The Language of Your Media Bubble

A friend shared this thoughtful article by Hiroki Mochitsuki tonight on Facebook and I thought to share it on this blog.

Basically, Mochitsuki says that Japanese people are trapped in a Japanese language media environment.


The number of people around the world who speak Japanese is actually quite small. Thus, Mochitsuki reasons that the amount of information out that that is not in the Japanese language is quite substantial. When the Japanese media makes so much effort to gather information about the world and turn that information in the Japanese, dissected into colorful subtitles and digestible snippets of information repeated in the morning, evening, and late night news, just what are those consumers of information missing out?

At the same time, that language determines the boundaries for any media bubble is not a uniquely Japanese-language problem. There’s some, but not a lot, of critical analysis about Japan in English but the bestselling book on Japan on Amazon US is this godawful volume about discovering the land of geeks and zen. Can the average person on the street really be blamed for being ignorant because he doesn’t know and can’t read in another language?

Five manga recommendations in less than fifty words each

Here are some off-beat and hipster manga recommendations I hope more people should enjoy.

1. あげくの果てのカノン(小学館)AND HE ARRIVED AT THE KANON. A poisonously addictive cocktail of post-apocalyptic science fiction and extramarital love affair. The author admitted at a talk event that she had no experience of dating anyone before.

2. 春風のエトランゼ(祥伝社)Harukaze No Étranger. A love story between a 20-year-old freeter and a 27-year-old writer. The writer ran away from his home in Hokkaido (and from an arranged marriage) after telling his parents he was gay. Beautiful illustrations. See also the prequel 海辺のエトランゼ.

3. ポプテピピック(竹書房)POP TEAM EPIC. An absurdist comic that makes absolutely no sense. A title that one can genuinely judge by its cover. See also its anime adaptation which is separately a piece of art.

4. 僕たちがやりました(講談社)Bokutachi Ga Yarimashita. A thriller about four high school boys whose school is constantly harassed by yanki youth from the neighboring school. They do a terrible thing in revenge, and the comic follows the consequences of their actions on their lives.

5. れっつ! ハイキュー!?(集英社)Let’s! Haikyuu!? A parody of the Haikyuu volleyball manga. You’ll need to watch either the anime or read the original Haikyuu manga for this parody to make sense.

An excellent profile of Sayaka Murata

Sayaka Murata is a Japanese author who writes on uncomfortable topics. Her bestseller, Konbini Ningen コンビニ人間, was translated into English and published as Convenience Store Woman a few days ago.

Her stories are uncomfortable. They’re not for everyone, and certainly not for people looking for a feel-good tale about Japan. As someone who worked for four months at FamilyMart and who read the original Japanese version two years ago, though, I loved the novel. The horror of the protagonist’s isolation is something that personally hits very close to home.

The Financial Times publishes an excellent series called ‘Lunch With The FT’ every weekend, and a few weeks ago decided to profile Sayaka Murata. It’s an excellent profile from their Tokyo correspondent:

“If I were born again, I would choose to be a woman,” she says, gathering up her bag, checking its contents and twisting around to the beautiful view from the bay window behind her after nearly two hours with her back to it. There is a darting efficiency to the bag-gathering which has the slightest feel of shelf-stacking. I wonder if she has noticed me noticing that. “The shrapnel left in my mind after having a hard time is very important to me. I was able to discover so many things by being hurt. If I led another life, I would want to lead one in which I was hurt — without that I wouldn’t be able to be the same me.”

I can’t wait for Murata’s next novel.

Priority seats are toxic

There’s a hilarious video (or a really sad video, depending on your perspective) about priority seats from TomoNews:

  1. An organization in Sendai thought it was a good idea to “reserve” seats on a train by placing pieces of paper all over the train one station in advance for their members, who were all elderly.
  2. An old man told a pregnant woman to get up because he was entitled to the priority seat.
  3. A woman assaulted a man on a bus for sitting in a priority seat.
  4. Two women got into a fight in China because the woman to whom the seat was given didn’t say thank you.
  5. A 71-year-old man decided to wave a knife at a man who sat next to him and was operating an iPad. The 71-year-old man apparently didn’t like people who played on mobile devices at the priority seats.

