Shūkatsu—a Japanese term that refers to the rigorous job hunting process university students in Japan go through in the search for lifelong employment. As one can imagine, it’s tough. With recruitment agencies looking through a pool of candidates who are all equally talented and qualified, there can be quite the pressure to not stand out for the wrong reasons—including for your fashion choices. But will it always have to be this way? We interviewed Japanese university student Mirei about the shūkatsu process and her thoughts on the future of fashion in corporate Japan.
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Mirei Tamura. I’m 21 years old and I major in Chinese Culture and Language at Chūo University. I’ve studied Chinese since high school, so studying China at university seemed like a natural next step.
Where are you in your shūkatsu?
It’s August but I still haven’t finished. I’d been in such a rush to get a job by June, but I’m going at my own pace now—I decided to put my mind and body first. I began suffering from mental health issues in late May. There were times when I found myself wound up so tight, I couldn’t stop crying and I was always nauseous. I’ve been careful not to revert to that state. But even now I get really discouraged when I receive a rejection letter.
What kinds of companies are you applying to?
I started off applying to publishing houses, then retailers and shopping centres. I’m currently looking for something in IT. I’m seriously taking into consideration whether I will enjoy the job or not.
Is shūkatsu relevant to someone pursuing a creative career?
I don’t think shūkatsu can fit in with the lives of young people if it doesn’t change. The old-time “big companies” still impose a decades-old understanding of etiquette—for example, you are expected to have a handwritten CV, and wear the student-standard plain black “recruit suit” (even in summer) with your hair tied back. But the venture companies that were set up in the last 20 years are making it easier for students to job hunt. They’re changing with the times by holding company information sessions on Youtube and setting up job interviews with LINE*.
*LINE is an instant messaging app popular in Japan.
Do you have any concerns about expressing yourself through fashion once you are hired?
I’d always hated wearing the same clothes as everyone else so I had a strong aversion to the “recruit suit” and the unnaturally black hair in a low ponytail look before starting shūkatsu. Fashion is one of the ways in which people express themselves. Why do they tell us to “show your personality” when they have already determined what we should look like? More than anything, I was frustrated that there weren’t any adults who could answer this question.
What is your favourite fashion style and why?
I like fashion that is casual but incorporates a feminine touch. I don’t like fashion that aims to attract the attentions of men—I want to be a healthy woman in body and spirit. I began to favour casual styles when I came across a spokeswoman of a certain brand—I developed a deep admiration for her mindset and the way she lived her life.
If you could wear whatever you wanted to work, what would be your ideal work outfit?
Clothes that aren’t too different from what I’d wear on my day off. I think a company that was cool with me wearing jeans and sandals would be great! I want to do my job feeling relaxed and wearing casual clothes.
What are your future goals and dreams?
I want to be surrounded by the people I love. I want to find a place where I can be true to myself and I want to live there.
Any last words?
Shūkatsu is hard no matter what anyone else tells you. It can become a reason to hate yourself. So, I want you to remember that shūkatsu is not your only option. It is really important to be continually asking yourself what is the best option when trying to make your dreams come true!
Thank you for this interview and giving me this invaluable experience.
Image courtesy of Mirei.
Introduction and questions by Ecre, interview translated by Anna.