Japan has gone from being the paradigmatic developmental state in the 1960s and 1970s to being a representative neoliberal state today. This dramatic ideological and political-economic transformation has come so suddenly that it qualifies as a kind of “hyperneoliberalism.” Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s Japan's labor market was characterized by life-time employment and generous benefits—producing the seemingly ubiquitous subjectivity of the “salaryman”—today the sociology of labor in Japan seems to be overwhelmed by the precarious labor subjectivities of the freeters and NEETS (not in education, employment, or training). Beginning in the mid-1990s, Japanese capitalists in alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party have deliberately restructured Japanese labor as one solution to the purported profit squeeze. This has had the effect of doubling the poverty rate in Japan in twenty years and producing, seemingly overnight, huge disparities in wealth and income. One positive effect of this emergence of hyperneoliberalism has been the simultaneous appearance of a new leftist culture and politics to contest hyperneoliberalism ideologically and politically. This essay discusses three of the main figures in this new activist left—Hirai Gen, Matsumoto Hajime, and Amamiya Karin—and demonstrates some of the ways that their work and activism are sketching out an exciting new future beyond capitalism itself.

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