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kids in japan
June 14, 2009 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Freeters, parasite singles, hikikomori, herbivorous males.
posted by needled (54 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Got anything new to add to this meme? And what are you trying to say with this post anyway?

- Freeter as a "new word" is about ten years old
- Parasite single has been around since the start of the decade
- The Hikikomori phenomenon has been around for 20 years

Plus, WaPo and NPR are hardly authoratative sources on Japan.

See also: use of random weirdoes to speak for the broad demographics
posted by KokuRyu at 5:18 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have heard the phrase "herbs" (for herbivorous males) being bandied about in the U.S., but had no idea what it meant.
posted by jayder at 5:23 PM on June 14, 2009


Something happens in Japan not comprehensible to those of us in Western Civilization, film at 11.
posted by Electrius at 5:26 PM on June 14, 2009


- Parasite single has been around since the start of the decade

Congratulations on successfully reading the dateline on the link.

I found this interesting since I've never heard any of these terms.
posted by DU at 5:28 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


use of random weirdoes to speak for the broad demographics

Not sure where that's coming from and it seems unduly confrontational.

There are broad demographic changes going on and these are among them -- what's not happened yet is the shakeout on what is real and what is ephemeral (like shinjinrui, to go back a ways). Japan has some really weird _broad_ demographic changes going on. Zombie companies, young men and women being the exception if they do not live with their parents into their 30s working in dead end temp jobs, etc. Issues around marriageability are very real to the young men in Japan.
posted by rr at 5:38 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


recently noted that more than 80 per cent of 35-year-olds in Japan live on an annual income of two million yen – a key poverty benchmark

And to think that they make more than the women!

Two million yen is $20,000 or so, a little more or a little less depending on where you live.

Now if we could get into some arofo action!

yeah, people around 40 now turned 20 right with the death of the Showa Emperor and the economic tailspin that started in 1990.
posted by @troy at 5:47 PM on June 14, 2009


Some of us don't get out to Japan that often, KokuRyu.
posted by boo_radley at 5:53 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think what KokuRyu is expressing is the sort of reaction most people who are well versed in something that is VERY old hat in a narrow field feel when yet ANOTHER person finds out about things we find interesting and gets excited about it.

On the one hand, yes, these are fascinating. On the other, SO much has been said about these topics within the areas they are studied that we're all pretty sick of them unless there is something new and exciting to say about them.

And well.. these aren't either of those.
posted by strixus at 6:00 PM on June 14, 2009


strixus: "I think what KokuRyu is expressing is the sort of reaction most people who are well versed in something that is VERY old hat in a narrow field feel when yet ANOTHER person finds out about things we find interesting and gets excited about it."

As long as the specialists can piss on the enthusiasm of the novices, that's all that matters.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:06 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Don't forget about the NEETs.
posted by phredgreen at 6:11 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought this was interesting, I have heard of most of this stuff and have lurked English language hiki boards but this article seemed more filled out.
posted by Iron Rat at 6:16 PM on June 14, 2009


Jeesh, Joe Beese, I wasn't saying it was a good sentiment! I was just explaining the reaction!
posted by strixus at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2009


Here, since hikikomori is the one of these that I am particularly interested in, some reading on the topic for those who are interested.


School System and school refusal in Japan


NY Times article from 2002 on Hikiomori

Article from the Japan times from 2000

An article from an odd volume called Millennial Monsters which gives some nice overview of the topic.

One of the most interesting case studies (in my tiny opinion) on the topic


An article on attempted rehabilitation of Hikikomori

And, an anime that I've shown people trying to illustrate the perception of NEET and Hikikomori in Japan, Welcome to the NHK
posted by strixus at 6:33 PM on June 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


I don't read about the hikikomori lifestyle, I live it.
Tokyo Hermits for the win!
posted by nightchrome at 6:44 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think this stuff is interesting. Thanks for the post.
posted by limeonaire at 6:55 PM on June 14, 2009


What's the Japanese equivalent to "Get off my lawn!"?
posted by Decimask at 6:55 PM on June 14, 2009


Japan has some really weird _broad_ demographic changes going on. Zombie companies, young men and women being the exception if they do not live with their parents into their 30s working in dead end temp jobs, etc. Issues around marriageability are very real to the young men in Japan.

