Shut-in’s Net persona turns promotional hard sell

Web confidence replaces job hunt pessimism

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Job hunting can be challenging for university students. After attending a couple of employment seminars last year, Toyo University student Ryo Kikuchi knew he didn’t stand a chance of outdoing his competitors if he went the usual route.

“Let’s face it, I was 25 years old and still had no skills at all. Plus, I used to be a shut-in (‘hikikomori’). So I knew I had to do something different,” said Kikuchi, a high school dropout who spent six years tucked away in his room before managing to enter university in 2010.

Kikuchi, now 26, came up with a unique solution: launch a website to promote himself. Peppered with witty jokes and eye-catching visuals, his site includes a short self-promotional clip in which he assures potential employers he is “the world’s most highly adaptable” individual. In no time, his website received an enormous and positive response.

Thanks to the attention, Kikuchi was offered a job at an IT company that, like other firms, was impressed by his technological prowess and courage to publicly talk himself up. To his even greater surprise, a TV station contacted him about dramatizing his story. The first episode of the Web drama starts Friday.

His story is certainly a rarity in a country where job hunting has increasingly traumatized university students. According to a poll of 122 students conducted by nonprofit group Lifelink in October, about 20 percent confessed to feeling “seriously suicidal” due to their countless failures to nail down a job.

Kikuchi believes the prevailing pessimism is due at least in part to the priority today’s recruiters place on students’ communications skills and gregariousness. As a result, introverts are at a disadvantage and their self-esteem can take a battering after being repeatedly overshadowed by more assertive rivals in group discussions or interviews.

“Under the current job-hunting system, the moment you’re deemed not sociable, you’re shut out,” he said.

So instead of joining a battle he had little hope of winning, Kikuchi turned to something where he knew he could excel: the Internet. After its launch, his website soon became a huge hit, re-tweeted and liked by thousands of users.

In the self-promotional video, Kikuchi plays a snob to the hilt. With a smug look, he struts and brags to demonstrate his “competence.”

“I’m brimming with creativity,” he says at one point, adding he wouldn’t mind joining a company that can take full advantage of his talents, “supposing there is one.”

Viewers, however, are clued in to the act: his website contains a short biography that belies the performance.

The site teems with other ingenuities exhibiting this fake narcissism. For example, he offers “cool” wallpaper of himself for free downloading. At the bottom of the page, there is an application form for recruiters to use if they want to request an interview.

Kikuchi’s sense of humor struck a chord with many recruiters.

He received 20 interview requests, most related to Web production, public relations and online gaming. Eventually, Kikuchi ended up as a paid intern at LIG Inc., a Tokyo-based website production company, and is slated to go full time there in April.

LIG President Takahiro Iwagami said he immediately understood that Kikuchi, despite all his talk of being “industry-ready,” obviously needed some basic training. “But I was amazed how he followed through on his plan and created something like this that is turning into a huge hit. It’s quite something,” Iwagami said.

In his years as a shut-in, Kikuchi mostly played games online and surfed the Internet. One good thing about that, he said, is that he came to understand how Japanese “netizens” think. He was exposed to their unique sense of humor and learned what resonates with them, which proved invaluable when it came time to create his website.

To appeal to Internet users in Japan, it’s usually best to come off as humble and even debase yourself, Kikuchi said. But somehow he found a way to turn the formula on its head and still succeed.

“The whole thing panned out because I was only acting. It wouldn’t have worked out if I was really intelligent and educated. That would have made me look like a jerk,” Kikuchi said, adding his TOEIC score was a catastrophic 160 out of 990.

Of the upcoming drama series, starring actor Tokio Emoto, Kikuchi says this will hopefully help students like him in their own job hunts. Before launching his website and uploading the clip, many around him dismissed the idea as “destined to fail,” he recalled. But he remained determined, and even exceeded his own expectations.

“You might think Japan is a country of people obsessed with conformity. But they might be much more accepting than you think,” he said.

Episodes of “Sekaiichi Sokusenryoku na Otoko” (“The Man with the World’s Biggest Potential”) is available online from Fuji TV Plus from Friday. For details, visit plus.fujitv.co.jp (Japanese only).