The need for social relationships

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Saori Tsushima

In the future, I want to work at my hometown because I want to support my family by their side. And I wish I could work at an organization like JICA or an NGO/NPO group and take part in supporting developing countries. But I’m going to prioritize returning to my hometown and earning a handsome salary first. To tell the truth, I am frightened by job hunting because if I fail in job hunting I couldn’t support my family because it is said that to get an ideal job is so difficult for new graduates in these latter days in Japan.

Many people are worrying about the difficulties of job searching, not only people who graduated in earlier years but also new graduates. It seems that the appeal of a strong personality has been focused on since many years ago. But too much personality appeal and projecting too much are bad things for company bosses in recent Japan because bosses want submissive subordinates. The style of Japanese society must have fatigued stress for new graduates and people who want jobs. Many people have to sink their individuality to get a job. This is one of the serious problems in Japan I think.

Ibasho is my parent’ home for me because I have trust in my family. We always don’t keep secrets and council everything each other. I can stay as I am at my home and have a peace of mind. And I think we should create Ibasho.

Our parents’ home is of course inherent or innate comfortable place for us. If we feel we don’t have Ibasho it is important to create there for not only my own self but also my family and friends, people who are total strangers. These days many elderly people died alone (Kodokushi) and it is increased year by year. Now to create Ibasho is needed.

It is needed to have a relationship with many people for elderly people, to meet people to prevent from dementia and to making their heart happy. It is needed to relax and rest, to put workers at ease. They are so tired everyday from working hard that they need a place to relax. Us students also need to meet many people, and to meet people who have the same dream or object and stimulate each other’s interests. This is a good treasure for the future. Competing is also important for students because it will further improve our ability and heart. It is needed to meet many people for children. They need to study how to encounter people. Communication ability is important to live for example at school and company, workplace, society. Ibasho is different by the people’s age, gender, personality.

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Struggle for My Future Plan

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Mai Nakagawa

There are precarious situations related to my life and future plans which I don’t want to give up. I’d like to point out two issues which Japanese citizens (including me) are inevitably obsessed with, but which are obviously caused by distinct characteristics of the Japanese people. Firstly, the current education system, which is completely set up to destroy the creative capacity and the intelligence of students. For instance, university students started to think about “shukatsu” (job hunting) in early period.  Therefore, what they are studying in the university is only what is useful and necessary for “shukatsu”, not what they are interested in.  There is inclination that student to hate studying and to focus on partying or on a part-time job. When someone asked them “why are you studying at university?”, they might say “Because it’s necessary for getting job to get degree, great marks and a school diploma”.  Students finally cannot find the interesting points and the real meaning of studying, even the connection between the future job and what they are now studying.

Also, there is an insecure job system, which makes human (family) relationship worse.  For my example, my mother, who has 4 children (including me) and works for a kindergarten, couldn’t go back home until the evening. When my brother and I were in elementary school, we had to wait at school or my relative’s house until our mother finished her job. Her income gives her just a little bit of extra spending money.  Our mother have started to work for us, and shows us that she is a powerful women. However, without any children support from her workplace, it’s difficult for her to take a break to look after us when we get sick.  Her choice made a hard situation for us because it took from us a lot of time we could have spent with our mother.

Then, I’d like to move onto my future plans. After graduation, I have two options, one is a postgraduate course and another is what we call “shushoku” (getting a job). Honestly, continuing my studies in university is the best choice for me. Nevertheless, without an adequate income, it’s difficult for me to pay for such expensive school tuition. Also, there is a tacit understanding that “shukatsusei” should be “shinsotsu” (who graduated from school in 4 years to 6 years, whose age is approximately 22 to 24). It’s inevitable to me to consider job hunting (“shushoku-katsudo”) everytime and also to lay out a tight schedule of study.

There is one more struggle when I get a job, to choose to be either a good mother (wife) or a good worker.  Unlike my mother, I don’t want to leave my children alone and let them spend lonely time.  However, it’s my dream to work at the place where I can use my experience and what I learned at university.  It would be great if I could engage in both in the future. However, nowadays, in Japan, it’s still serious matter for me (as a university student, and also as a woman) to figure out what to do in the future.

