COLUMN about Life in Work All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy

COLUMN about Life in Work All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy

PM 5:36 – PM 8:21
4th September 2020 in TOKYO
From Morning
Two cups of Americano
Two packs of Marlboro Gold (soft pack)

When I was young, I seriously didn’t want to work for the rest of my life and just wanted to have fun. It was the ‘90s—people felt that the prophecy of Nostradamus was plausible. While denying it on the surface, as we approached the end of the millennium and the apocalypse, we questioned if working hard or struggling to move up the ladder was simply not a waste of time. Not many young people know exactly what they want to do in the future. In my generation, when we vaguely started to think about the future, we were made to believe that graduating from a university and working for a large corporation was the best hedge against life and provided you with a better chance at happiness. There was nothing I wanted to do in the future—so with the money I made working part-time, I travelled through countries where living was cheap; I couch surfed, slept in tents, and partied while clinging on to the prophecy of Nostradamus until the end of the century. After living this way for six years, I finally came to a realization: All play and no work was quite boring. I realized that afterschool was fun because there was school; I felt free after exams because I studied for the them. I was not tough enough to keep on playing for the rest of my life.
I was determined to work. However, I had no clue as to what I should do. I had many interests, so I asked myself if I wanted to choose a career based on them, but it gave me no clear answers. I considered well-paid full-time jobs too, but before hearing back from the employers I pulled back—something just didn’t feel right. If it was part-time, I dabbled in all kinds of things. I preferred physical work because of its simplicity; you didn’t have to think, and your reward reflected the amount of work you did. One of these gigs, a house painting job, somehow led me to running a beach house, which led me to making books. Before I knew it, I was working as a freelance editor and copy writer. I think of editing as a fundamental element of work we have in our world today. Unless you’re an exceptional genius, it’s impossible to create something new from scratch. Every possible avenue has been exhausted; every idea tried and tested. Editing process, on the other hand, consists of putting different things together, providing different angles, and transforming them into something new. When I figured this concept out, it became the foundation of my entire work—from interior decoration to advertisement.
I didn’t want to report to a boss; I didn’t want to work in the same place all day; I didn’t want to compromise in order to maintain an organization—I knew exactly what I didn’t want. I had no choice but to work as a freelancer. Freelancers have the freedom to take time off at will, but truth be told, we are too scared to do so from the fear of losing our jobs. Case in point: I haven’t stopped working since. When I started working, I was a freeloader living in my friend’s home. I bought my second-hand MacBook with the first chunk of cash I made, stuffed it in my backpack, and went everywhere to work on my bike.
After meeting with a client at their office, sometimes I stayed there, borrowing the corner of a desk to keep working. I remember writing all my emails at once at a café and finding a hotspot later to send them off. You might call me a trailblazing digital nomad—that might sound cool, but it was not easy. I had nowhere to spread my documents let alone store them, so I had to carry them around. However, I was somehow proud and confident of my ability to work anywhere—as long as I had my pencil, a notebook, and a laptop. That’s all I needed. Different people have different work tools and styles, though when working for a corporation, it may be more restricting.
Back then, in terms of tools, all I had was a laptop, a notebook, and a bag. Nowadays, I have an office with enough storage for documents and space to spread them out. I believe, though, that I can still achieve everything without this space. Of course, this is the benefit of being a writer or an editor, I suppose. All I need to do is write. I fully understand that not everyone can agree to this—a photographer may need a medium format camera from Pentax; a pattern maker may need specific scissors; a designer may need a Stedler pencil to draw. I do believe that it is important to have your favorite and reliable tools of the trade for maintaining the quality of your work.
There are certain work outfits that improve your motivation at work, like a personal uniform. Today’s society has blurred the boundaries between work and home life; I have a feeling many people dress up in order to flip the switch to work mode. With the movement of the Cool Biz dress campaign (allowing employees to dress more casually at work), the general dress code at work is becoming less strict in Japan, yet oddly, people long for their own uniform. It’s also true that when you wear a uniform of your choice, it inspires motivation in the workplace. The type of work environment that excites you or improves your focus may vary from person to person, but same can be said about office and workspace.
What about the mode of transportation to work? Some people get rid of clutter in their head by riding their bikes to work, through physical exercise; some improve their focus by blasting music while driving. Travelling to work is a part of work. I try to ride my bike to work as much as possible, but when there is too much going on and my mind is spinning, then I take my car. Revving up the engine, I roll down the window and feel the fresh breeze flow in from outside. My mind starts to slow down as I drive and focus on what’s in front of me—this is how I relax.
Our way of working or work itself has changed in the last six months—well, the term “change” may be too simple, perhaps “drastic change” is more accurate. The job of bringing people together became something that feels unrealistic. The shopping areas of giant city centers have become ghost towns. Remote working has become the new normal, and large, prestigious office buildings with premium price tags are not necessary anymore. People shop less and they’re done more and more online. For those who make their living as creatives, the environment is becoming increasingly difficult. Some even question themselves if they are essential. What we create—fashion, interior design, events, etc.—are not considered essential to life when compared to food, water, and shelter.
But I’d like to believe that’s false; I’d like to believe that creativity, art, and beautiful designs nourish our soul, and they are essential to our daily lives. Our world certainly changed. The tone of music and images people desire may also have changed. You may prefer to wear something comfy rather than edgy now. The sudden change may be disconcerting, but we must adjust and never stop creating. Kenji Miyazawa said in one of his poems that a new era makes new people stronger. We must not be bound by the past—we must face forward as new people. We must strive to improve the world and make it more enjoyable. We must prepare and get our weapons ready—polish those tools and clear your workspace!


Kinichi Nomura
Born 1973. Nomura is an editor, writer, and an organizer of the interior design group Tripster. He works in a variety of roles including Creative Direction to Casting Director and radio personality on J-Wave’s “Travel Without Moving” program, a position he has held for six years.
English translation: Akiko Watanabe & Rei Matsuoka

Related article