Shoshaman

Internal and External Labor Markets

Paper Due Thursday 4 October 2012

The novel Shoshaman offers a rich picture of Japanese labor markets, through the eyes of an up-and-coming manager in a general trading firm. Of course the trading firm itself is one of the topics of the novel. We thus hear of the “shosha winter” where the historic markets of general trading firms was shrinking as manufacturers and importers took a direct hand in distribution and in international trade. Their role in providing trade credit also vanished. At one time trading firms held inventory for customers, owning the goods on a retailer’s shelves and the steel in a factory’s warehouse. But by the time of the novel even with quite small firms could borrow from banks. So trading firm margins were thin and total turnover stagnant. A new strategic direction was needed. By and large, Arai correctly diagnosed the issue. You may or may not be convinced that he offers a viable strategic alternative.
Note that a paper needs a clear theme. Don’t try to answer all the questions that I pose in a single essay! You would find it well-nigh impossible to write, and I as a reader … would not be able to figure out what you were trying to do.
In addition, a paper should be clearly written, edited and proofread by someone else, printed in a clear typeface with standard margins and font sizes, with appropriate citations. (Get your appointment with the Wms School Communication Center now! — I accept that as an excuse for being one day late handing the paper in.)  If you use only Shoshaman, then do this by inserting page numbers in parentheses. If you refer to other sources, add the author’s last name (author, page). Do not use footnotes or endnotes. Avoid the passive voice; be terse and to the point. Words such as “some” “a few” “many” and “very” seldom add value – a reader has no idea what they mean – hence don’t use them. It’s fine to be adventurous in your writing, as long as you don’t get carried away. How about structuring your paper as a diary entry of one of the characters in the novel? As a first-person autobiographical set of observations of a fictitious character, that is, one that is not present anywhere in the book?
  1. One potential focus of your paper is on labor markets, internal and external. Who is (is not) a “permanent” employee, and what does that mean? How often do people change jobs? If someone works in a subsidiary, are they still a “permanent” employee? What positive incentives do internal labor provide? What deleterious incentives? In what ways are internal markets good (bad?) for workers? for the firm itself?
    1. If you want to do “labor” then make sure you have a clear theme.
      1. What makes for a good shosha manager? [Query: Is the “hero” of the novel being groomed as the next president? How handle “ordinary” versus “star” employees? Why so many rotations?]
      2. Likewise what of those working outside of large firms? Do they face the same career incentives? risks? How do those in small firms view workers in large firms? What of society as a whole? (Even though families seldom appear in the novel, they are not totally absent and provide yet another window into the interface of work, status and society.)
    2. Another strategy is to focus on a key individual and discuss how they illustrate particular themes or issues.
  2. Another focus is on firms. There are lots of themes present in the book, on the surface or hiding just underneath.
    1. In what sorts of industries would you expect “managerial” firms to prevalent? Entrepreneurial firms? What in terms of the production process of a firm might make one structural a better fit than another?
    2. Why the shosha winter? What economic function(s) did shosha play in the past that in which they were no longer cost competitive? Who competed away these markets? What was left for them?
The author, Arai Shinya 荒井伸也, writes under the pen name of Azuchi Satoshi 安土敏. He himself began working for Sumitomo Shoji [Trading] in 1960 after graduating from the University of Tokyo Law Faculty, the most prestigious faculty of the most prestigious university in Japan. In 1970 he was transferred to a subsidiary, Summit Stores, at a time when food supermarkets were just starting to develop as an alternative to mom-and-pop stores – the proverbial butcher and baker, fishmonger and fruit stand. Arai has written several other novels as well as how-to books for supermarkets; he writes regularly for Chain Store Age, a monthly magazine for managers in multi-store retail operations. I have read (in Japanese) at least 2 other novels he has written; we will also watch a feature film based loosely on one of his novels, Sūpā no Onna directed by non other than Itami Juzo and starring his wife).
Summary:
  • Employ one theme, not two.
    • Tie to one or more economic models or concepts.
    • Feel free to cite one of the readings on Sakai.
  • Pay attention to format and technical writing issues.
  • Use the Wms Communication Center or at least have a friend edit a draft and proofread your (penultimate) version.
    • Editing your own paper is hard, unless you can set it aside for a day so that you read through it with fresh eyes.
    • Typos signal that you really don’t care about the paper, in which case why should I?

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