[Recorded 20 November 2019] Based upon anthropological fieldwork conducted in the Koenji neighbourhood of Tokyo, I examine the lives of street-based amateur musicians newly arrived in the metropolis. In many cases, initial aspirations of progress give way to a realisation that the music industry is deaf to their efforts. They quickly slip into a pattern of irregular work, joining huge numbers of financially insecure and opportunity-poor young people. Prioritising music has put them on the margins of popular discourses of life trajectories in Japan, even though their lived experiences are commonplace to many. While scholarship on “precarity” and the reverberations of “gap society” is plentiful, much less attention has been given to how people respond to these circumstances. In this talk I explore how the musicians carve out new trajectories for themselves by readdressing the role that music plays in their lives, and how their music practices negotiate the space left by diminished hope. That a life in music can still exist despite odds stacked against it is, perhaps, indicative that young people are fast developing the skills and capacities to negotiate the vicissitudes of modern life.
Robert Simpkins (Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures)