Japanese hobbyism and the joy of unproductivity

The moments I feel the happiest and at peace

Kaki Okumura

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Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

I don’t think people were born into this world to be productive. As in, all people are perfectly capable of growth, accomplishment, and productivity, but I don’t think that’s my (or anyone’s) life purpose.

And the moments where I am able to take a step back and recognize that, are the moments I feel the happiest and at peace.

In Japan, I think there are values of hard work and career growth as well as values of cultivating personal interest — it often depends on who you’re speaking to!

But something that I have come to appreciate and notice fondly is the acceptance and normalcy of Japanese hobbyism and the value in spending time on things that aren’t necessarily “productive” but simply bring us joy.

Unlike in the US, in Japan there is less of a focus on individual exceptionalism. Individuals in Japan usually aren’t raised with the narrative that it’s important to be extraordinary, or to accomplish world-changing things. Instead, there is a stronger emphasis on doing your responsibility to contribute to the greater whole.

Setting aside the discussion of whether this is a good or bad thing, because there is less focus on exceptionalism, consequently, I think many Japanese people are more open to focusing on the joys of engaging in rather “unproductive” hobbies and a simple daily routine.

Ordinary Japanese adults often engage in hobbies, enough to have popularized the term ‘otaku’, a Japanese word established in 1983 that describes young adults with consuming interests, typically in gaming, anime, or pop culture. While it originally was used as a rather derogatory term to describe a nerd, it’s recently been reclaimed as a way to communicate a passion for a niche hobby.

People may describe themselves as a “soccer otaku”, “foreign film/tv otaku”, or “coffee otaku”…

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Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