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Thursday, May 11, 2000

PREPARING TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE

Young women study up for the future


Staff writer

A high attendance in classes ranging from aromatherapy, beadwork and flower arrangement to exotic languages and cooking, offered at department stores and community centers all over Japan, is a sign of a new trend among women in their late 20s and early 30s.

It seems many women in this demographic are taking creative courses with the distinct aim of making career changes. While earlier generations of women took these types of lessons purely for fun or self-improvement, today's young working women have given them a new importance. Many of the women participating in these classes are doing so to raise their self-esteem and establish a potential connection to a new career which reflects their interests more accurately.

Television and print media have done much to accelerate this trend. Some prominent housewives, like Harumi Kurihara, have emerged as successful karisuma shufu, mavens of good living who specialize in food coordinating, table design and interior coordination, presenting a new generation of women with new options.

"I want to spend my life doing something I like, somewhere I like, with people I like," says Mamiko Kino, 32, whose dream is to become a food coordinator, a job that involves cooking and table arrangement.

In an effort to find her way into her chosen job market, she has taken all sorts of lessons ranging from cooking and culinary photography to wine tasting.

Diverging from the unfocused career path she feels she has followed so far, Kino is now concentrating on specializing in one particular area of interest. Working as an OL at a well-known company, Kino says she hates her job and would feel no obligation to stay with her current company if she found work as a food coordinator in the future.

Although she is well aware of the obstacles she has to overcome, such as acquiring the relevant skills, getting to know the right people and having a certain amount of luck -- not all of which are under her control -- Kino is not willing to give up on her dream.

Shiomi Morita, a women's career development consultant, also in her early 30s, says that this phenomenon is a sign of the times. "During the bubble economy, being an OL and taking various lessons had a certain status. These days, society is getting more and more competitive, and merely having a hobby isn't enough," she says, adding that having a specialty will become increasingly important.

Akiko Takahashi, 28, works as a PR person at a foreign airline company. Although her job has considerable responsibility and she enjoys it very much, she still felt somehow unfulfilled, so she started a course in aromatherapy, something that she has always wanted to learn. She has only taken it up recently, but is already very enthusiastic and says that she wants to qualify as an instructor.

"I felt that I was a generalist. There was no one single thing that I was prominent in ever since school," she says. "I'm still struggling to find out what I'm good at doing. At present, I only know that I want to continue working even after I get married, so I want to find a job that I can do at my own pace."

One distinct factor that haunts women around this age is the fact that they think there is an age limit to starting something new. Now 32, Kino says that when she hit 30 she thought it was her last chance to learn new skills that might lead to a career, so she put a wholehearted effort into her classes.

Marriage is another obstacle they have to overcome. All three single women interviewed said that they definitely want to get married in the future, and see their future careers as something they can pursue even after marriage and children.

One married woman who is planning to quit her job soon and start anew in the world of handicrafts is Kaori Tanaka (not her real name). Tanaka, 28, first discovered handicrafts were her real love when she made invitation cards and menus for her own wedding three years ago. She has since taken a course in silver jewelry making and has been learning to make accessories from beads via a correspondence course.

She says that eventually she would like to combine these skills and start a shop specializing in using beads and silver to make invitation cards and name plates for weddings. Tanaka is not concerned about giving up the stable salary she earns as a teacher to pursue her dreams. She is cautious about the timing, though.

"I know that I won't quit my job until I'm really confident that I can make a living out of my new business," she says.

While women like Tanaka are working to achieve a positive goal, others are simply afraid of losing their current jobs and regard their lessons as insurance for the future. Miki Fujita, 32, works under contract at a television company and says that the possibility her contract might be terminated at any time is a source of constant anxiety.

"Who knows when I might lose my job? I want to be prepared in case it does," she says.

Fujita now fits five lessons into her busy schedule: three different kinds of cooking classes (Indian, Japanese and Chinese/Italian/dessert), flower arrangement (which she has been learning for 10 years) and using beads to make accessories and decorate bags. She volunteered to use her flower arranging skills to make a bouquet for a friend's wedding and has even thought of starting a business selling bouquets with her teacher (who owns a flower shop) in the near future.

Morita says that the job market will become more competitive in the next decade. "There's going to be growing gap between women who continue to take lessons, knowing only vaguely what they want to do, and women who decide exactly what to aim at, and start building their own career. Having a strong vision of what you want to achieve is what will make the difference."



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