All 5 of these events push the concept of priority seats to the logical extreme. I’m not sure, though, if any of these events actually happened. TomoNews is, after all, the Japanese equivalent of 蘋果動新聞.

Putting the value of fresh graduates in perspective

While browsing through YouTube, I came across this video from Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency, made during their 2016 fresh graduate recruitment exercise.

This video was called “一次選考は終わっちゃったケド電通ビル37階から通過者ファイルにすべり込もう選考” or “終わケド選考.” What this essentially means is that people who didn’t make it through the first round of interviews can still ‘slip’ into the final round of interviews.

According to what I see from the “終わケド選考” series of videos that remain on YouTube (the website on Dentsu is gone), people who didn’t make it through the first round submit a form on Dentsu’s website entering a sentence on how they feel about failing their first-round interview.

The form is connected to a printer on the 37th floor of the Dentsu building. The printer spits out a piece of paper containing an applicant number and the applicant’s thought. The paper then flutters down 10 meters into a foyer below. On the floor of the foyer is a blue binder propped upright. If the piece of paper slips into the blue binder, the applicant to whom the piece of paper belongs to advanced to the final interview.

The video above shows a digest of what happened. According to the video, 2,791 people decided to do this disgusting activity. 5 people’s pieces of paper actually fell into the binder and they got to advance into the final round.

Some late-night thoughts about owakedo-senkou.

I tried looking up what people said about this at the time. The more polite blogs said that a ‘unique’ way of choosing people (“ユニークな選考”). I agree more with this commentary:


電通の発案者は、これを自分がやられたら嫌ではないのでしょうか?どこかに 転職するなりコンペに作品を出すなどして、自分の職務履歴書や企画書が相手方の会社の2階から床に落とされ合否を判断されるとしたら良い気分はしないはずです。


First, it’s rude to throw people’s names all over the floor. It’s also disrespectful to know that you were selected (or rejected) not for your skills, talents, or even ability to charm the interviewer, but because of some Dentsu employee’s dumb idea to have a printer shit paper from the 37th floor of their office.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing to know that Dentsu is upfront about how it treats its fresh graduate job applications. I’ve been told numerous times in recruiting events that HR administrators spend 7 seconds scanning a resume that you spent 70 hours to perfect. Not to mention the “resume bots” that companies employ.

Second, life imitates art, which I guess isn’t ironic since advertising is an art. In Bioshock Infinite, in a side commentary on runaway 1920s capitalism, the player gets to see peasant workers bid for jobs in an auction that awards jobs to the worker who can do it in the shortest time possible. The times proposed are so short that the worker who wins the auction won’t get paid anyway because he will fail to complete his job in the auctioned time. The same futility applies here. The applicants probably spent a really long time figuring out what to write on that piece of paper for the slim hope that some Dentsu employee might care enough to make a difference on their application.

Third, a friend in law school once told me that we (students applying for jobs) are flies surrounding piles of shit (the jobs themselves). There’s no better visualization of the metaphor than the owakedo-senkou video.


A topic I hope to cover eventually is weeaboos, a phenomenon encountered almost exclusively when studying Japanese in the context of American universities.

I’m not a regular Reddit user, so I don’t particularly have favorite subreddits, but I found one hilarious subreddit called r/weeabootales where Reddit users complain about people who over-romanticize Japan (one classic attribute of a weeaboo, though that’s not their defining characteristic).

Here’s excerpt from a post from jmoney777, who says they’re multiracial:

“So how long have you been studying Japanese?” Oh gosh, I hate this question. People look at me and think I’m some white dude that studied for years and years just because I sound native to non-native speakers. As of this current school year I am actually studying it simply because I need a language class for my major, so if I get asked this question now then I can reply “since October” (lololol).

I feel the same! (Albeit in a different context from Japanese people who think non-Japanese speakers cannot be fluent in Japanese despite millions of immigrants in Japan across the world and across the Japanese nation in thousands of workplaces, schools, and cultural institutions and in the mass media who are evidence to the contrary!)