Discovering the importance of ibasho

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

Anne Allison views the problems Japan faces from a lot of perspectives. I am very interested in topic about human relationship and ibasho. Therefore I want to think about it related to my experiences.

I became a university student one year ago, and I began living by myself. What I felt strongly in my university life as a freshman is that life consists of a continuance of acts of choosing something. Because I can choose almost all things by myself, I have to take responsibility by myself. I have had more time to face that by myself and imagine my future since I had such an idea. When I think about my future, that is almost shushoku and shukatsu, I often talk to myself what is most important thing in my life at the same time, because I consider future plan is deeply connected with what I value. In thinking about that, I realized that my view on the family has changed so far.

In short, it was not until I left my hometown and lived alone that I understood how valuable my family is. I knew that the greatness of my mother who raised me and my brother by herself with working every day, and how much I have been supported by family for the first time. If I am worried about something, my family always listens to my worries and gives good advice for me. My family accepts and loves me no matter what I am, and filled with my desire of recognition absolutely. I was sure that family is ibasho for me after reading Allison’s paper.

As Allison says, current Japanese society is unstable, liquid and precarious. Human relationships get to be thin more and more, and many people seek their real ibasho. I know it is important to have a “good” job and earn much money, and praised by many people, however, it is more essential to get deep human relationship and feeling of spiritual satisfaction in like there society.

I have not decided concrete my future plan and what I choose as my occupation yet. However, I have the core of myself, that is, I want to be a person who can be proud of myself to the family and protect ibasho. Moreover, I also hope to become a person who can support someone as one of their

Man thinking on a train journey.

Man thinking on a train journey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ibasho.

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Future plans get complicated in precarious Japan

Partial three-quarter right front view of a cl...

Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Natsuki Nakasone

Now, I am a nineteen-year-old student at Ritsumeikan University. If everything goes well, I will graduate in three years. However, I need another two years in order to get a license since I would like to become a kindergarten teacher. Therefore, in my future plan, I will go to another school while working at a company, and then I will become a teacher. This plan seemed easy to realize, but there are several problems which are affected by the precariousness of Japan.

First, recently, the rate of non-regular employees has been increasing. As Anne Allison said, after the Bubble, many temporary workers played important roles in high economic growth in Japan. This employment system has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it is able to post employees when they are needed. However, the disadvantage is that it also becomes an issue of public concern. There is a possibility that temporary workers will be fired all of a sudden. Therefore, they cannot have a stable life.

Next, the number of children has been decreasing, because the number of people who remain unmarried has been increasing. As a result of this, the demand for nursery school teachers and kindergarten teachers is decreasing, and it is not sure whether I can get an ideal job.

In addition, in Japan women can get fewer jobs than men, because there has been a stereotype that men work outside of the house and women work in the house. Even if some women are fortunate enough to get a job, they often have to leave their jobs to raise their children. In my plan, I would like to have two children, and I might be in similar circumstances. In this precarious Japan, it is difficult to realize my dreams and live an ideal life.

Lastly, I would like to mention a little bit about my ibasho. I think my ibasho is my family, so, since I am still a teenager, an ibasho for me has always been provided by others. However, in the future, I will have to find it for myself. Therefore, it is important for me to get married and to have children in order to create my new ibasho.

As you can tell from what I have mentioned, to get both ibasho and ideal work is not easy in my case. Thinking about this tells me that I am living in precarious Japan.

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Balancing plans for work, travel, and family

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Arisa Kato

My future plan starts from now. My dream is to take a job at a travel agency because I love traveling and encountering foreign cultures. Therefore, I’ve been studying for a certification of travel consultant. It is one of national qualifications in Japan and this requirement would help me to get regular job in the tourist industry. I don’t want to be haken (contract worker) while I’m single because I desire to make my work place my ibasho. So I need something strong to win the job hunting. In addition to study for the qualification, I will go Spain and Mexico to study Spanish while I’m a university student. Not only studying the language, I’d like to learn culture and tourism of Spain and Latin America.

