It’s a challenge to come up with the words to describe Yujun Wakashin.
At times he might be jaunting around university campuses with three people in panda suits in tow, at others holding a debate with a former Prime Minister. He is also Washiki, the drummer who performs in a Japanese style room and who made a big splash on Nico Nico Douga.
Just who is Yujun Wakashin? Well, he’s a guru for communication between individuals and organizations, someone impossible to measure by conventional standards. Always moving onto the next interesting project, just some of the recent examples include recruitment events for “outlaws and geeks”, as well as acting as moderator for the upcoming Democratic Party of Japan Public Review Session.
The more you look at Wakashin’s website, the less you understand. We decided the only thing to be done was to meet and speak with him directly!
Yujun Wakashin, you have lots of job titles — “communication consultant”, “industrial counsellor” and so on — but what is it that you actually do?
Well, to explain it simply, I’m questioning the things we take for granted in society, and presenting completely new ways to communicate with people and organizations, and this will help liberate everyone from autonomic growth and the existing social systems.
Wow! That’s pretty ambitious!
Yes, it sounds really heavy. But for example, job-hunting is one kind of communication between individuals and organizations. Corporations sell themselves through company orientation sessions. Students then communicate their experiences and fortes to corporations through filling out forms, visit alumni to get connections, and then go through interview rounds with firms. In Japan the procedure of job-hunting is perfectly unified and it all starts at the same time.
Yes, whenever spring begins we can see lots of students doing the rounds of corporate interviews in their “job-hunting suits”.
Yes, but no one decided that’s what everyone has to do!
Having to wear the “job interview suit” or guys having to have their hair cut only short and black is just something that Japanese society today takes for granted, but I always look at it and think it’s really odd. People come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s natural that there should be all kinds of ways to look for a job, that rather it’s strange if there wasn’t a variety.
Well, this is how the obvious things are peculiar.
So this sort of questioning led to your job-hunting event, Outlaw Recruitment & Geek Recruitment 2013 then? It’s suggesting a way to look for a job that is different to the system that is customary in Japan, right?
When doing their job-hunting and going to the interviews, there are many people among students and companies who sense something strange about just pushing their good points. It’s not the case that these kind of students are simply not used to the system or have poor capabilities. Actually I think they possess excellent personal qualities.
With this in mind I held the Outlaw Recruitment & Geek Recruitment 2013 event for fourth year college students who have given up on mainstream job-hunting, and for “ronin” job-hunters or those who have already graduated. I used Facebook to get applicants for the event and around sixty students took part. Company people and the students all just came in ordinary clothes and talked in a relaxed environment on a range of topics.
From this, thirteen people were chosen as prospective employees, among whom there was someone who had spent close to two years as a hikikomori recluse. I think it was a recruitment event where you didn’t just bounce off each other’s tatemae, but where both corporations and students could flex their characters and communicate more deeply, and which was convincing for both sides.
So, it was a big success, then?
Of course, it’s wonderful that some people got jobs but it was important that at the same time the human resources recruitment reps for the companies also understood how there are other ways to recruit the new staff intake.
There are many NEET that are people who for some reason or other did not conform to existing social norms. But being a “recruitment outlaw” does not mean you lack distinction. The company is not about gathering those kind of people together and forcing something out, but rather thinking of new things through conversation.
Sounds like quite a challenge. And did it work out?
Of course, I support them as much as I can. But to a certain extent I am leaving it up to them; I believe that some sort of new value will be born out of it. Making them all directors aims to encourage independence through becoming a business proprietor, transcending the concept of being “hired”.
Actually I’m still looking for participants for the company orientation and so on, so if there’s anyone interested out there, please do join in!
You’re doing so many things. Is there a kind of keyword that forms an axis for your activities?
Oh, without doubt my keyword is “emancipation”.
“Emancipation” from what?
There is a lot but surely it’s being emancipated from the binds of existing norms and social structures.
Why is that so important?
Japan is a country with incredible potential, but the Japanese are tied down socially by concepts and so cannot try new things. Japan is very rich, so it’s totally fine to fail or take detours, but we cannot do daring things since we are tied down by the norms.
My job is to emancipate people from those social concepts and show the way towards a freer society.
You have a kind of sense of crisis about Japan’s future?
Yes, I think Japanese people should have more of this crisis mentality. It is precisely a country as mature as Japan that needs new and diverse forms of expression.
Japan in the time of high economic growth was like an adolescent during their growth spurt, and just kept on growing and growing. What was necessary in that period was the continuation of doing what was going well. And yet in the Nineties, Japan’s growth rapidly decreased.
This was due to society having fully developed, but simultaneously it shows us that you cannot grow if you just continue doing the same thing as before. For a developed society to continue growing, it must value diversity.
And if there is diversity, does the world move in a better direction?
Well, with diversity there are good things and bad things. But when values expand, things with value will spontaneously come about.
In a society that prizes personality and diversity, things like my Outlaw Recruitment event and NEET Inc will enable each individual to realize their abilities.
I see! But what was it that first led you to question and challenge these things?
If I look back, I have always had this feeling of reaction against the things that are taken for granted in society. For example, I didn’t really fit in at my school club during high school.
I always remember how when I joined the volleyball club, at first we were made to collect the balls. We were ordered by the teacher to stand by the wall to do this. A volleyball has quite a bit of bounce so if it hits a wall, it will return by itself. In other words, we had nothing to do. Since there were no balls to pick up, I’d talk to my friend next to me. The teacher suddenly came over and called me “human trash”.
I wasn’t causing trouble to anyone else so why was I being called this? In the end I couldn’t understand the point of going to school, attending class, doing after-school clubs and then going home: why was this “normal”?
So your work today was born out your experiences?
Yes, and my experience of starting a business after graduating was decisive. During my time in college I didn’t find a job with a company like most people, but instead started a business providing welfare for the disabled with an older peer. I thought that since it was a company we had started we would be able to work in our own way, just as we wanted to.
And were things different in reality?
Well, yes, in reality things weren’t like that. Fortunately the company continued to grow. But people who joined the company from a big corporation criticized my hair [Yujun Wakashin is a massive fan of visual-kei music and has dyed brown shoulder-length hair] and that I wasn’t punctual, and eventually I got kicked out of the company I had started myself.
That must have been a shock.
Yes, it was, but it was more that it just felt strange. I wasn’t causing anyone any problems so why did I have to be repudiated? I joined graduate school in order to pursue this feeling and that brought me to where I am now.
Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the upcoming Democratic Party of Japan Public Review Session, which you will be moderating.
On May 11th, I will be joined by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, and Akira Nagatsuma, former Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare. We will be collecting questions anonymously from the floor in a venue which can hold 600 people. It won’t be a place for politicians to make speeches but rather for them to think about politics together with the attendees. There will be no keynote address from Mr Kan at all, just question after question right from the start.
The event is being called a “big review session” (daihanseikai), but its aim is to think about just what is politics, together with the specialists who have been in power. In politics the structure of “speaker” and “listener” is particularly pronounced, and there hasn’t been much dialogue that is fluid, so through this kind of experiment I want to challenge conventional social structures.
I did a similar kind of event last November with Mr Kan and 100 people, and he expressed a surprising amount of his ideas on lots of things. I think Mr Kan probably also realizes that through fluid communication completely new values can come about.
What kind of discussion can we expect on the day?
Of course, Edano and Kan were the two politicians who most lived through the Tohoku disaster, so we will talk about that. I want people to ask straight questions about things they thought were wrong.
While understanding properly that just because these people are “political professionals” doesn’t mean they have all the answers, I hope it will be an event where we can think together about Japanese politics.