But are they really all that weird, or even particular to Japan? I mean, there's a similar trend of 30-somethings continuing to live with their parents in Italy. Plus, the idea of living with one's parents for a long time is not a particularly recent phenomenon and reflects, in my opinion, a cultural emphasis on multi-generational families living together as well as brutally high rent/land prices in urban areas. The spread of dead-end temp jobs are due to changes in the laws relaxing restrictions on such jobs (particularly in the manufacturing sector), which have combined with the pressure-cooker-like nature of the educational system here to produce societal drop-outs. Korea has had similar problems, though they may be able to avoid some of the worst results of Japan's experience. Zombie companies are not so much a uniquely Japanese problem but reflect the nature of how capital is raised in Japan (a historical emphasis on banks rather than equity markets to raise funds), something which I believe was common in Germany (but I don't have a source available to back that up).

Yes, these changes are important, and they will have a definite effect on the further development of Japan, but by no means are they unique or "weird", in my opinion.
posted by armage at 6:56 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've heard of hikikomori, freeters, parasite singles, NEETs, etc., but the "herbivorous males" are new to me. That's a particularly surprising phenomenon, as I've always thought of Japanese guys as so macho and thought that gender roles were so rigidly defined in their society. I guess an obvious way to rebel against a macho, rigid-gender-role society is gender-bending, though.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The herbivores is newer than the rest isn't it?

It's worth having a post about this once in a while. Japanese subcultures are interesting. It'd be great if the people who knew lots about this ( KokuRyu , strixus ) put up posts with newer stuff too.

Thanks for the links strixus.
posted by sien at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those Japanese have a different word for everything!
posted by Kloryne at 7:04 PM on June 14, 2009


And, an anime that I've shown people trying to illustrate the perception of NEET and Hikikomori in Japan, Welcome to the NHK

It's also a good anime for illustrating the masturbatory fantasy of every NEET on the planet - that some young, attractive girl with supernatural powers will drop out of nowhere and shower the hikki with attention and devotion.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:16 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Some have even been known to wear bras."

...have they been known to develop breasts? I'm confused about why someone very concerned with their appearance would wear such a garment without breasts.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:27 PM on June 14, 2009


How very depressing.
posted by paultopia at 8:36 PM on June 14, 2009


You forgot the women: makeinu, himono onna, yanmama.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:01 PM on June 14, 2009


The current fashion, for whatever reason, among young males in Japan (or at least Tokyo/Kanto), and at the university I teach at, is to wear hair clips, hair bands, whathaveyou. Big, flashy, easily seen ones, but the key is, the guys don't really have the hair that would require them. They're purely ornamental, and, speaking as the close-minded old man I've become, they look stupid.

On the other hand, Japanese women seem to like the non-threatening type of men, and perhaps this is just another way for these guys to adapt to that. On the other hand, the hairclip thing has filtered down from a small group of guys doing it to, well, everyone. I imagine now that it's essentially a mainstream youth culture, it will quickly die out, to be replaced by something else as meaningless and flash-in-the-pan as this is.

And that, in turn, will be featured in its own FPP.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:08 PM on June 14, 2009


Ghidorah, I think that's a manifestation of the ギャル男 (gyaru-o) or お兄系 (onii-kei) trend, as described on MEKAS, a Japanese trendspotting website.

That being said, are Japanese women really after "non-threatening" men to the extent exemplified by 草食男子? Admittedly my evidence is anecdotal, but none of my female friends find much appealing about men who put their personal pursuits above their career and love life. On the contrary, most of them have said they prefer 肉食男子: "carnivorous men," who are more aggressive. That there seems to be a distinct (and growing?) gap between female expectations and the reality of the Japanese male makes this an interesting topic.

From the article: "People who grew up in the bubble era (of the 1980s) really feel like they were let down. They worked so hard and it all came to nothing."

In other words: It's the economy, stupid. I think this sums up why these men exist in a nutshell.

This, on the other hand: "Toilet-maker Matsushita Electric Works reported a survey this year suggesting that more than 40 per cent of adult men in Japan sit on the toilet when they urinate – a figure that is rising year by year."

I'll believe it when I see it (the data, that is, not seated men urinating).
posted by armage at 10:00 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plus, the idea of living with one's parents for a long time is not a particularly recent phenomenon and reflects, in my opinion, a cultural emphasis on multi-generational families living together as well as brutally high rent/land prices in urban areas.

It's an old phenomenon, but it's one that fell apart in the post-WW II prosperity where you no longer had to live with your parents (and none of the 80+ people I've known who did live with their parents, even after marriage, really seemed to think it was that great, I have to say).

The fact that we seem to be going back to Victorian models[1] for family living just underscores the degree to which the postwar to boomer era has been an orgy of high-living with a mess dumped on subsequent generations.

[1] Parochial Western term, I know.
posted by rodgerd at 10:09 PM on June 14, 2009


Armage, to be honest, the preference for non-threatening men, perhaps I should have said more effeminate men, but I was worried I would be jumped on for that. There is a lot tied to this, and the toilet is part of it, going back to how the marriage dynamic (wife seen as mother figure, husband seen as, well, a son) here works. I know people who have been told, by their wife, to sit down when they urinate. My wife made a suggestion about it once, and I told her no. Part of it has to do with control (at least that's the consensus of married folk I know) that women here, stuck with the non-sexual mother role (hence the massive amount of infidelity/soapland visiting), so they try to take back as much power as they can.

To be blunt, peeing while standing feels pretty natural for a man. Masculine, even. Being told you're not allowed to pee standing up, in your house (which you've likely bought and are paying for) is kind of emasculating, as far as I'm concerned.

As for older women who are of marrying age, honestly, I'm not around them much anymore. My main, daily contact is with university students who are, for the most part, 18 year-old infants, who mindlessly adopt whatever they've been told to adopt. Watching them interact, and seeing who seems to be the most popular with the girls, it's pretty stunning or amusing, depending on how classes have been going that day.

New fashion trend, based on the first day of school this year: flannel shirts are back. Nearly every male student wears them on a regular basis. I would say the first day, maybe 50% of the guys were wearing them.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:54 PM on June 14, 2009


My wife made a suggestion about it once, and I told her no.

Wow. Perhaps it's a generational thing? Or maybe I just travel in different circles? I'm in my early 20s, as is my girlfriend and most of my friends, but I've neither personally experienced nor encountered anyone who has.

I absolutely agree with you that most college-age males, like their female counterparts, tend to mindlessly adopt the latest trends, for better or worse. Maybe it's best that I ignore my girlfriend's pleas to change my look -- I may end up in flannel this summer if I'm not careful...
posted by armage at 11:45 PM on June 14, 2009


What's the Japanese equivalent to "Get off my lawn!"?

The trick is, the Japanese have no concept of "lawn." The correct translation of this sentiment is a weary sigh, followed by a great deal of drinking (preferably shochu).
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:22 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ghidorah, I hate to break it to you, but being asked to sit down when they pee has happenes to every husband ever, with the possible exception of those who have such good aim and seat-replacing consistency that they never leave an unpleasant surprise behind for other family members. And most of those men, like you, have said no. Even the ones who speak the same language as those guys who wear hair ornaments. As for why Matsushima might claim otherwise, well, they ARE in the fancy toilet seat business. It's also possible that their figure "rises year by year" because the average age of their respondants does too. Are they controlling for demographic shifts? Who cares when the story is so delicious!

The thing that exasperates me about these stories is how uncritically they are reported. In the vast majority of cases, they're hyped-up non-trends invented by people with something to sell: an article, a book. Even those that do contain a grain of truth are invariably warped in the telling until they are really stories about societal anxieties rather than phenomena.

This week Friday is running a story about "carnivorous women", who, of course, have existed in Japan forever, just like "herbivorous men". I fully expect this story to make the English media for long, complete with vacuous quotes about Confucianism and "Japanese society" that were outdated before Perry arrived. Because God forbid a foreign newspaper should publish news about Japan that actually reports on real people rather than the chattering ofthe tabloid boobie mags.
posted by No-sword at 2:13 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, in 99% of cases, if young adults seem infantile or mindlessly enslaves by fashion to you, the cause is that you are getting old. I don't know about the US, but I grew up in Australia, and the idea that Australian teenagers or young adults are more mature or independent-minded than Japanese ones is literally laughable. The lawn is beginning to grow on your heart; don't fool yourself that it's about the kids themselves...
posted by No-sword at 2:22 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't doubt that I'm getting old, but then again, when I was younger, I thought most fashion nonsense was just that, nonsense. And while I can't know what university/high school students are like in Australia, I've got almost a decade of teaching in the Japanese system, at both levels, and the maturity levels are pretty damn low. Part of it is that the students are coddle in almost every way imaginable. Being 'grown-up' or acting like an adult isn't something schools teach, or consider all that important.

There is a reason many large companies here (Fujitsu, Sharp, Toyota) have half-year to year-long training for incoming white-collar workers. For the most part, most of the new employees have no idea how to cope with a professional environment, let alone do the work that's expected of them.

I don't know how to explain this without honestly giving you a tour of the things I've seen here. Everything will, unfortunately, come off as hearsay from an irritable old man. But, one thing I can tell you, this irritable old man has managed to put in a lawn around his house. All 12 square meters of it. And I want those kids off of it! The rest of you are welcome to stop by. Just bring beer.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:06 AM on June 15, 2009


armage, it might be less than a generational thing, rather than a stage in life thing. Every married person I know, even me, has dealt with the sudden shock that the lovely girlfriend they married (in some cases, boyfriend) has turned in a completely different person, nearly overnight. Unreasonable (and some very reasonable) demands follow. I imagine this isn't solely a Japanese thing, but it can be quite a shock.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:10 AM on June 15, 2009


Ghidorah, I'm not arguing with what you observe. What I'm saying is that things are exactly the same in Australia, and I suspect in all first-world nations where kids aren't expected to start supporting their families as soon as possible.

This is my point: If the narrative is that kids in Japan are coddled and useless, that question is, compared to who? Certainly not their peers in any of the countries whose middle class has enough leisure time to care what kids in Japan do.
posted by No-sword at 3:48 AM on June 15, 2009


Not quite related to the FPP, but this has been bugging me for years.

There's a very deep-seated Japanese custom (pretty much an ironclad social obligation, actually) where the wife has 100% control over the husband's wages. He turns over his paycheck, and she decides what his weekly "allowance" will be, not so different as she would to her children. This has remained pretty much constant in spite of all the social changes that happened in postwar Japan.

Now, given its obvious importance to Japanese family dynamics, I would expect that there would be much analysis over how this custom/obligation impacts gender relations and expectations, especially in the context of modern Japan with its changing roles for men and women. However, I've encountered almost no serious exploration or discussion of this, which I find unusual.

I mean, seriously, the repercussions of this seem pretty damn deep. In traditional Japan, a man wouldn't mind this custom when his social superiority is assured, and a socially inferior woman would clearly welcome any sort of power granted to her. However, modern Japan is full of growing economic instability, and changing gender roles that conflict with long-held expectations of what they are "owed". I see a clear recipe for all sorts of growing antagonism/resentment between the sexes, and this is just a most superficial analysis.

But I seem to be alone in wanting to study and discuss this custom/obligation. Usually people just pass it off as nothing more than a cultural curiosity. Sometimes it even evoked hostility; once I was accused of "siding with male oppressors" when I brought the topic up.

/ Yeah yeah, I know, we can crack the same old stupid "my wife spends too much" jokes, but those jokes rely on the assumption that the wife has no strong social claim to the money in the first place. This is pretty different.
// Maybe I'm just beanplating this.
posted by PsychoKick at 5:43 AM on June 15, 2009


Ghidorah, I'm going to jump in here with no-sword. You (Ghidorah) are absolutely *right* about how kids in Japan act. What No-sword is saying is "when you start thinking kids today are slaves to fads", that means you're growing old. If you grow old in the same place you were raised, you parse this as "kids today are slaves to fads". If you move somewhere else, you parse it as "kids in this country are slaves to fads".

I grew up in the US, and live in Japan. I remember slap bracelets, Z Cavaricci pants, Members Only jackets, flannel shirts tied around waists, Filas, Nikes. I've read article upon article about how the parents of kids in America are calling companies up to try to help with their job applications, how new college graduates are entitled and spoiled brats, etc.

Immaturity may be increasing, or it may be a constant, I don't know, but it isn't somehow unique to Japan. It just looks that way when you start noticing it after you move to Japan instead of before.

No-sword: "being asked to sit down when they pee has happenes to every husband ever, with the possible exception of those who have such good aim and seat-replacing consistency that they never leave an unpleasant surprise behind for other family members."

I dunno about that. My wife never asked me to sit down. What she asked me to do was to clean up after myself. In my circle of friends here in Japan, none that I know of sits to pee. In fact, I only know one person (wife's friend's husband) who sits to pee, and he did that long before marrying (apparently, he's really really obsessed about cleanliness).

My guess about the insane numbers for how many people pee sitting is just bad question design. After all, I'd guess pretty much everyone sits when they need to both poo and pee. I'd be pretty amazed if someone peed standing up, then proceeded to sit and poo, or sit and poo, then stand up to pee. All you need is a question phrased like "Do you ever pee sitting down?" to get a ton of "yes" responses from people who are thinking "when I'm also pooing".
posted by Bugbread at 7:27 AM on June 15, 2009


Also, I've been outside America for the last decade, but how does the whole "herbivore men" thing differ from metrosexualism? At least from what I've read on the net, it sounds like Japanese men are just doing the same thing American men were a few years ago.

Regarding the whole "men's bra" thing:

So the president of the bra company says they've sold more than 5,000 of the bras to men in Tokyo.

First, let's cut that in half, because if you believe the sales figures from the mouth of a non-publicly traded company looking to drum up business, you're a fool. So we're talking around 2,500 bras.

Now, let's also factor in the fact that if a person goes as far as buying a men's bra, they probably aren't stopping at one. Let's say an average of 2 bras per person (some buy 1, some buy 3). So we're talking 1,250 men have bought male bras.

The population of the Tokyo metropolitan area is 12 million. If half are men, that's 6 million. Assuming a bra wearer is between the ages of 20 and 50, that's half of the male population, so we have 3 million.

Figures on what percent of males are transvestites is hard to come by, but let's go with an armchair guess of 1 in every 100. So, at 1 percent, we're talking 30,000 transvestites in the Tokyo metro area. So we're talking a number of male bra wearers (1,250) significantly smaller than the number of transvestites (30,000). Even if transvestites only accounted for half the bra sales, we're still talking about 750 non-transvestite male bra wearers out of a population of 6,000,000 men. Not exactly a giant sweeping trend, though it plays great for Japanese TV and Western newspaper articles.
posted by Bugbread at 7:45 AM on June 15, 2009


did the term wagamama fall out of favour for parasite single?
posted by slyrabbit at 8:12 AM on June 15, 2009


Wagamama doesn't quite apply. True, they're being wagamama (that's "selfish" for you non-Japanese speakers) by living at home (not that that, in itself, burdens parents) and probably having their dinners made for them and clothes washed for them by parents (that part is wagamama). But from my understanding, that's about it. They're not leeching spending cash from their parents, or insisting that everyone bow to their wishes. They're just not-moving-out. I don't think that is sufficient to use the word "wagamama".

And, while I'm nitpicking with the articles, I would like to speak out in defense of needled. This post is not another "wacky Japan" post. It's framed well, without editorializing. And the articles themselves are relatively balanced. We're not talking wai-wai articles. And the issues themselves are ones which are well recognized within Japanese society. This isn't like an article on some little subculture which most Japanese don't even know about, yet framing it in a way that it sounds like a Big Thing in Japan. These are things which the Japanese media also regularly discusses. And, sure, some of these things aren't unique to Japan, but that's not the basis for a MeFi article. All that is important is that it is something regular MeFites are not aware of. The only one I'd really have issue with, given those parameters, is the herbivore article, because it could just be summarized into a single sentence: "Japan has metrosexuals, and calls them 'herbivores'".
posted by Bugbread at 8:23 AM on June 15, 2009


The thing that exasperates me about these stories is how uncritically they are reported. In the vast majority of cases, they're hyped-up non-trends invented by people with something to sell: an article, a book. Even those that do contain a grain of truth are invariably warped in the telling until they are really stories about societal anxieties rather than phenomena.

This is fairly characteristic of Japanese mass media. A single commentator or small group of activists with an agenda can make mountains out of molehills with the right amount of exposure. And many Japanese media outlets are more than happy to conspire and provide such exposure and/or concoct evidence out of thin air to help things along. Combine this with the pervasive gullibility and tendency for gossip of many Japanese TV watching housewives, the tendency for skeptics to keep their mouths shut, a seemingly national love affair with moral panics, an obsession with the the "trend of the day (or week/month/season/year)", and a social structure that makes attacking certain groups "OK", and things can get out of hand in the blink of an eye.

Of course, I'm not saying that this doesn't happen outside of Japan; it's just that, in my personal experience, Japanese media is exceptionally good a it (and the Japanese public awfully receptive of it), almost to the point of absurdity. I've worked in Japanese media as a subject matter expert and content producer in the past, and was constantly battling with the resident Japanese producers over how we were going to frame a story or event. Since there was a public safety aspect to the subject matter (i.e., it was our moral duty to be honest and straightforward), it got to be pretty frustrating at times. Every live television appearance made me anxious, as I never really knew what the various producers on all sides had been working behind my back and without my knowledge. I was ambushed on camera more than once. And I was working for a pretty respectable outlet that had little to gain from such shenanigans. Unfortunately, it's just the nature of the industry. It's been institutionalized.

Which is all the more reason to take these "man, Japan sure is fucked up" stories with a grain of salt. Yes, the trends described in the original post are real (although, the herbivore thing seems a convenient catch-all societal label for a wide array of momentary fashion and lifestyle trends), but the frequency with which they're discussed both in Japanese media and the rubber-necking non-Japanese media isn't necessarily indicative of much - other than that it makes for good TV and sells magazines.
posted by jal0021 at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2009


The current fashion, for whatever reason, among young males in Japan (or at least Tokyo/Kanto), and at the university I teach at, is to wear hair clips, hair bands, whathaveyou.
Also among young Japanese-American males in suburban Fairfax (Virginia) county, from what I've seen.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:17 AM on June 15, 2009


I have never once heard of a wife asking a husband to pee sitting down. Of course, I've never had a single conversation about this, so what would I know. OK, I just had to Google "pee sitting down" and got a 49% "yes" figure. Plus, this strange site.

