Kaoru Aoyama, PhD 2001-2005

Kaoru Aoyama, PhD 2001-2005I have been working at the Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Kobe University, Japan, since October 2010. This is my first permanent academic job after temporary positions at Tohoku and Kyoto Universities. Now, I have been promoted to professor this April, feeling very old… So, yes, in this climate, I should be really happy about my work situation. But, as you all know very well, it’s hectic and getting worse.

As an Essex sociologist, I sometimes look at STATISTICS and compare them with my own personal experiences: among many notorious figures in Japan (and I have no intention of mentioning any sexist/ultra-right-wing remarks by st*p*d politicians at all here) are the long working hours. There is a warning that beyond 60 hours a week, the rate of karo-shi, or death by work-related exhaustion/stress, increases considerably (surprise, surprise!); and among my colleagues we say, ‘60 hours? We should have died 1.5 times by now’. Yes, I am exaggerating; academics do not work so much during summer and so we don’t exceed the karo-shi line on average, except that summer ‘holidays’ are the only time we can work as researchers.

At the moment, I am very much looking forward to the end of my service as chairperson of the International Exchange Committee this autumn – anyone fancy a teaching, research or student exchange with a Japanese university?

Despite feeling overworked, I’m not giving up this job quite yet, though, because I have a mortgage for the first time in my life, too, and I still think this is the best paid job in which I can follow my research interest. I am still working on global sex work issues, very much built on my Ph.D. project. The difference now is that I do not focus only on migrant workers but also Japanese workers and increasingly leaning towards participatory action research. After coming back from Essex, I keep finding myself in situations which people in academia need to engage in in order to make certain issues, otherwise swept away as personal troubles, social.  But it’s nice, seriously, to find a good use for what I enjoyed so much in the process of learning:

– Ken’s artistic lectures and creative talks, Rob’s crafted lectures and pinpoint supervisions, Paul’s interview methodology, Lucinda’s book launch, Colin’s ‘way of life that does not exist’, Pam’s hands-on ‘how to finish in three years’ class, Yasmin and Maggie O’Neil’s tough viva, departmental seminars, brown bag seminars, our little individually organised seminars and chats in the student offices, teas here and there, expensive but fine campus accommodation, the lake in rain, the smell in the library, Ph.D. conferences at Aldeburgh, mulled wine in the common room, the TESCO junction towards Wivenhoe village, the foot path, estuary, the house on Chaney Road, pints at the Rose and Crown and the list, with deep-felt thanks, never ends.

Besides, I do find the Essex brand of sociology is an excellent tool to keep reminding us that people ‘out there’ are much more knowledgeable than anyone in academia, never mind in national politics, about the issues they should have been at the centre of. It has also equipped us with theories and methodologies that distinguish sociologists from others’ ways of being useful; the awareness is with us that we need to question the theory/practice divide particularly in handling the West/East divide. The pain is that at the moment this type of sociology looks like it is losing funding and so on around the world. Let’s wait and see if our connection to the real will pay off in the end.

To be fair, life in Kobe is not bad overall. It’s a nice city with a working port, beach, mountain, hotspas, lively centre and history of modernising Asia. We will have trouble visiting all the good-looking eating-out places in a lifetime – anyone fancy Japanese dinner around here? I’m from Tokyo originally but I don’t want to go back to live there anymore. Being away from Tokyo overcrowding it’s also good that you don’t have to queue too long to see films and exhibitions (when you have time to visit them at all).

Here, I live with my partner who I met at Essex as my housemates-cum-course-mates’ friend. After struggling with a too-long-distance relationship, we decided to get a civil partnership and live together in Japan. The partnership is not recognised here but we are openly and civilisedly demanding university, municipal, sometimes state offices to give us equal welfare and legal treatment. Of course we fail every time because this is a sovereign state ruled by its own law. But never mind, this can be another participatory action research on migration, gender, sexuality, intimacy, citizenship and nationality combined anyway. Moreover, we are expecting a baby in a week’s time! Ask me about the adventure of bringing up a child in a queer family in Japan next time.

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  1. #1 by Kaoru Aoyama on August 24, 2014 - 8:25 am

    The baby boy was born on July the 29th! We named him Ren, lotus in Japanese.

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