So I’m involved in the Asian heritage clubs at my school and have met a lot of cool people at them, but unfortunately the Japanese club attracts some… weeaboos. I joined these API clubs because I was interested in meeting people who have had similar experiences to me (moving countries at a young age, different languages spoken between home and school, being able to talk about our cultures as if it’s normal as opposed to an outside romanticized version of it, etc.), and I wish they would understand that I have no interest whatsoever in meeting the weeaboo/Japanophile type of people.

In my senior year at Georgetown University, our student union (the Student Activities Commission) decided to place Japan Network and the Anime Club together for no reason and the exact same phenomenon happened. We (Japan Network) expressed no interest in them; they (with their pink hair) expressed no interest in us. It was awkward.

People that walk up to Asian people and start speaking Japanese. […] Just because someone is Asian does not mean they can speak Japanese!

This also happens in tourist trap cities where restaurant proprietors attempt to ‘connect’ to you by speaking your language. One summer in Rome, a man tried to appeal to me on the attractiveness of his pizza by clasping his hands together (Thai?), bowing (Japanese? not really), and saying 안녕하세요.

There’s more in the post and in the comments of the post which is worth reading in full.

Japanese book sizes

One thing I love about reading Japanese books is Japanese book sizes. The size of the book speaks volumes (no pun intended) on the attention and care Japanese publishers put on the print product.

Generally, when one walks into an English or Chinese-language bookstore, the paperbacks one finds come in an arbitrary array of shapes and sizes. This makes storage difficult. This also makes it difficult to read on the go. Ideally, everyone wants some quiet time on the couch, or in bed, or on the beach doing some summer reading. Realistically, who has time for that these days?

Herein lies the genius of standardized Japanese book sizes. First, storage is simplified. Bookstores and libraries can store and sell hundreds or thousands of volumes even if square footage is limited. That is why even the most local mom-and-pop bookstores in the middle of nowhere in Japan are overflowing with books. Second, reading becomes mobile. If you’re commuting from Yokohama to Shinjuku (and back) for work everyday, what would you on that 1.5 hour crowded train journey (each way)? Reading is one option. No book takes up more space than necessary.

Choosing what goes into the print product also becomes a discipline. I cringe when a Chinese-language book with so much white space and unnecessary adornments around the text. That is a waste of paper, ink, binding, and fossil fuels used to deliver the book from the printer to the bookstore or library.

Bunkobon (文庫本). This is my favorite size. A bunkobon is just barely smaller than my hand (and I have small hands). Each volume typically contains 200 to 300 pages of text and yet it is just barely a centimetre or two thick. Each page is thin, yet the paper is silky smooth to the touch. It’s technically a mass-market paperback, and yet the book doesn’t crinkle or crease with age, as thousand-page English-language airport novels do. The binding is durable: of the hundreds of second-hand books I’ve bought, only one is on the verge of falling apart. And every volume comes with a dust jacket (!): it is a book to be respected. And yet every volume is a reasonable price. Most books are 600 to 800 yen each, and those volumes with color photographs or glossy paper rarely cost cover 1,000 to 1,200 yen. That is still well below the typical price of a paperback from Amazon.

The bunkobon was the most powerful object that attracted me to improving my Japanese. Every aspect of its construction was so ingenious. Even the kanji chosen to represent the concept is ingenious: a “word vault.”

A Google search reveals that Iwanami Shoten, an academic publishing house (that now continually publishes books critical of Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party), was the first to adopt the bunkobon format. They copied the standardized book size and colors of the German Reclams Universal-Bibliothek to create Iwanami Bunko. And like the original Reclams Universal-Bibliothek, Iwanami Bunko is a series of Japanese-language literary classics with identical covers at relatively affordable prices (and still exists). And because Iwanami Bunko was such a great idea, every other publishing house decided to copy the format. One can still see the historical connections with the colorful Reclams Universal-Bibliothek today if you line up the bunkobon you own by publishing house. The spine and back cover of each bunkobon follow a standardized format.

Sometimes I wonder why Japanese intellectuals exported the word ‘revolution’ into China but not bunkobon into China’s publishing houses. Perhaps the concept didn’t survive the Cultural Revolution.

