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From welfare through work to work without welfare? Japan’s changing welfare regime in global and regional comparison


Admission requirements

MA Asian Studies and MA International Relations


This course focuses on the ongoing transformation of the welfare-work nexus as a core pillar of the Japanese political economy. Work – and especially (male) “lifelong” employment – emerged as the main path towards social security in the postwar high-growth period. The Japanese state has secured the link between welfare and work through various direct and indirect means. Since the 1990, however, the welfare-work nexus has come under increasing pressure through a broad variety of interrelated developments, including labor deregulation as a response to growing competition and economic stagnation, demographic change, shifting gender roles, or changing corporate practices. Meanwhile, some (informal) elements of the postwar welfare-work nexus have remained surprisingly persistent. This gradual and inconsistent transformation has produced rising levels of social and socio-spatial inequalities, which political reforms to revive the Japanese economy and remodel the welfare state have not been able to address sufficiently.

In this course, students critically engage with the transformation of the Japanese welfare-work nexus. The first section of the course provides an overview on core concepts in the comparative welfare state literature and introduces the major characteristics of the Japanese welfare-work nexus in international and East Asian comparison. Based on a theoretical understanding of welfare regimes as complex arrangements of formal and informal institutions, the section also introduces key challenges for theorizing institutional change and stability.

The second section provides a detailed perspective on various dimensions of the ongoing transformation of the welfare-work nexus in Japan, including the changing face of “lifelong” employment, the rise of irregular labor, “gig work”, and precarity, or change and continuity regarding gender roles in employment and care work. Students are encouraged to contribute actively to the course by introducing topics according to their personal interests, suggest readings, or offer comparative perspectives from other (Asian) countries. Students will also be challenged to discuss the impact of recent developments, including the COVID-19 pandemic or labor migration.

Course objectives

  • Acquire a sound knowledge of key debates and issues in the ongoing transformation of Japanese welfare capitalism

  • Critical engagement with theoretical concepts regarding the link between welfare and work and the characteristics of Japan’s welfare regime in global and regional comparison

  • Theorizing institutional change in advanced political economies

  • Ability to identify and formulate original research questions based on a thorough understanding of key debates in the literature, and conduct effective research activities regarding the topics of the course

  • Written and oral communicative skills, including leading and moderating discussions, oral presentations, group work, and essays


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Lecture/Seminar: Each session consists of several components, including an interactive lecture by the instructor to introduce key issues of the respective topic and contextualize the assigned readings, as well as various discussion formats (round tables, presentations, games/simulations). In the second section of the course, students (individually or in small teams) are invited to actively participate in planning each session by presenting on topics they select together with the lecturer, and leading/moderating discussions or group assignments. Therefore, students should come to seminars ready to contribute, i.e., they should finish the required reading and prepare for discussion questions (sent in advance or formulated during class). Active participation will be assessed.

All students MUST (280 hours for 10 ECs):
Attend and participate in 12 × 2-hour lecture/seminar sessions (24 hours)
Weekly reading (10 hours * 12 weeks=120 hours)
One interactive oral presentation (30 hours)
One literature report (2 pages, ungraded) and one assessed research essay of 4,000 words, based on the material covered in the module (106 hours).

Assessment method


  • Presentation: 20%

  • Participation element (incl. attendance, participation, preparation): 20%

  • Research essay (4,000 words): 60%


Weighted average. Presentation and participation are compulsory elements


There are no resits for the participation element and the presentation. For the research essay, the possibility of resit applies.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

**List of foundational readings **

The foundational readings listed below can be found in a reserved shelf/electronic shelf in the university library (link posted on Brightspace).

Please note: This is NOT the mandatory reading list. Weekly reading assignments including research articles and other materials not listed here will be communicated via Brightspace

Estevez-Abe, Margarita. 2008. Welfare and Capitalism in Postwar Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miura, Mari. 2012. Welfare through Work. Conservative Ideas, Partisan Dynamics, and Social Protection in Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Ōsawa, Mari. 2011. Social Security in Contemporary Japan. Hoboken: Routledge.

Shibata, Saori. 2021. Contesting Precarity in Japan. The Rise of Nonregular Workers and the New Policy Dissensus. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Imai, Jun. 2011. The Transformation of Japanese Employment Relations. Reform without Labor. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. 1999. Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kim, Mason. 2016. Comparative Welfare Capitalism in East Asia. Productivist Models of Social Policy. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dore, Ronald. 2000. Stock Market Capitalism. Welfare Capitalism: Japan and Germany versus the Anglo-Saxons. Oxford, New York, Auckland: Oxford University Press.

Bernard, Prosper M. 2022. Comparative Political Economy. Theory and Evidence. New York: Routledge.

Hoshi, Takeo and Phillip Y. Lipscy, eds. 2021. The Political Economy of the Abe Government and Abenomics Reforms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thelen, Kathleen. 2014. Varieties of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hall, Peter A. and Rosemary C.R Taylor. 1996. ‘Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms’. Political Studies, 44 (5): 936–957.

Streeck, Wolfgang and Kathleen Thelen, eds. 2005. Beyond Continuity. Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berk, Gerald, Dennis C. Galvan and Victoria Hattam, eds. 2013.Political Creativity. Reconfiguring Institutional Order and Change. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof