- Cultural Migrants from Japan: Youth, Media, and Migration in New York and London
The Japanese, especially young Japanese, seem to have increasingly globalized lifestyles and enjoy studying and traveling abroad and interacting with people from other nations more than ever before. Thus, they appear to have new, flexible identities. Since the end of the bubble economy in the 1990s, the discourses of Nihonjinron that were prevalent during the years of rapid economic growth no longer seem to represent the contemporary Japanese. Not only have discourses of Nihonjinron been severely criticized but the ongoing recession has made it practically impossible to provide core Japanese workers with a sense of pride as excellent workers. For example, there is not enough job security even for male core workers—it is no longer surprising when male breadwinners suddenly lose their jobs. In addition, only two-thirds (68.8 per cent) of new college graduates find full-time jobs1; the rest may have to endure working irregularly. The discourses of the so-called postwar Japanese system have disappeared as the Japanese economy suffers from huge debts and deindustrialization. There is no longer the socioeconomic base that once supported the ideology of Japaneseness. In these economic circumstances, it would seem inevitable for the Japanese, especially for young Japanese, to create new global identities.
Nevertheless, in her fascinating book, Cultural Migrants from Japan: Youth, Media, and Migration in New York and London, Yuiko Fujita suggests the opposite is happening to young Japanese. This book intriguingly shows how young Japanese sojourners in two global cities develop their sense of being Japanese. Starting with one question—"Why are so many young Japanese moving to New York City and London?"—the author raises two further questions: first, "how do young Japanese conceive the idea of migration to New York City and London?" and second, "how do young Japanese develop their sense of national identity during their stay in New York or in London?"
The author addresses these issues based on a methodology she calls "multisited ethnography." In 2002, she identified 10 young Japanese about to set out for New York and 12 who were leaving for London, all of them interested in cultural studies and the arts. Fujita initially spent six months finding these individuals in front of the U.S. Embassy and the British Council in Tokyo. Then, for five years, the author traveled to New York and London to [End Page 476] continue her interviews with these 22 subjects, and she provided them help with English and sometimes food in restaurants. Originally, the informants had planned to study in New York or in London for periods ranging from three months to four years, supported by their middle-class families. After relocating, the students were fascinated by new lifestyles and most hoped to stay as long as possible. But they eventually exhausted their families' support and worked at low-level jobs. Some tried to sell their own works, such as drawings and crafts, but they were not able to become professional artists. Three women among the 22 students married and thus gained the legal status to stay in their new countries. The experiences of these students show that, for individual Japanese, opportunities to live abroad without financial support from home are very limited. Marriage and working for a Japanese multinational company as a locally hired employee are perhaps the only ways to emigrate. Ultimately, most of Fujita's subjects returned to Japan due to the difficulty of getting a job in New York or in London, expecting that they might find better jobs in Japan than working as unskilled workers in a foreign country.
Using detailed content analysis of Japanese transcripts from her interviews, the author vividly describes the process of changing identities. Before their departure, the students did not imagine barriers caused by race and gender; their images of life in New York and in London were similar to what they experienced in Japan. Informants thought they had accumulated enough information about their destinations through new...