Shinsho (新書). This word is a misnomer because in Chinese this word means “new[ly arrived] books” (but in Japanese the correct term to express this meaning is 新刊). This is another standardized paperback size, also pioneered by Iwanami Shoten. The book is a little taller and thinner than bunkobon, but is just as mobile and durable as its German-sourced counterpart. Iwanami Bunko was the paperback classics series; Iwanami Shinsho was the paperback contemporary series, in which contemporary authors would dish out contemporary wisdom. At least, that’s what the Kotobank dictionary says:


Unlike bunkobon, shinsho are exclusively non-fiction. (The exception to this rule is children’s fiction titles (児童文庫) which are the same size as shinsho but these titles have no relation to shinsho anyway.) What better way was there to inform readers about current affairs than to publish affordable, high-quality paperbacks?

Shinsho is also a great way for Japanese-language learners (JLPT N3 and up) to improve their reading and vocabulary since the writing is not completely academic and the length is reasonably short.

Tankobon (単行本). This word captures every other book that is not a bunkobon or shinsho. In general (but it’s difficult to generalize here) new Japanese novels are released as tankobon hardcover titles that cost 1,200-1,500 yen before the titles are republished as bunkobon paperbacks. Less academic non-fiction titles can also be found in the tankobon paperback format.

The term also refers to manga that are re-released as standalone volumes after serialized manga chapters have been published in manga magazines. Manga tankobon generally (but not always) follow a standardized format. Shonen/shojo manga tankobon are a similar size to shinsho, whereas seinen manga are slightly wider and thicker.

A relatively new sub-category of tankobon is sensho (選書). These are paperback non-fiction titles also with a standardized size and cover. Their price and content lie somewhere in between shinsho and hardback academic titles from university professors that cost upwards of 4,000 yen.

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.

Although a decade has passed since N.H.K. first went into the airwaves, I believe that this anime’s message on the precarity and hope of Japanese youth remains powerfully relevant. Having lived in the working class district of Kameido, Tokyo, and worked with freeters at my part-time job at the Familymart convenience store in Waseda University’s Building No. 11 during my exchange program, I have encountered a diverse variety of denizens in Tokyo who have fallen on the wrong side of the opportunity gap and rest their adult careers on flexible employment. Most of the English-language academic writing about N.H.K. merely offers an overly simplified treatment of otaku, while ignoring the other problems portrayed in the anime. This essay attempts to engage and contribute towards the existing discourse.

Two primary characters in N.H.K. are caricatures of the two most internationally visible Japanese youth phenomenon in the Heisei era—the hikkikomori and the (male) otaku, represented by Kaoru Yamazaki, Sato’s kouhai. N.H.K. begins indoors, trapping the audience with Sato. The first thing we see is not an establishing shot, but fragments of Sato’s high school memories, conversations with the anthropomorphized appliances in Sato’s apartment, psychological delusions of being trapped in a conspiracy by the Nihon Hikkikomori Kyokai, a sinister media organization designed to turn all over Japan’s youth into hikkikomori.[1] People like Sato are refugees in a war with the outside, “where hostilities of the peopled world get (re)imagined and replayed—ad nauseum.”[2] N.H.K. also presents a ruthless parody of the male otaku’s consumption/production practices. In recent years, popular media mix franchises such as Sword Art Online and No Game No Life have cast video gamers as leaders and saviors of entire worlds. Such protagonists rival traditional models of masculine heroes, because they show that even otaku video gamers can get the reverence and respect that samurai and high school baseball players receive—to generalize on the tropes of young masculine heroes in anime and manga. However, Yamazaki compartmentalizes those masculine hero narratives as fantasy with the bluntness expected of N.H.K.’s stooge character. In Episode 5, set entirely in Akihabara, Yamazaki explains to Sato that maid cafes, while both of them stare at a waitress’ exposed buttocks, “lets you be ‘master’ at a reasonable price…and are a realization of gal game players’ dreams!”[3] Indeed, as male social hegemony eroded in the 1990s, Akihabara’s “sexualized cute-girl figures serve as…sites of fantasy for those wishing to avoid facing the difficulties and imperfections of the real world and real women.”[4] In Episode 20, when Yamazaki invites Nanako, his female classmate in animation school and love interest, that the ero-game he and Sato are making is tentacle pornography with her as the model, Nanako punches Yamazaki in the face and leaves.[5] Hence, as complete failures in courtship, they further fail to contribute to Japan’s future survival by propagating the country’s devastatingly low birth rates. No wonder otaku “live a double life…in their rooms or in areas of the city like Akihabara [to] indulge in their ‘secret vices.’”[6] There is little to aspire from, let alone entertain talk of heroism, a montage of two grown men looking under the skirts of plastic figurines.

