Welcome to the N.H.K. and the postmodern outlook for Japan’s youth

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.

Continue reading “Welcome to the N.H.K. and the postmodern outlook for Japan’s youth”

Some 本音 about foreign professionals working in Japan

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.

[All emphases in the extracts are mine.]

よく聞かれるんです、「日本はいつまでですか?」「いつスペインに帰るんですか?」と。僕は特に帰る予定はないのに、外国人はある一定期間だけ日本で仕事をして、そのあとは必ずみんな帰るというイメージがあるようです。でも、日本にずっと住みたい人もいますよ。

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.

グローバル化にあたっては、それをそのまま受け入れる、何も変えようとしないというスキルが必要。そのスキルは、職場に入って「これからグローバルになります」と言ってできるものではなく、教育の現場から変わらないと難しいと思います

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?

ちょっと気をつけてほしいのは、グローバルは大事だけれど、自分のアイデンティティを守ることも大事だということ。外国人を受け入れると同時に、日本らしさも残しておかないといけないですね僕は日本語を話せるけど日本人じゃなくて、ウズベキスタン人だというアイデンティティを持っているのが大事なんだと思う。

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!)

Recent journal articles

All from the latest issue of electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies.

Ethnographic approach on cultural practice through CMC: New Year greetings in Japanese mobile phone e-mail as example (Noboru Sakai)

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!

Conceptual and concrete views of globalisation on a multicultural Japanese university campus (Ana Sofia Hofmeyr)

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.

What this blog will cover

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
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • 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
  • Convenience stores
  • Jinshin jiko

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.