer be the human psyche if human beings do not have an ego since they cannot judge and recognize the external world without it. This most dreadful situation would result if the hole were swallowed up by the even more powerful great mother, i.e. the sand. The hole has to prevent itself from falling prey to such a situation by acquiring an advantageous ego to the hole, i.e. the manipulated ego; nevertheless it is unable for the hole to produce such an ego since it is a hole in the sand, which lacks the positive aspect of the great mother, i.e. the productive function of children. The hole solves this serious dilemma by capturing the immature ego (Niki) and transforming it into the manipulated ego. As a result, it can prevent the sand from swallowing up the hole by forming the psyche.
Future of the Recruit after his Marriage with the Kaisha
This section describes the future of the recruit (Niki) on the basis of the above-mentioned discussions. Prior to the discussion, I reiterate that Niki does not marry the hole (great mother), but the woman (anima). His marriage implies his warped future. He continues to be dissatisfied with the kaisha (great mother). However, he will no more attempt to leave the kaisha (great mother) since he has married the kaisha (anima) and has found a positive aspect of his confinement—'his voluntary discovery' of the water trap. Thus, he may join a union since it is an enterprise union (Wolferen 1990: 68-69). Such a union is predicated on the salaryman's marriage to the kaisha. Otherwise he only turns his anger against himself. For calming his anger down, he is not likely to go any further than drinking sake (Japanese rice wine) and backbiting with his colleagues about his superiors at an akachōchin (bar). In fact, the novel portrays Niki as drinking shōchū (Japanese distilled spirit) (Abe 1991: 126-127, Abe 2003: 141-142).
Despite his voluntarily desire to stay in the kaisha, the salaryman spends every day in a state of depression. However, his depressive days do not continue forever because he is gradually promoted by means of nenkō joretsu (seniority). The reason for his promotion is that he has learned the importance of cooperativeness, or aisha seishin (love your company). As he is promoted to a higher position, he gradually loses his role as the ego. On the contrary, since he is swallowed in the unconscious in inverse proportion to his promotion, he also becomes one of the senior salarymen (shadow) (see Figure 2). His promotion helps in maintaining order in the kaisha. Milgram mentions that promotion ensures the continuity of the hierarchical form (Milgram 1975 : 138). In that respect, his promotion does not imply his success in life but his failure. In fact, soon after his promotion and consequent acquisition of a more responsible position, he may die due to overwork (karōshi). Indeed, the novel portrays the karōshi of a postcard dealer (Abe 1991: 117-118, Abe 2003: 130-131). Even if the salaryman dies from karōshi, there are several substitutes for him in the kaisha.
A Reform Plan of the Kaisha: Ego Drain
Thus far, I have considered the true nature of the kaisha. In this section, I propose a reform plan for it, which involves the brain drain of the salaryman. In this paper, I refer to it as 'ego drain'. Due to this, the future of the kaisha is wholly dependent on the senior salarymen who remain at the kaisha. Their ideas would be useful for the kaisha only if they considered its future by using their own minds without retaining any connection with the escaped salaryman. The aim of ego drain is to urge them to have a sense of independence.
Ego drain is so drastic that it is capable of giving the kaisha a sort of 'shock therapy'. The important feature of this idea is to disturb the balance (order) between the ego (a capable salaryman) and the unconscious (the kaisha). As mentioned above, in order to avoid the sand's engulfment, the kaisha has to form the psyche, a combination of the ego and the unconscious. The kaisha requires the manipulated ego for this purpose and makes the capable salaryman play this role. Here, the word 'capable' implies the capability of achieving the formation of the psyche. In other words, the word implies that the salaryman is highly estimated as the ego by the kaisha. This estimation brings confinement for the salaryman in the kaisha. However, using this very estimation, it is possible for him to react against the kaisha; he can simply leave the kaisha and go abroad. This is called 'ego drain'. If expressed as a metaphor for marriage; it would be 'divorce'. Since the recruit has married the kaisha, he can obtain a divorce from it. Obtaining a divorce is considered to be a 'privilege' of the married man since a single man cannot avail himself of it. After he obtains a divorce from the kaisha, the salaryman can get a new job, establish a venture firm or become a consultant in a foreign country. Ego drain does not necessarily imply being re-employed in a foreign company. His future then completely depends on him. It is no longer related to the kaisha to any extent.
This idea comprises two difficulties. The first difficulty pertains to identifying a capable salaryman. Ego drain can become a reform plan for the kaisha only if the salaryman who wants to quit the kaisha is indispensable to the kaisha. As mentioned above, this person is called a capable salaryman. If a nondescript salaryman quits the kaisha, the kaisha is undisturbed since it does not regard him as an ego and has several substitutes for him. In other words, a nondescript salaryman is regarded as a disposable person in the kaisha, whereas a capable salaryman is a non-disposable person. The kaisha would be in a state of shock only if the latter leaves. However, almost all salarymen are likely to be convinced that they are capable salarymen. A trial of resignation is a method of judging whether a salaryman is really capable. When a salaryman expresses his desire to quit the kaisha, only if he is clung to and detained by the senior salarymen is he capable for the kaisha's purpose. In contrast, a salaryman who is not prevented from leaving the kaisha is a nondescript salaryman. In a worst case, the senior salarymen may continue to be unaware of his resignation even after he has actually quit the kaisha. However, such a salaryman would not even leave the kaisha since he wants to be protected. Thus, he has no choice but to become a senior salaryman who works devotedly for the kaisha.
