This article traces the emergence of neoliberalism in Japan and critically assesses the strategies through which it has attained legitimacy. The assertion in the 1970s that Japan was a “middle-mass” society in which all enjoyed common income levels and lifestyles operated as a narrative of socioeconomic equivalence that helped to legitimize the neoliberal policies of the time, to conceal economic disparities, and to contain strikes impeding economic productivity. Neoconservative appeals to cultural equivalence, “peoplehood,” and shared Japanese values, meanwhile, easily lent themselves to the neoliberal celebration of common Japanese values of the market. By appealing to such conceptions of socioeconomic and cultural equivalence, neoliberalism in contemporary Japan has sought to mask economic unevenness, contain the “mass” (represented as a volatile force with the potential to disrupt both Japan's “cultural spirit” and its economic productivity), and sustain the current free-market economic order.

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