Many Japanese workers in lower-paying positions were drawn to the growing trucking sector in the 1950s and 1960s, characterized by contingency and the thrill of risk and reward, in contrast to the stasis of lifetime employment guarantees emerging in other sectors of the economy. The gamified reward structure in trucking, however, led to a spike in traffic accidents and a backlash against “kamikaze trucks.” Only after regulations and enforcement limited the most dangerous kinds of incentives did meaningful forms of play emerge at work from the bottom up, rather than the stultified forms imposed by businesses from the top down.
Joshua Hotaka Roth is Professor of Anthropology at Mount Holyoke College. His publications include Brokered Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Migrants in Japan (2002), “Is Female to Male as Lightweight Cars Are to Sports Cars? Gender Metaphors and Cognitive Schemas in Recessionary Japan” (in Vehicles of Moral Imagination, edited by David Lipset and Richard Handler, 2014), “Hoko onchi: Way-Finding and the Emergence of Directional Tone-Deafness in Japan” (Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, 2015), and “The Shared Road: Cars, Pedestrians, and Bicyclists in Japan” (in Cars, Automobility and Development in Asia, edited by Arve Hansen and Kenneth Bo Nielsen, 2016). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org