After I get a job successfully, I will work as a tour conductor. I will guide travelers in Japan and all over the world. Even more, I have been thinking of making a plan that participants can experience daily lives in the countries. So I’m also interested in organizing tours.

In my plan, I will get married around thirty. It is because I want at least two children. If I could, I will have three. I wish the first is a girl. This is because girls tend to take care their younger brothers and I hope for going shopping and a café with my daughter someday like me and my mother. While the children are little, I might take a rest from or quit my job to bring my sons and daughters. I think family must be the most comfortable ibasho for children and mothers have responsibility for making pleasant ibasho for their families. Therefore I’ll be concentrate on housework and mothering.

After children grow up, maybe when they go on to junior high school, I want to return to working. If there is a chance, perhaps I may return to a travel agency. However, it can be useful to be a haken. Although it is irregular working and insecure, part time jobs usually allow workers to choose the time when they work. So I can adjust a schedule to suit other private events and appointments. From this point, irregular work is good for people who have plans in their private lives.

After I get older, I’d like to live in countryside. If I may be allowed to wish so much, I desire to live abroad. Anyway, I would like to find good partner who apprehend me well because there are so many things I want to do.

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Enjoying work and family

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Yuri Kamino

I have not made a concrete plan about what I’m going to do in the future, but I vaguely imagine that in the fourth year I will fight against the glacial age of hiring, work for a company, marry someone, have babies, raise them and in the latter half, I will live a slow life with my husband, many grandchildren and dogs.

Job hunting is waiting for us and as many classmates have said, it becomes more difficult to get good work without enough knowledge. For university students, I think it is quite natural to hope to find good or top-rank work and live a better life because it costs a lot to go a university, so they desire to get work that corresponds to the money they have spent. However, personally I think it is not necessarily important to be employed in what is called a first-class company. Of course I want to get a better job, but for me, it is more essential whether I can enjoy the job at the company and handle both a career and raising children.

I have two points for my job hunting. One is that can the company be my ibasho. These days, the number of people who work oneself to death is increasing. More and more “kaisha-man or woman” sacrifice their holidays and private time. They also suffer from stress among their companies. I don’t think these situations can never be my ibasho. Maybe I will relate to the company for a long time, so I wish to keep a good relations with them.

The other point is that whether the company has a sufficient system for women to concentrate on both their job and childcare. Today, more and more women are doing great things in society, but there are still many companies which treat them as less important because they tend to retire from their jobs or take long vacations when they marry and give birth. As established by law, we can take childcare leave until our child reaches the age of 1. However under these companies, I could not pay much attention to my child. I strongly hope to build family with boundless love and wish it can be ibasho for my children.

I think that for children, family is the most important and for me, a job is essential to live more worthy life so, I am eager to seek for a way which I can meet both.

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Seeking stability, but how?

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

“Stability” is what I would look for in my future work. With whatever job I would have, that will be the top priority I would expect from my work. As Allison pointed out, “stability” seems to be fading away from today’s Japanese society, in terms of economy and social relationships. Therefore, it is possible that this phenomenon will make it very difficult for me to find a job which would meet my expectations for my future career. In addition, because of this phenomenon, there is currently a serious competition in job hunting among the younger generations. Certainly, I will have to be part of the job competition as a competitor in a few years and somehow I will need to find a way to get around the barrier to have a secure job. Now the question is “How?” It can be said that there is no perfect answer for the question, whereas, there are two things which I believe are very important to work on in order to answer the question.

Firstly, it is to have a few but good qualifications. I am aware that it sounds so predictable, on the other hand, my point is that I belive I should be careful not to underestimate the importance of having qualifications. At a job interview, qualifications will play a big role in representing how you can contribute to whichever company you are applying for. Without them, you would be judged as a person with no potential to dedicate yourself to the company and a society around you, even if you are a skilled person with a strong will to utilize it for them. Hence, I appreciate how important it is to have some qualifications for myself and I have been working on this since I entered my university. I believe that being a university student gave me a privilege to have a lot of free time that I can spend on however I would like to, therefore, I consider it as a great opportunity to spend those free time on investing in myself.

