Work and the blind identity in Japan with reference to the British experience
This thesis explores Japanese employment policy for blind people in the context of the current decline of their traditionally reserved occupations. The thesis presents an historical analysis of the rise and fall of the occupational guild of the blind since the thirteenth century. The study focuses on blind people's attempts to reinforce their traditionally reserved occupations in the context of the emergence of Japanese social policy in the early twentieth century. Archival research suggests that the government refused to restore blind people's monopoly of massage under the influence of Western medicine and fashionable British integrationist ideas, the latter of which increasingly influenced the postwar policy despite the absence of any significant success in employment of the blind in ordinary industries. In order to assess the credibility of the government's belief in open employment, the development of British employment policy for the blind is explored. The analysis focuses on blind people's commitment to sheltered workshops, and suggests that the shift to open employment was largely caused by the government's concerns over the financial cost of providing sheltered workshops. The historical analysis in Japan and Britain demonstrates that protected employment was gradually eroded despite blind people's demand for preferential treatment. It was in this context that some blind people began to seek employment within the sighted world, but, in both countries, the blind identity was maintained in separation from the sighted. Based on in-depth interviews with 38 blind people and two postal surveys involving 323 blind people in Japan, the second part of the thesis explores why and how the blind identity is generated in the employment field, and how blind people themselves perceive work and equality. The thesis concludes that whereas the blind identity is generated by separation at work, that separation is not only due to social oppression but also to voluntary disengagement from sighted society and engagement in the blind community.