Visible hands: Auctions and institutional integration in the Tsukiji wholesale fish market, Tokyo

Bestor, Theodore C.

As an anthropologist specializing in Japanese studies, I am often struck by the uncharacteristic willingness of economists to consider cultural and social factors in their analyses of Japan. Probably the economic system of no society is subject to as much scrutiny, analysis, and sheer speculation regarding its 'special character' as is Japan's. Put another way, emphasis on the special qualities of the Japanese economy suggests a recognition -- implicit or explicit -- that cultural values and social patterns condition economic systems. It remains an open question whether this recognition reflects empirical reality (e.g., perhaps the Japanese economic system is less autonomous than those in other societies) or is an artifact of interpretative conventions (e.g., perhaps both Western and Japanese observers are willing -- if at times antagonistic - partners in ascribing radical 'otherness' to the Japanese economy and therefore are more likely to accord explanatory power to factors that might otherwise be considered exogenous.) Recognition, however, that Japanese economic behavior and institutions are intertwined with and embedded within systems of cultural values and social structural relationships does not imply unanimity of opinion about the significance of this fact.

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Academic Units
Center on Japanese Economy and Business
Center on Japanese Economy and Business, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University
Center on Japanese Economy and Business Working Papers, 63
Published Here
February 8, 2011