By Mika Fukuda
Intern, CarterJMRN K.K.
A term that is still quite new in demographics discussion, “Satori Sedai”, or “Enlightened Generation”, describes the now more than ever informed and cautious youth who are standardizing pessimism as the new optimism.
This category is comprised of ‘80s and ‘90s kids, the children of nation builders. Advancements in technology, education, as well as social-political movements – what appears to have already been accomplished and the likelihood that the momentum can be carried on further – have left this cohort highly cynical of lofty ideals and ambitions.
Although a general disenchantment with attaining high-profile careers and incomes plagues the youth in most places around the world now, Japan is once again an extreme example of a social phenomenon.
Japanese youth of today face a real first-world problem. Born into the mature economy of arguably the most technologically advanced society in the world, they look upon the system and conclude that the only contribution they can offer to it is sustenance.
Standing societal traditions of Japan are a root cause of the new generation’s “resignation”. Strong emphasis on welfare funding, “shushoku katsudo” or job hunting (every Japanese university student’s nightmare), and even linguistic singularity in Japan render Japanese youth hopeless, leading them to find retreat in living at home, taking any job that is offered (including part-time work), avoiding marriage, and spending less.
There is proof of this in the expansion of 20-34 year-old “parasite singles” in Japan from 8 to 13.4 million people over the past two decades, the drastically decreasing national birthrate, and the success that affordable, streamlined fashions of Uniqlo, H&M, and Forever 21 have had with this demographic.
Moreover, Japanese youths have been found to have the lowest morale regarding their potential and future in comparison to their counterparts in 6 other countries with comparable developmental statuses: the US, Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, and South Korea.
In the “Children and Young People” survey conducted by the Cabinet Office six months ago, Japan scored the lowest percentage for respondents who say they have hope for their future, 62% compared to 80% and higher for the other six countries.
Another glaring statistic from the same survey is that fewer than 50% of Japanese youth feel confident about themselves, while the percentage is almost 90% among American youths. Even South Korean youths, ranking second lowest for this question at 72% seem to be quite a deal more confident than their Japanese counterparts.
Where Japan did score the highest in the survey was for “desiring to play a role in improving the nation.” However, interestingly enough, belief in individual efficacy for social change was lowest among Japanese youth at 30%.
This is the so-called enlightenment.
While this generational resignation is perhaps an intellectual, risk-adverse approach to modern living, it clearly poses severe problems to the country in the long run.
The Japanese government will be no closer to alleviating the world’s heftiest national debt with more and more of its most valuable asset, its youth, choosing to live with parents, opting out of marriage (and reproduction), and becoming unaffected by advertising and consumerism.
Japan is in need of a mechanism more powerful and more fundamental than tax hikes to assure its long-term stability. Optimism – the real kind – needs to become cool in Japan again.