FT’s Asia editor, David Pilling, reports the views and aspirations of a new generation of Japanese who are searching for independence and freedom to think for themselves.
Japan’s economy has not performed as wretchedly as is sometimes believed, especially when measured in per capita terms. The unemployment rate, now 4.6 per cent, has never scaled the dreadful heights of the US or Britain, let alone Spain. But what used to be considered good jobs at stable companies are far scarcer than they once were. In the years of super-accelerated growth, before Japan’s bubble burst, male students at good universities were almost guaranteed a position at a paternalistic company. Under normal circumstances, it would last until retirement. A nice wife, perhaps one of the secretaries from the typing pool, would follow. Sure, men might have to sing company songs and put in hours of pointless overtime, but they would be looked after. Life was mapped out.
Today, those certainties are vanishing. For many they have disappeared altogether. An increasing number of younger Japanese work in part-time, dead-end jobs ….
Most stories, however, can be read more than one way, and Japan’s is no exception. One person with a more optimistic take is Noritoshi Furuichi. A 27-year-old PhD student at Tokyo University, last October he published Happy Youth in a Desperate Country, a book arguing that, in some ways, the prospects of Japanese youth have not shrunk, but have expanded and brightened.
David Pilling, “Youth of the ice age“, Financial Times, 7 July 2012.
Mr Pilling is writing a book on Japan that Penguin hopes to publish next year.