A narrative feature in N.H.K. appears to propagate the notion that Japanese youth can somehow recover from these conditions. Something that stood out in this distinctively Heisei-era story is the inclusion of one-liner commentaries from minor characters who characters are visibly much older and from the Showa generation. In Episode 19, soba store owner remarks after employing a desperate hikkikomori whose sister stopped giving him food: “If they get hungry, human beings will work.”[7] They speak, with their air of wisdom in a hierarchical society, about the linear relationship between effort and success. Such a perspective frames hikkikomori as a voluntary choice of extending one’s adolescence in the age of plenty who “can be cured with tough love and being kicked out of the nest.”[8] Rosenbaum even argues that “just as anorexia is predominately a female affliction in the West, hikkikomori appears to be the equivalent male affliction in Japan.”[9] Once these youths rediscover the difficulty of living in a materialist society where one has to work to survive, they will stop abandoning their responsibilities. However, is the hikkikomori phenomenon a voluntary act of ‘affliction’? Are all of a hikkikomori’s problems solved by showing up to a soba shop and begging for work?

In postmodern, advanced capitalist systems, otaku and hikkikomori, or more generally youth in precarity, and are both unknowing participants in the broader trends of neoliberal society with little discernable purpose. Otaku consumers become producers of the very things that they consume. Azuma first pioneered the comparison of otaku as a creature different from humans, “who build social relations…because they have intersubjective desire, [whereas] animal needs can be satisfied without the other.”[10] For example, otaku can satisfy themselves by distantly admiring the sexualized female workers in maid cafés while remaining conservative in their actual perversions—in other words, an aimless sexuality. Living in the fiercely competitive market for media mix campaigns that start and end every four months, otaku youth “withdraw into the production of little narratives organized around ‘animalized’ responses to the moé elements of characters.”[11] In his study on otaku consumption and capital, Kam found that Japanese university students he interviewed “[frowned] upon imagination, collection, and knowledge for the sake of self-satisfaction” and cites a conversation he had with a media professional, who “lamented that the acts of the ‘otaku’ are ‘masturbatory.’”[12] Nonetheless, neoliberal society thrives on a class of individuals whose productive consumption practices are aimless, because their underlying skills of “imagination, knowledge, and the desire to collect are capacities fundamental to an advanced capitalist economy.”[13]

While otaku are able to prosper without the need for social connections, youth in precarity live a life without social relations not out of choice, but because of the simple fact that they have lost access to any connections in their lives. Japanese youth become hikkikomori not due to some cultural-bound syndrome specific to Japan, but because they withdraw as a reaction to “the deprivation of indulgence, dependence, or amae” from their parents.[14] Moreover, freeters, as flexible workers that the economy needs without any guarantee of stable employment or social security, suffer from “psychic turmoil of being a Japanese worker who lacks affiliation…It carries with it a sense of existential emptiness and social negation.”[15] As these precarious youth age into adulthood, they remain individuals without a social network that they can rely on. In addition, with opportunities for middle class jobs shrinking with an economy in malaise, “refugeeism from the social is becoming more ordinary every day.”[16] Therefore, what N.H.K. does not portray about youth in precariat is perhaps the narrative’s darkest development. In the last episode, because Sato can no longer receive money from his parents because his father has suffered from a corporate restructuring, he takes up a part-time construction job.[17] However, N.H.K. does not offer an extrapolation of his future, which would not be pretty. Who would Sato be another ten, twenty years from now? These are the same questions one should ask about the freeters who are reaching middle age and seem destined to remain in irregular employment, and thus without a place of belonging, for life. Freeters remain producers who consume to survive another day of their unending ontological crisis. If otakus consume with no purpose, then freeters too produce with no purpose.

