Center for Asian Research Faculty Research Workshop

The Limits of Hope: Discourses of the Future Among Contemporary Japanese Younger Adults

by Dr. Judit Kroo (SILC)

January 22, 2021 at 12:00pm

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This presentation considers how contemporary younger adults discursively articulate the availability of possible futures under conditions of marginalizing neoliberal capitalism (Brinton 2010). Contemporary university students in Japan face difficult circumstances, including a prolonged recession that has left many without stable employment. The ‘exhaustion’ (Povinelli 2011) of life in extended precarity (Allison 2013) has further given rise to narratives of disaffected younger adults who are seen as lacking will or ability compared to ‘hardworking’ older adults. At the same time, university students inhabit a liminal space where post-graduation life still constitutes a horizon of multiple potential futures.

For these younger adults, discourses of futsuu ‘ordinariness’ and antei ‘stability’ emerge as a locus of aspiration and fear. Individuals describe their parents’ generation as one in which doing things futsuu ni ‘ordinarily’ was enough to guarantee shiawase ‘happiness’.  Being futsuu ni shiawase ‘ordinarily happy’ structures a desirable future horizon, but also one that has disappeared; for younger adults futsuu ni shite mo umaku ikani ‘even if you do things ordinarily, they won’t work out’. That is to say, futsuu ni sureba ‘doing things ordinarily’ is no longer sufficient to achieve an ordinary ‘good life’ (Berlant 2011).

Similarly, younger adults consider themselves to be fuantei ‘unstable’ and articulate value schema such that antei shita tokoro ‘a stable place’ is understood as site of a desirable future: hayaku antei shita tokoro ni ikitai desu ‘I want to go to stable place quickly’. According to this schema, yume ‘dreams’ themselves are understood as fuanteisugiru ‘too unstable’; rather than dreams, ‘ordinary’ jobs become loci of aspiration since mukashi kara no kaisha tte nanka sugoi antei shiteru ‘companies from way back are like extremely stable’.

Interrogating the potential for contemporary younger adults to imagine alternative future lives (Lear 2006), this presentation considers what it means to endure (Povinelli 2011) and to imagine the future in the face of social precarity and marginalization.

Pdf: PDF icon faculty_research_workshop_kroo.pdf