Student Leia Atkinson talks about her research on Lolita fashion in Japan

Posted on Monday, June 19, 2017

Leia Atkinson completed both her master’s (Master in Arts, cultural anthropology) and bachelor’s (joint honours anthropology and sociology cum laude) degrees at the University of Ottawa. Today, she shares with us her research interests which have led her to Japan.

Describe your research and what interested you in this topic?
My research for my master’s involved studying gender, economy, and youth problems in contemporary Tokyo through the lens of Japanese Lolita fashion. Lolita fashion is a subculture where women dress in clothing similar to the Rococo or Victorian periods, in addition to attending tea parties and fashion shows. It’s quite expensive, and often has negative connotations associated with it, so I wanted to understand why women were choosing to wear it, and how it impacted their everyday lives. I decided to study Lolita fashion because it emerged in a time period that I was interested in (the early 1990s), and also because I thought that the wearers of the fashion would be around the same age as myself. My current research involves looking at labour, life transitions, identity, and social participation for Tokyo youth. I’m conducting it in collaboration with a uOttawa professor

What was the process like for you to move and begin your research abroad?
Having conducted research in Japan on two different occasions, I would say that each experience has differed quite drastically, mainly as a result of both my circumstances, and of the particular research that I was conducting. The first time that I conducted research here, I was relatively free, living in a shared house, and working with a subcultural group. So I found that through wearing Lolita clothing, having some subcultural knowledge, and going to places that were popular for women wearing Lolita fashion, I was easily able to enter into the field that I was searching for.

My current research, however, began through looking at social movements, which in Tokyo can be quite sporadic, often ending and beginning based upon the passing of certain constitutional bills, making it fairly difficult to locate a specific ‘field’ that I could work on. However, through networking, namely through talking to people and obtaining scattered pieces of information, I was able to eventually establish a specific field that I could work on. I always find that field research is a bit like solving a puzzle, where you only have access to one new piece at a time. Eventually, hopefully you can work towards making the puzzle complete.

What has been your biggest ‘culture shock’ for you living as a Canadian in Japan?
Now I’m not only conducting research and presenting in conferences like I was before, but I’m also working as a full-time employee with the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education. It’s my first time to work full-time, so I guess one of my biggest culture shocks is the Japanese working environment. At Japanese companies, or schools, there are often incredibly long working hours, meetings that seem to drag out with little results, and also an emphasis on teambuilding rather than individual effort. Working in such an environment has been quite challenging for me at times, but I think it’s made me a better anthropologist, in that I’ve become a lot more accustomed to understanding daily life for workers in Japan. Also, I’ve become a lot more flexible, and adaptable to coping with difficult situations.

What is your favourite moment of your travels so far?
There have been a variety of highlights in my life in Japan, including going to some beautiful temples, hiking, eating delicious foods, and the like. That being said, I think that some of the best aspects of my life here have involved the privileges that I have had in meeting amazing people including friends, colleagues, and students, who have impacted my life. Also, through living here, I’ve had to face a multitude of challenges including language barriers, realizing my own shortcomings, and challenging perspectives that I grew up with thinking as ‘normal’. It’s one thing to learn about these experiences in a university’s lecture hall, it’s another to live them. I think that my experiences here have ultimately made me a stronger person, and while sometimes they have been challenging, I’m happy with how everything has gone so far.

Would you encourage other students to study/pursue research abroad? Why?
I think that everyone should try to live abroad at one point in their lives, because it’s one of the most challenging, and life changing things you can possibly do. Of course living abroad isn’t always easy or fun and I would say that’s the difference between travelling as a short term tourist, where you only get a taste of life, versus living abroad as a resident, where you get a much deeper understanding of the place that you are staying. While I don’t know where I’ll go in the future, I know that living in Japan, as well as in Thailand and the United States in the past has definitely influenced me quite strongly as a person, and has made me who I am today. It’s widened my perspective of the world, and has given me a better understanding of people around me. I believe that my experiences doing research, and living abroad will continually contribute to my life into the future.

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