I wrote this essay in July 2016 for a class at Waseda University called ‘Japanese Youth in Visual Culture.’
First broadcast in 2006 and adapted from a novel of the same name, Welcome to the N.H.K. is a connected series of stories revolving around a 22-year old man named Tatsuhiro Sato, who stops going to university and becomes a hikkikomori in his one-person apartment in the suburbs of Tokyo. N.H.K. was one of my first exposures to Japanese made-for-television animation when I started learning Japanese as an undergraduate. The show stood out because it was stylistically and substantially different: it was brimming with depressing stories of post-bubble era life in precarity, such as Internet suicide pacts and the mildly creepy lolicon phenomenon, and created a cynical contrast to the sanitized, government-endorsed ‘Cool Japan’ image that attracts thousands of foreigners to pick up interest in Japan every year.
This essay will argue that at first glance, Sato’s hikkikomori and, briefly, otaku behaviors are part of a broader range of popular escapist endeavors that Japanese youth are expected to abandon when they mature into adults with responsibility. Upon further examination, the anime presents these youth phenomena as the natural conclusion of Japan’s post-Fordist societal conditions in the early 21st century and problematizes the celebration of otaku behaviors in the ‘Cool Japan’ discourse. N.H.K. predicts an uncertain future in the long term for youth who lack belonging and attachment in a harsh, urban neoliberal society.
A recent Toyo Keizai (a website kind of like Business Insider, but in my opinion much more substantial) article interviewed a number of expats working in Japan. Issues about expats generally aside, I thought that the interviewees dished out some hard truths about working in Japan.
This interviewee says, in essence, that he gets asked a lot when he’s returning to Spain. Reviewing my LINE chat logs recently, I realize I got asked this a lot when I was on exchange in Japan. Everyone’s foreigner existence is supposed to be fleeting.
Here the interviewee poses the question: What is the meaning of ‘global’? Does it create a legitimate expectation among professionals attracted to working in Japan who act in reliance on it, and then suffer adversely when that legitimate expectation is breached? And to what extent does it begin in education?
More hard questions. As Japan imports more foreign workers (skilled and non-skilled), will divisions about Japanese identity rise? (Not that it hasn’t risen already vis-a-vis ethnic Korean Japanese and returnees from Latin America!)
A review of customs and norms of new year’s greetings sent among friends and family (in lieu of paper postcards) – emojis comprise of 4.79 percent of the message content, which is ~2 percent more than a normal message!
Interesting findings from a survey done at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University vis-a-vis the trend of a ‘globalized’ Japanese workforce (whatever that means):
Although Ritsumeikan APU has a uniquely multicultural campus, where Japanese students are not only encouraged, but often required to interact with international students both within and outside the classroom, only half of the students surveyed said they felt satisfied with the amount of intercultural interaction on campus. Moreover, less than half admitted to making use of the intercultural opportunities provided on campus and many identified issues establishing friendships with non-Japanese speaking peers.
I hope this blog will bring forward what I consider missing discourse on urban life, transitions into adulthood, the “millennial” generation, and how English-speaking, ethnically Chinese individuals from Hong Kong broadly interface with other cultures.
To that end, I aim to cover some of these topics in the future:
Job-hunting in Japan
Driving as a gendered act
Personal experiences as a language learner
The two times I’ve been called “unprofessional” in my life (they were both during unpaid internships)
Book titles that challenge norms and boundaries about Japan, or at least provide interesting views
What this blog will NOT cover:
Why Japan is so cool and amazing and why everyone should visit and eat all the ramen and sushi and visit Akihabara
The future of the rule of law in Hong Kong, and views with regards other sensationalist ‘legal’ issues that I believe have the right to keep to myself; besides, I am fatally unqualified to cover this issue.