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Gambling, Dignity, and the Narcotic of Time in Tokyo’s Day-Laborer District, San’ya

By Klaus K. Y. Hammering

Cite As:
Hammering, Klaus K. Y. 2022. “Gambling, Dignity, and the Narcotic of Time in Tokyo’s Day-Laborer District, San’ya.” Cultural Anthropology 37, no. 1: 150–175.


This article examines the social practice of gambling among stigmatized construction workers in Tokyo’s vanishing day laborer district, San’ya. By considering the abstract temporality of surplus extraction imposed on the manual laborer at the construction site, and the deadening effects of this discipline on his sensorial experience of the world, the article demonstrates how the enactment of masculinity through gambling involves a transformation of the abstract time of the working day into what Walter Benjamin has described as a “narcotic.” Whereas manual labor demands that the construction worker shield and numb himself against interruptive contingencies of accidents and material stimuli, the gambler seeks an embodied exposure to the penetrating contingency of victory or defeat in a moment of risk. The article argues that the form of this transformation of time propels the gambler, and that it is through debt and credit that he actualizes his reputation as a man.


manual labor; critical theory; gambling; masculinity; credit; Japan; time