Singer Yukio Hashi, 79, ‘Reskilling’ at College to Study Calligraphy

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Yukio Hashi attends the entrance ceremony for a correspondence course at Kyoto University of the Arts in Kyoto in April 2022.

Sweeping changes to the job market and longer life spans mean more people could benefit from returning to education to acquire new skills.

This approach, which has come to be known as “reskilling,” has no real age limit, as shown by 79-year-old singer Yukio Hashi, who has been taking calligraphy lessons since last year.

After his last concert in May, Hashi plans to hold exhibitions featuring his calligraphy, among other works. “I’m excited and happy to be able to have a new dream and start a new life,” Hashi said in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

He enrolled in a calligraphy and painting correspondence course at Kyoto University of the Arts in April last year. The veteran singer, who has been performing for 63 years, delivered an address at a university entrance ceremony on behalf of new students enrolled in correspondence courses.

Hashi still sings at concerts throughout Japan and plans to continue doing so until his last scheduled performance at Asakusa Public Hall in Tokyo on May 1. Meanwhile, he sits at his computer twice a week and takes classes on subjects like the history of calligraphy.

“I read difficult books full of kanji characters when I come across something I don’t understand in my research, or when I want to learn more about a topic. I write a report every week and get feedback from my teacher,” Hashi said. “I repeat the process because I enjoy learning new things so much.”

In October 2021, he announced his decision to retire when he turns 80. At first, he was planning to relax in retirement. But he changed his mind when he heard that the university would start a calligraphy and ink-painting course.

“I debuted as a singer when I was 17, so I had almost no time to study in the final year of high school,” Hashi said.

“People around asked me what I was going to do after retirement. I decided to go to university, as I felt I would get an opportunity to get a higher education.”

Hashi said the opportunity to learn is not the only reason he is taking the course — he plans to use the skills he is acquiring in the future.

After retiring as a singer, he plans to hold exhibitions featuring his calligraphy and other works. Although he has been practicing calligraphy for the past 20 years, he has not taken academic courses or learned about the history of the art form.

“If I hold a solo exhibition, people will come to see my work, which will motivate me to make something worth seeing,” Hashi said.

The classes Hashi takes are held online. If all goes to plan, he can earn a college diploma in four years.

Hashi admitted that he sometimes feels lazy and doesn’t want to take the lessons. “I can’t complain because I have a goal of graduating in four years. If I live an idle life, I will reach the end of my life before achieving my goal,” he said.

“I’ve decided to take on a new challenge. I think I’ll be able to keep going because of my desire for self-improvement.”

Spotlight falls on reskilling in Japan

The government plans to spend ¥1 trillion on reskilling measures over the next five years as the importance of developing new skills gains importance in Japan.

Yasuko Oshima, a senior researcher at Recruit Works Institute, defines reskilling as “redeveloping skills to adapt to new ways of doing things and new duties at work.”

In fiscal 2021, Sompo Holdings Inc. launched artificial intelligence training for all of its about 63,000 employees, and Sompo Japan Insurance Inc., a unit of Sompo Holdings, has launched communication courses for employees aged 50 and older.

According to a 2022 survey by Teikoku Databank, 48.1% of about 11,600 companies were carrying out reskilling programs.

However, in a 2022 survey conducted by the operator of the Udemy online learning service, 41.3% of respondents aged 18 to 64 said they had not studied since entering the workforce and do not plan to do so within the next year.

In Japan, voluntarily learning skills not directly related to work has not taken root as workers tend to utilize on-the-job training.

Udemy’s Tomonori Iida said, “The environment for reskilling is developing, but many people may not feel the need for it.”