LIving and working in Japan

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 3 Jun 1994 15:26:17 JST

Partly, this is for Erisa Ojimba who asks,

"May I ask what one does with an Anthropology degree, if one doesn't
find a teaching position????"

You look at your skills, you look at the market to see what's in demand, and
with luck and a little help from your friends you find a place to use the

In my case I arrived in Japan in 1980, an unemployed anthropologist with a
wife who was doing an advanced degree in Japanese literature and a four-year-
old daughter. Anthropology didn't get me a job. Writing skills and a better
than basic knowledge of computers and a list of names from a friend who had
been in the ad business here did that. Anthropology did, however, make me
much better at the job I do: copywriting and creative direction in a Japanese
advertising agency. As a student of Victor Turner I had learned that basic
social facts (demographic, political and economic) and cultural symbols
(beliefs, values, attitudes, etc.) are part of the same social field and
you need to keep your eyes on both to grasp what's going o. Fieldwork had
made me humble enough to deal respectfully with people doing things in
unexpected ways; it made me willing to take the time to sort out what they
were trying to do before trying to change their minds. It's helped a lot
while working for a Japanese corporation to know (1) a lot of things that
sociologists and anthropologists have written about Japanese society and (2)
that social realities change when conditions affecting the processes that
support them do. To which I would add that a passing familiarity with things
like human evolution, primate behavior, pottery styles, trade routes, socio-
linguistics, family structures, ritual symbols, etc., etc., etc., is a
marvelous preparation for a business that consists primarily of making
metaphors that add meaning to client messages. Thanks to anthropology I know
a bit about economics and also know a bit about art. I can talk to the guys
in marketing, to designers and film directors, to account executives and
engineers and put what I here together in concepts and scenarios their bosses
are willing to pay good money for. As I see it, what I do is applied
anthropology with a vengeance.

JohnMcCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)