Uncertain but cool: the transition from Japanese fashion education to creative work in precarious times
(University of Amsterdam)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyses how labour precarity and Japan’s unique recruitment system affect Japanese fashion designers’ school-to-work transition. It illustrates their balancing act between being “cool creatives” and the institutional structures of the fashion school, labour market, and society at large.
Paper long abstract:
In most post-industrial societies, regular employment has been gradually replaced by labour precarity (insecurity, irregularity, and flexibility), which not only affects today's working-class youth, but also its middle-class counterparts. Paradoxically, work has become the principal definer of selfhood. In Japan, the increased dominance of temporary part-time jobs (arubaito) prevents young people from reproducing socio-economic structures based on the post-WWII ideals of "family and company." Many choose a career in Japan's popular culture industry, a booming field of substantial international visibility. Yet, despite its economic importance, holders of "cool" but precarious jobs have difficulties gaining recognition as productive members of society. One future-determining period, the institutionalized transition from school to work, has become a problematic juncture for young Japanese. Japan's unique recruitment and job allocation system (shushoku katsudo), designed as a response to labour shortage during the bubble economy, doesn't match the needs of today's precarious job market. It impedes transition from arubaito to regular employment and restricts inventiveness in companies as well as personal career development. This paper, based on ethnographic research at Japan's most prestigious fashion school, analyses the way in which Japan's "lost generation" searches for alternative life paths and a new sense of self by focusing on the transition from fashion academy to creative work. It illustrates how, in uncertain times, creative middle-class Japanese navigate between on the one hand their desire for freedom and "cool" selfhood, and on the other hand the institutional structures of the fashion school, Japan's recruitment system, and society's expectations at large.
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