Milked for All They are Worth: Hokkaido Dairies and Chinese Workers


  • Paul Hansen

    1. Paul Hansen is with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, London, U.K.
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This article underscores the desperation of two very different groups of people; the owners of Hokkaido dairy farms and the economic migrant workers, often young Chinese nationals, who labor for them. The central argument is that rural economic and social decline in Hokkaido is due in part to Japan's centralist political and economic policies; policies that, by and large, are based on a model of rice production and this practice's often perceived linkage with socio-cultural homogeneity. Such official policy is, however, viewed by many Hokkaido locals as a hindrance wherein the “Otherness” of the region and of dairy work are not accounted for. What follows is based on the assumption that the reader is not a specialist in Japanese area studies but is interested in comparing and thinking philosophically about humans, agriculture, and policy. It begins with a brief explanation of how the topic was “discovered” during ethnographic research. It then shifts to the history and image of Hokkaido and of dairy work as “Other,” as a form of agriculture perceived to be on the periphery of normative Japanese domestic daily life—an irony given the official government status of dairy as the only essential food industry alongside rice production. It underscores why exploitative practices are deemed necessary by owners and acceptable by staff. This is followed by the thrust of the article, an ethnographic example detailing the experiences of one dairy owner and of two young workers from Outer Mongolia. It also contrasts the otherness of their dairy farm experience with Japanese employees; notably young Japanese “furiita-” (non-permanent staff). Finally, the paper addresses the challenges that marginal agriculturalists face in their search for economic, social, and ontological security.