The second difficulty is the method by which to obtain a divorce from the kaisha. This method is the germ of another kind of ego that discloses the true nature of the kaisha. As depicted in Figure 5, I refer to it as a dialogical ego. Such an ego has the capability of listening and talking to the unconscious. Kawai mentions that it is important to have a conversation with the shadow in order to gain more knowledge about the shadow (Kawai 1987: 266). It is suitable not only for the shadow but also for all unconscious entities including the anima and the great mother. By conversing with them, the dialogical ego can obtain useful hints that disclose the true nature of the unconscious entities. In the novel, the dialogical ego is represented by the government office (Abe 1991: 18-19, Abe 2003: 21-23) since the official not only listens to examinees but also questions them. The villagers are afraid of the government office's investigation because the official possesses the ability of disclosing the true nature of the hole. As mentioned in the previous section, Niki has the potential of being the dialogical ego as well as the manipulated ego, as suggested in the conversation that he has with the villager. However, Niki's dialogical ego is too weak to disclose the true criminal, the hole. His fatal flaw is that he does not try to understand the meaning of the villager's remarks. He only tells the villager what he wants to say (Abe 1991: 148-153, Abe 2003: 166-171). In fact, he himself estimates that his dialogical ego is weak. His self-evaluation demonstrates that he is unfit to be a writer because he regards the wish to become a writer as egotism (Abe 1991: 112, Abe 2003: 125-126). He believes that a writer wants to distinguish between himself and his puppets by converting himself into a puppeteer. However, preventing Niki from becoming a writer is a secret design of the true puppeteer, the hole. He is unaware of this up to the last moment.
Figure 5: The Dialogical Ego
The merit of the dialogical ego lies in not only the detection of the true nature of the unconscious entities but also the protection of the salaryman who has resigned. While he works at the kaisha, he plays the role of the ego for the kaisha. However, according to another point of view, the kaisha plays the role of the unconscious for him. If he suddenly quits the kaisha in such a situation, he will lose contact with the unconscious. Therefore, leaving the kaisha, such a person is separated from the unconscious; thereby, he plummets into a very dangerous situation wherein his feet cannot even touch the ground. Such a situation is called 'ego inflation' in Jungian psychology (Kawai 1967: 223). Due to ego inflation, the salaryman runs a risk of turning into a haughty man who is detested by everyone. Since a man cannot live alone, it would be difficult for him to achieve social success. However, such a salaryman can prevent ego inflation even though he quits the kaisha only after having a conversation with the unconscious with the help of the dialogical ego.
Problems regarding Three Other Practical Reform Plans
Ego drain may appear to be a very drastic reform plan. Thus, instead of my idea, three other practical reform plans may be proposed.
Change of job in Japan
Establishment of a venture firm or becoming a consultant in Japan
Maintaining patience at the kaisha
The first idea is that of a change of job in Japan. It is not necessary for a salaryman to go abroad in order to obtain a divorce from the kaisha; it is sufficient for him to get a new job at another kaisha. Such an action would indeed cause ego drain in the kaisha; however, it will only add to the salaryman's misfortune since he will simply fall into another hole. This scenario resembles the situation Niki is in when he was trapped in another terrible hole, shioanko, while attempting to escape (Abe 1991: 200-203, Abe 2003: 222-226). Similar to him, the salaryman will suffer terribly at the new kaisha and eventually abandon his struggle, being too old to fight against the new kaisha. As Hirose mentions, the world inside the hole is similar to the world outside (Hirose 2003: 132, 142). This is true in the case of Japan. However, my idea, ego drain aims at liberating the salaryman from both the internal and the external world of the hole.
The second reform plan is to establish a venture firm or to become a consultant in Japan. The salaryman is worried that he is shachiku (a company slave), who is forced to work hard by the kaisha. Thus, one can suggest to him the idea of establishing a new venture firm and assuming the role of its president. However, he in turn becomes a senior salaryman, i.e. the president who wants to bring another victim to the venture firm and make him marry the firm. This is merely the formation of a new kaisha wherein the same drama will be played, the only difference being the change of the protagonist.
There are likely to be some salarymen who no longer want to belong to a kaisha or any other organization; instead, they may want to become consultants. However, these will be absorbed into another, more powerful great mother—Japan—since the problems of the kaisha(s) reflect the problems of Japan. In other words, the kaisha is a microcosm of Japanese society (see Introduction).
The third reform plan involves exercising patience while continuing work at the kaisha. The salaryman can be advised to endure cold treatment for a while. Once he is promoted to the post of the president or an equivalent title, he can reform the kaisha by means of his acquired authority. However, this might be the secret design of the kaisha since it implies the achievement of his enslavement to the kaisha which plots to keep itself alive by using him. Thus, even if he succeeds in being promoted to the post of president, he cannot propose a drastic plan for the improvement of labour conditions. He can only propose a trivial plan in consonance with the secret design of the kaisha, i.e. the enslavement of the salarymen.