By viewing otaku and hikkikomori as products of a neoliberal economy who are both consuming and producing without the need for ningen kankei, N.H.K. becomes a criticism of the harsh excesses of a competitive postmodern society with an overemphasis on value. One’s individual existence becomes atomized and what relationships that do form are strictly transactional. In Episode 9, Yamazaki declares that ero-games are popular with male purveyors of two-dimensional women because “originally, romantic love didn’t exist in Japan…romantic love is a trap to expand the capitalist system.”[18] These games, among other developments such as compensated dating and child prostitution, financially exploits the transformation of love, the pinnacle of human relations and organic desire for the ‘other,’ into a commodity that anyone can market and sell. Furthermore, in another important sub-plot in N.H.K., Misaki, the anime’s deuteragonist, sets up a nightly lecture program apparently for Sato to escape from his hikkikomori tendencies, imposes a financial penalty of one million yen to force Sato to attend and tries to purchase Sato’s friendship through a contract. In Episode 13, the audience finds out that Misaki, reeling from the pressures of an abusive stepfamily, is only interested in Sato’s relative value, or lack thereof, because he is “the first person [she has] ever found who’s much more of a throwaway hunk of refuse than me.”[19] Indeed, in a time where one would require more than ever support the cope with ever-rising hardships and sorrow produced from the fast-paced market economy, atomized individuals establish and abandon relationships with the rapid tempo of information capitalism. The sociality of Japanese youth is oppressive communal rather than mutually beneficial; they must be careful “not to burden friends and to stay popular in an age when knowing how to read, and stay in sync, with the mood of the movement…is everything.”[20] Just as friendships are now devoid of their definitional elements because they are now founded on value, so is corporate employment conditions for Japanese youth. In recent years, not even Japanese youth are spared from the excesses of the desire to capture maximum capitalist value. ‘Black companies,’ as they are known, “abuse and discard young workers in an evil way” by forcing high-value employees into employment contracts, and then forcing the destruction of those contracts when the value of those employees have dried up.[21] The human elements of building long-term careers and cultivating alliances no longer matter when the prospect of lifetime irregular employment threatens to brand youth as forever valueless.

Through such a perspective, N.H.K. is a starkly human story in a world where larger-than-life, out-of-control postmodern conditions have irreversibly bent the fabric of reality. This is perhaps the crux of Sato’s imaginary Nihon Hikkikomori Kyokai, the anime’s namesake. The invisible currents that have institutionally pushed hundreds of thousands of youth into poverty, disillusionment, and alienation is truly akin to a sinister conspiracy. In the real world, NHK refers to the state broadcast, and by extension, the greater Japanese media industry connected to the high echelons of state power, whose fast-paced, endless production of mind-numbing shows that reinforce, rather than question the tragic status quo, or as Sato believes, the media’s plan to make all of Japan’s youth into hikkikomori by continuously making high-quality anime. On a metaphysical level, N.H.K. itself participates in the media reality-distortion field too. N.H.K. is a franchise published by Kadokawa Shoten, one of the pioneers in the media mix world-building empire. The story in the novel, anime, and manga all differ—for example, Sato is under the influence of drugs, which prompt him to conjure the N.H.K. conspiracy, in the manga, while drug abuse is entirely absent in the anime.[22] Furthermore, N.H.K.’s author is himself a hikkikomori who apparently wrote the story “as a way to earn a living by never leaving home.”[23] The audience may never know which is the true N.H.K. story, or if the N.H.K. story is based on truth, but then again, in this brave new world, does any of that really matter?

