Just when everyone else is filling their schedule books and calendars with black ink, red ink, blue ink and pencil markings, cramming the little boxes with all kinds of company talks, interviews, application deadlines, meetings with seniors, I stare down at my empty calendar with a frown, and stare down the history of my life, accentuating my frown. What am I doing, or rather, what am I not doing? What am I missing out when everyone is running all over the country in their suits and ties, while I am attending Christmas parties?

What am I doing, and what will I be doing, in a few years down the road?

就職活動 (shuushoku-katsudou) is arguably the main theme and aim of Japanese universities. (It simply means job-hunting in Japanese.) I’m sorry to inform you that “studying” wasn’t on the agenda when throngs of students congregate at the entrance ceremonies every April. Professors and senior students serenade the freshmen with inspiring talks at the auditoriums, not about inspiring their lives, but about how they can get a good job after graduation. So, the time has come for me; everyone who once stood beside me in their suits and ties 3 years ago, are now back in this attire, carrying out their most important and sacred ritual of their four-year (or more) stay in the university- 就職活動, or better known as 就活 (shuukatsu).

Job-hunting in japan is more or less similar to that in other countries, apart from the fact that you don’t really need any knowledge or skills; the name of your school and your vow to pledge your life and dedication to the company should suffice. Well, if you are a foreigner, it would be easier or harder to get a job, depending on how receptive the companies are to gaijins (foreigners, with a condescending connotation).

I am not writing to lambast about the Japanese style of job-hunting, but more to bemoan about how my life thus far has convinced me to a large extent that I am not suitable for this. Tracing back my footsteps in life, I find that I had been taking largely different paths from those around me. When I first took Japanese in secondary school, it was pretty much random and coincidental, but little did I realize that that first step away from the norm took me to a path far far away from the rest. My decision to carry on with Japanese took me away from my friends, first into different classes, and then into different high schools. Even in high school, I had different P.E classes, different breaks from my class. After graduation, when everyone else was enlisted into the military in January, I had to be different again, as I became the only person in my class, and one of the only people among my friends, to be enlisted in April. Even in the military, I stood out too much for my own good and gradually started to decline in motivation.

After the military, I came to Japan, leaving my friends behind for a new life. I cannot really say I am, once again, different here, because everyone else here is as different, or perhaps even more different than I am. This could be the reason why all of us are here, in this faculty. All of us who had taken a different path from our peers.

In a year’s time or so, all of us will be separated again, into the next phases of our lives. Maybe it is because of the people I mix around with, I find several friends of mine who are taking the alternative route out of the norm. Despite having worked all the way up the education ladder, many of my friends decide to step off the ladder and walk a different path. Perhaps if they had chosen a different path right from the start, I would not have been surprised. I guess life gives us unlimited options and possibilities, but this could be the last time life is offering us a different option, a chance to change our lives completely.

A caricature artist friend who draws for charity and out of goodwill; a friend aspiring to be a singer to inspire others; a friend who got through the auditions into Japan’s arguably biggest musical group, 劇団四季; a friend motivated to eliminate discriminations amongst Korean Residents in Japan; a friend’s friend who has great ambitions of travelling around the world in a year. Perhaps these are the people who are increasingly convincing me that entering a company and working for authority is not the only viable options. Perhaps the more I look at my life, the more I am persuaded that this is what the rest of my life is fated to be.

I stand in the middle of the crowd of suited university students at a company’s talk, looking out of the window, trying to search for the possibilities available in the vast blue skies out there. Should I just drop my briefcase, step out of the crowd, and out into the sea of uncertainties?

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