Therefore, these practical plans will fail to improve the kaisha, whereas ego drain will succeed. However, ego drain creates fear in the kaisha since the kaisha cannot judge and recognize the external world without an ego. Thus, it is very natural for the kaisha to plot to prevent ego drain. For example, it may try to detain the capable salaryman at the kaisha by promoting him to a higher position or increasing his salary. However, refusing these temptations affects the kaisha in a positive manner. It is the germ of the dialogical ego, which can bring a sense of independence to the kaisha since the kaisha can acknowledge its psychological illness through its own efforts. Conversely, if the kaisha demotes the capable salaryman, reduces his pay or threatens to discharge him, he obtains a persuasive reason to leave.
In order to avoid misunderstanding, it is necessary to emphasize that ego drain is not an idea to change the kaisha for the worse, nor is it a form of taking revenge on the kaisha. In fact, it is a reform plan to improve the kaisha. Thus, a person who opposes ego drain also opposes the improvement of the kaisha. Although this idea does not intend to cause the deterioration of the kaisha, the kaisha may be driven into bankruptcy by ego drain of its capable salaryman. In the novel, after the entire family's escape, another hole is in a dangerous situation (Abe 1991: 119, Abe 2003: 132). However, this is not a problem of the escaped salaryman but that of the senior salarymen. Although a bold step, I would like to mention that bankruptcy is another supreme reform plan for the kaisha. Makeshift measures are often inadequate to achieve the full recovery of a corrupt kaisha. It would be better for the kaisha to go bankrupt; thereby, the senior salarymen would be spared a wasted effort.
I have discussed the kaisha with reference to Abe Kobo's novel 'Suna no onna' (The Woman in the Dunes), which is the subject matter of this discussion. Apart from a consideration of the kaisha, I have proposed a reform plan for the kaisha, i.e. ego drain.
This novel appears to indicate the presence of some secret societies or cult religions. Wolferen mentions that a kaisha is, in fact, a kind of religion. Due to the similarity between the kaisha and these mysterious societies, ego drain, i.e. quitting the kaisha, causes shocks in the kaisha, just as the most fearful thing for these societies is the withdrawal of their members. However, ego drain may be thought of as an extreme idea; it may be preferable to propose a more practical idea, such as the improvement of labour conditions pertaining to the capable salaryman, e.g. awarding a high salary and promotion to such an employee. This idea corresponds to the Jungian concept of 'self-realization (individuation)'. It implies the improvement of one's inferior traits on the basis of one's superior traits (Kawai 1967: 57-58). The superior trait of the kaisha is cooperativeness, while, its inferior trait is independence (Ito 2005). Thus, the establishment of independence without the loss of cooperativeness can be considered as a practical idea. However, this idea contains a fatal defect—it is impossible for the president to achieve this idea since he is a senior salaryman who does not want to acknowledge the importance of independence. Moreover, even if a capable salaryman assumes the role of the president someday, he cannot exercise his political power due to the resistance of the kaisha (great mother). Instead, he can only propose a trivial idea as per the kaisha's wishes. Thus, his political power is entirely useless while it is under the control of the kaisha.
However, my idea, ego drain is with reference to the capable salaryman who does not wield any political power. Such a salaryman includes not only a recruit but also a creative salaryman who is unfavourably treated by the senior salarymen. Ego drain is diametrically opposed to the above-mentioned Jungian concept of self-realization. I label this concept 'inverse self-realization' which implies the abandoning of the improvement of one's inferior traits while strengthening of the superior ones. In the case of the kaisha, it implies the abandoning of independence and reinforcing cooperativeness. This idea should appeal to the senior salarymen since it shows respect for their cooperative culture. However, their real intentions would suffer due to my idea because they dislike the sense of entrapment that results from cooperativeness. However, my idea aims to convince them of the importance of independence. That is precisely why they require it.
If the kaisha encounters problems because of inverse self-realization, the senior salarymen obtain an opportunity to reform the kaisha since they are supposed to contribute their own powers to improving the kaisha. It is important for them to consider the reform plan on their own without retaining any connection with the escaped salaryman. Their success entirely depends on themselves. It is my hope that the process of the kaisha's reform awakens the sense of independence in senior salarymen. Thus, inverse self-realization is not a change for the worse or a form of revenge on the kaisha; in fact, it is intended for the improvement of the kaisha. In a short term analysis, it is likely to bring despair to the kaisha. In such circumstances, the senior salarymen may apologize to the capable salaryman and behave as innocent victims (Wolferen 1990: 426) since they tend to forget their own aggression (Ito 2005). However, the capable salaryman does not have to be cheated by their superficial reformation because, in the long run, due to the germ of independence, their despair will be transformed into hope.
 This is a revised edition of conference paper for the British Association for Japanese Studies (BAJS) (Ito 2003).
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Copyright: Takuya Ito
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