Secondly, the other thing I consider is crucial to work on is to develop communication skills. Again, this may sound predictable, however, it is one of the most important skills to enable yourself to express what kind of person you are to the others. For example, Japan, with its slow pace, seems to be transforming into a more global nation, and therefore, there are more chances for us to meet people with different nationalities and backgrounds nowadays. To be able to interact well with those who have different cultures and perspectives, I have been striving to learn about some other cultures, languages, religions, politics ,et cetera in my course. If I had proper knowledge about them, I would know how I should talk to the people in an appropriate way. Hence, the way how you communicate with people show your personality in a sense ,and that is why developing a communication skill is believed to be very important.

My Future Plan

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

“Stability” is what I would look for in my future work. With whatever job I would have, that will be the top priority I would expect from my work. As Anne Allison points out, “stability” seems to be fading away from today’s Japanese society, in terms of economy and social relationship. Therefore, it is possible that this phenomenon will make it very difficult for me to find a job which would meet my expectation for my future career. In addition, because of this phenomenon, there is currently a serious competition in job hunting among the young generations. Certainly, I will have to be part of the job competition as a competitor in a few years and somehow I will need to find a way to get around the barrier to have a secure job. Now the question is “How?” It can be said that there is no perfect answer for the question, whereas, there are two things which I believe are very important to work on in order to answer the question.

Firstly, it is to have a few but good qualifications. I am aware that it sounds so predictable, on the other hand, my point is that I belive I should be careful not to underestimate the importance of having qualifications. At a job interview, qualifications will play a big role in representing how you can contribute to whichever company you are applying for. Without them, you would be judged as a person with no potentials to dedicate yourself to the company and a society around you, even if you are a skilled person with a strong will to utilize it for them. Hence, I appreciate how important it is to have some qualifications for myself and I have been working on this since I entered my university. I believe that being a university student gave me a privilege to have a lot of free time that I can spend on however I would like to, therefore, I consider it as a great opportunity to spend those free time on investing in myself.

Secondly, the other thing I consider is crucial to work on is to develop a communication skill. Again, this may sound predictable, however, it is one of the most important skills to enable yourself to express what kind of person you are to the others. For example, Japan, with its slow pace, seems to be transforming into a more global nation, and therefore, there are more chances for us to meet people with different nationalities and backgrounds nowadays. To be able to interact well with those who have different cultures and perspectives, I have been striving to learn about some other cultures, languages, religions, politics ,et cetera in my course. If I had proper knowledge about them, I would know how I should talk to the people in an appropriate way. Hence, the way how you communicate with people show your personality in a sense, and that is why developing a communication skill is believed to be very important.

Take This Personal Brand and Shove It

by Robert Moorehead

Two messages came across my inbox recently, and I’ve been thinking about how they’re related. The first is a brilliant animated film that captures the rigors of the job hunting process, or shūkatsu, in Japan. (You can find some insightful analysis of the film here.) In their final year of studies at the university, students dye their hair black, get more formal business haircuts, put on matching black suits, and go out to try to show how well they can toe the company line and become good corporate drones. In the process, students can lose themselves and become a person they no longer recognize.

Failing in this process also stings, as applicants can feel that their personal worth is wrapped up in the outcome. You’re reducing yourself to a commodity and peddling it to companies, and finding yourself dehumanized in the process.

The second message came from a workshop on “The Power of Brand ‘You’: Personal Branding for Career and Life Success.” The workshop is led by Peter Sterlacci, who, according to his own ad, is “known as ‘Japan’s Personal Branding Pioneer’ and is one of 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world.” (Let’s set aside grammar issues with the excessive use of capital letters, and the questions about who, exactly, knows Mr. Sterlacci in this manner. Maybe it’s just him. Let’s also set aside questions about just what a personal branding strategist is, who certifies such a person, and how many levels there are.)