Although visiting Japan I may have peed sitting down a few times because the heated musical padded toilets are so trippy!
posted by kozad at 10:37 AM on June 15, 2009


I have no idea why many of these things get bandied about as 'Japanese weirdness'. Hikikomori neatly encapsulates a phenomena I've observed just as much in Canada, where sensitive social recluses retire into their rooms to be subsidized by family members to become urban hermits. Single young adult Canadians staying at home after school is a recognized demographic trend (aka parasite singles) so mundane that it's covered by an intro to sociology class. Western media flapped about metrosexuals a few years ago, and now mentions them with the same 'shocking new trend!' news articles the ubiquitious ladies pole dancing fitness classes also get.
posted by Phalene at 11:38 AM on June 15, 2009


Thanks, Phalene. Living in Japan, you soon get tired of "lol crazy Japanese" on the internet. Now I can counterattack with "lol crazy Canadians".
posted by Bugbread at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2009


I am confident that there are many Japanese who are not crazy at all!
posted by everichon at 3:22 PM on June 15, 2009


/reads too much Murakami and Mishima
posted by everichon at 3:22 PM on June 15, 2009


bugbread, two swords, I get what you say, but I'm not thrilled that your response to my experience and feelings towards what's happening in Japan can be shrugged off by telling me that I'm getting old. Does that mean that sociology should have an age ceiling? That people who are in their 30's are no longer fit to talk about "kids these days" even if, say, more of their waking life is spent teaching, interacting with, and dealing with the problems of those same kids?

What I see is a group that has next to no enlightened self-interest, a group whose priorities are, in order, their part-time jobs, their "club" be it sports, dance, or whathaveyou, their social life, and maybe, somewhere at the absolute bottom, their classes. I admit, here, and elsewhere, I teach at an extremely low-level school. A co-worker of mine (more given to hyperbole than I am, I'm sure, hard to believe) told me that she thinks the only reason society puts these kids in university is to keep them from committing crimes (like I said, a tad excessive).

On the other hand, think of the activism of students in American, Canadian, or Australian universities (just to respond to posters in this thread). No, it's not everyone on campus, but think of how many societal givens we have that got their start at colleges. Recycling, boycotting South Africa, anti-sweatshop movements. What I don't see, anytime soon, is any kind of movement coming out of Japanese universities. Due to the extensive coddling they get through high school, most of these kids come into their first (and second) year of university unaware of how to carry themselves as adults, unable to avoid acting out if things don't go their way.

To tell me that I'm getting old because I have opinions on the people I teach everyday feels, to me, like an easy way to discount what I say.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:33 PM on June 15, 2009


Ghidorah:

Going back to see what you wrote, I see that I somewhat misread you. I thought you were saying "Kids in Japan are slaves to fad and fashion" with an implicit "whereas kids who aren't from Japan aren't so much", and so I was saying "I think you're misremembering your youth". On rereading, I see that you're purely saying "Kids in Japan are slaves to fad and fashion", with no implicit second part. So, I apologize, and I agree.

Personally, I think "Kids in Japan are slaves to fad and fashion, just like the kids in America were when I was their age".

I do think (and now I am being explicitly comparative) that kids here are less socially conscious than Americans were when I was in university. Sure, Waseda and Todai and a few others have their leftist groups. I remember a protest with flags and microphones back when I was an exchange student. But, in America, you'd likely have a socially conscious group in pretty much any university, save a community college. I don't know if that's really true here.
posted by Bugbread at 4:56 PM on June 15, 2009


bugbread, the socially conscious angle is kind of what I was going for. In my less charitable moments, I leave out socially. A lot of these students are essentially sleeping through their lives. I admit, there were a fair number of students doing this when I was a student, but as you point out, there's not much in the way of social consciousness, aside from boxes for pet bottle caps for charity, and even those are set up by the teachers.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:09 PM on June 15, 2009


Ghidorah, I honestly didn't mean to be insulting. I am getting old too. And of course you are entitled to your opinions. What I am pointing out is that they are opinions, and not objective facts. You seem to be an excellent observer of your students, but I don't agree that your interpretations and extrapolations of what you see are giving you insight into "what's happening in Japan." (Please note that I'm not saying that you don't have any such insight. Just that it cannot have come from observations of a tiny subset of "Japan" in one particular environment, at one stage in their lives. I know from earlier comment threads that your knowledge is drawn from much wider sources than that.)