Therefore, upon returning to the assertion that being a hikkikomori is a cultural affliction, we find that hikkikomori youth are committing something far from it. It is inappropriate, if a little insensitive, to simply say that all hikkikomori need is a little encouragement to ‘leave the nest,’ or quit their irresponsible behaviors like an anorexic woman should, as Rosenbaum and Harrison have put forth. These comments only serve to heighten the generational disconnect and the widespread complacency towards disintegrating social structures in postmodern Japan. To withdraw is not a failure to launch into adulthood, but an expression of one’s legitimate fear facing a hostile outside, especially when that hostility is not psychologically imagined, but physically real: the superficial friendships, the value-hunting ‘black companies’ with unlimited power, and the socially insecure affective labor jobs. Is there anybody who really wants to participate in the unending tragedy of the precariat? Would the Showa generation characters in N.H.K. repeat their well-versed mantras and achieve success if they also tried hard under today’s structural inequalities? Perhaps more frighteningly, the Japanese government’s ‘Cool Japan’ policies, which strives “to strip otaku subjectivity of its perceived creepiness toward the formation of a new majoritarian subject,” wants permanently encase this new, insecure Japan by sanitizing it into a ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ product sold to an international audience.[24] Against a backdrop of young female part-time workers spoon-feeding ice-cream into the mouths of male customers, Yamazaki declares, perhaps without much irony, that the maid café is “a subculture Japan prides itself on.”[25] Certainly, Japan would do well to export this profit-making subculture, which surely completes some ends of the neoliberal society, but at the cost of commodifying, exploiting, and atomizing its next generation.

In conclusion, N.H.K. invites sympathy for the predicaments that Japanese youth, who have to experience conditions that no other generation has faced. The otaku and hikkikomori, two related but distinct identities, are postmodern products, rather than drivers, of a postmodern, neoliberal society in which capitalism has gone on overdrive with reality-bending media mix franchises, human relationships that are devoid of any human elements, and ontological existences devoid of meaningful sociality. ‘Cool Japan’ government policies that aim to preserve and promote such growing productive consumption practices in a limp economy, and hence the current precarious status quo and its structural inequalities and oppression, is perhaps as absurd as N.H.K.’s repetitious montages of Sato’s dancing house appliances. This essay has just barely unpacked what N.H.K. has to offer. The development of these broken and exploited youth identities in the second decade of the 21st century deserves continued academic attention.


[1] Welcome to the NHK, Chiba Television Broadcasting (Chiba: CTC, 2006), Television.

[2] Anne Allison, Precarious Japan (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013), 73.

[3] Welcome to the NHK, Chiba Television Broadcasting (Chiba: CTC, 2006), Television.

[4] Yumiko Iida, Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan (London: Routledge, 2002), 227.

[5] Welcome to the NHK.

[6] Thomas Lamarre, “Cool, Creepy, Moe: Otaku Fictions, Discourses, and Policies,” Diversité urbaine 13, no. 1 (2013): 134, doi: 10.7202/1024714ar.

[7] Welcome to the NHK.

[8] Marc Hairston, “A Cocoon With a View: Hikkikomori, Otaku, and Welcome to the NHK,” Mechademia 5, no. 1 (2010): 319.

[9] Roman Rosenbaum, “Graphic representation of the precariat in popular culture,” in Visions of Precarity in Japanese Popular Culture and Literature, ed. Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt and Roman Rosenbaum (Oxon: Routledge, 2015), 148.

[10] Hiroki Azuma, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, trans. Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 86-87.

[11] LaMarre, 148.

[12] Thiam Huat Kam, “The Anxieties that Make the ‘Otaku’: Capital and the Common Sense of Consumption in Contemporary Japan,” Japanese Studies 33, no. 1 (2013), 52: doi: 10.1080/10371397.2013.768336

[13] Ibid., 53.

[14] Matthew Bowker, “Hikikomori as Disfigured Desire: Indulgence, Mystification, and Victimization in the Phenomenon of Extreme Social Isolation in Japan.” Journal of Psycho-Social Studies 9, no. 1 (2016): 41.theely  next generation.society, but at the cost . me to the NHK,”es in the second ticesty. In the face of ‘elements.m has gone

[15] Allison, 69.

[16] Ibid., 69.

[17] Welcome to the NHK.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Welcome to the NHK.

[20] Allison, 70.

[21] Nobuaki Fujioka, “The Youth Labor Market in Japan,” in Creating Social Cohesion in a Dependent World: Experiences of Australia in Japan, eds. Ernest Healy et al. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 270.

[22] Rosenbaum, 137.

[23] Allison, 73.

[24] Lamarre, 149.

[25] Welcome to the NHK.

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.]


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!)