BrandingOL_en_copy.1

In the messages on Sterlacci’s website, we can find a few kernels of truth. For example, the Japanese workplace places a high value on workers fitting into the existing hierarchy of the company. In a changing, 21st-century economy, workers need to look for jobs in a more global marketplace—and that marketplace can include settings in which workers need to promote themselves less as workers who can fit in, and more as workers who bring something unique to the company.

So far, so good. But the messages go further, to encourage workers to become their own “personal brand.” You are to be the brand, believe in the brand, and live the brand. But beyond Ophrah-esque messages of believing in yourself, listening to your heart, following your dreams, and opening yourself up to wealth, what does this mean? Am I a brand? (And if I am, are my children my “product line,” like from the iPad comes the iPad mini?)

In my introduction to sociology classes, I discuss Karl Marx’s notion of species being, which we can also think of as human nature. Marx states that humans are unique in our creative ability to produce things. Some animals can build bridges, and a few gorillas have learned sign language, but that doesn’t compare with humans’ ability to create things, from food to clothing, to buildings, to the global computer network on which you’re reading this.

In this sense, this ability is part of what defines us as humans, and we have an intimate connection with the things we create. We become alienated if the products of our labor are taken from us, or if we become little more than appendages to the machines in the factory. Think of the the satisfaction we feel when we make ourselves a nice dinner, compared to the disdain we felt toward the burgers many of us flipped in minimum-wage service jobs. (And if you ate any of the food I prepared at the Solano Drive-In in the 1980s, I apologize.)

In recent decades, our experiences at work have changed dramatically. Once-solid factory jobs in countries like the US and Japan have moved elsewhere, and workers find themselves struggling to find jobs that pay enough to support themselves and their families. Commitments from companies to long-term employment have practically vanished, replaced by temporary or contract work. We’re all free agents now, freed from being trapped in the same job and also free to go hungry while we search for work.

In this environment, it makes sense for workers to retool themselves for the changing dynamics of the workplace. Keep your resume up-to-date, and always be on the lookout for the next opportunity. Believe in yourself, market yourself, take charge of your destiny—think Stuart Smalley meets Gordon Gecko—become the product others want to buy.

And there’s the catch: are you a product? or a brand? or a commodity? or whatever synonym you prefer? What is your value in the marketplace? If you are your brand, and you live that brand all the time, 24 hours a day, are you really living up to your full human potential? Are you reducing yourself to your exchange value? What is your brand worth?

As I kid I remember my brother and I arguing with our dad about what something was worth. We loved some of our stuff so much that we imagined someone would pay us a fortune for it. Then we’d make all sorts of plans to sell our things and reap our rewards. Our father would then tell us that the things were only worth what someone would pay us for them, and that was probably a lot less than we imagined. Not yet schooled in the economics of capitalism, my brother and I confused use value and exchange value. The joy we got from playing with something (it’s utility, or use value) didn’t match the value of that thing in the marketplace (it’s exchange value).

So what happens when the thing we’re trying to sell is ourselves? And what if we buy so deeply into the process that we literally become the product, that we live the brand? Becoming and living your personal brand would involve not only matching the marketing of yourself with your skills and interests, but also shaping your daily life to fit the brand you’ve become. With the brand and the person one and the same, and the brand also a product that is marketed and sold at its exchange value, how in the world can we do this without reducing our humanity down to a tag line, a logo, and a website?

“What makes you unique, makes you successful,” says Sterlacci’s ad in bold print. But what if you’re not successful? Not everyone gets the job of their dreams, since capitalism requires there to be a sufficiently large population of people to be out there, looking for work. And if you don’t succeed, do you blame it on your brand? Do you reincarnate yourself as version 2.0? 3.0? 4.0?

While mired in this process and focusing on your personal brand, how can you engage your sociological imagination, to connect your personal experiences to the bigger picture? How can we find a middle ground, in which people can pursue work that rewards them without selling out and becoming tools. Or brands.

Got answers? Share your thoughts.