What I see is a group that has next to no enlightened self-interest, a group whose priorities are, in order, their part-time jobs, their "club" be it sports, dance, or whathaveyou, their social life, and maybe, somewhere at the absolute bottom, their classes.... Due to the extensive coddling they get through high school, most of these kids come into their first (and second) year of university unaware of how to carry themselves as adults, unable to avoid acting out if things don't go their way.

I know you think that I don't get it, but I do, and I still say that I could describe the majority of Australian university students using the exact same words. (Except that in Australia, most don't even bother to join clubs.)

Does that mean that I think there are literally no sociological differences between Japan and anywhere else? Of course not. But the only way to really understand such things is through evidence, data and definitions. Anecdotes are only really useful to spice up the data when it's time to present your argument. And any results that match pre-existing stereotypes should always be treated with suspicion.

For example, take the idea that there is less social activism on Japanese campuses than on comparable campuses in the US/Canada/Australia. Supposing that it's true (and I suspect that it is), what conclusions could we then draw? Is there a lack of student activism because students don't care, or do students not care because there's a lack of activism? Do they really in fact not care -- are they actually "socially conscious" in other, less visible, ways? Is it possible that Japanese kids feel less responsible than kids elsewhere because of differences between Japanese and US/NATO/etc. foreign policy, and the way the history of these things are understood within Japan and elsewhere? What about the extreme student radicalism of the 60s in Japan -- what were its aftereffects? Were any institutional changes made to discourage or prevent politicization of the student body in the future? How were these received by the student body?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but they need to be considered if you want to discuss the issue meaningfully. Short-circuiting the discussion straight to the same old stereotypes about coddling and dependence doesn't give us any insight. And the fact that it sounds like every previous generation's complaints about their successors should set off alarm bells.

Rereading the thread, I see that I was a lot more flip and curt than I had to be, so, sorry about that. Again, I didn't mean to dismiss your experiences or interpretation of them as worthless, based on age or anything else. I've often found your comments on here illuminating, and I try not to be that tiresome guy who has to "out-Japan" everybody else in the group. No hard feelings, I hope.

Also I guess I was wrong about being asked to pee sitting down. I still don't think it has any meaning beyond an attempt at compromise after requests to keep it clean have failed, though.
posted by No-sword at 9:43 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


No-sword, thanks for the reply. I often worry that I'm perceived as the tiresome guy you mention. As for the root cause of the lack of activism, I think to some extent, it does trace back to the uprisings in the 60's. If you follow along the history, almost nothing changed. The student protesters graduated, joined companies, and that was, essentially, that. I would imagine that the government, and with that, the Ministry of Education took a long, hard look at the protests. What seems to have come out of it is an educational system that turns out people who don't question, who just do what they're told. Sheep, in other words. Aside from places like Waseda, Todai, Kyodai, and a handful of other places (and the escalator schools leading to them) leadership is not taught. Students across Japan are taught to follow along (the nail that sticks up is still in effect) and not question. The school I'm at, there are no leadership clubs, or courses dealing with it, and it's pretty frustrating to see, year after year, class after class of students with no seeming interest in the course of their country, or what effect that will have on their lives.

I see the current "leadership" of Japan, and the people who are lining up behind Aso to take over, and there's not a single one of them that would be able to get me to follow them to lunch, let alone run a country. I wonder, honestly, when, and how, this will change.

As a sidenote, I wonder if China, after Tiananmen, looked at the difference between the American 60's and the Japanese 60's. It would seem the "buy them out, make them happy" approach has definitely worked in China, where most young people now (according to various reports) are more concerned with getting a job, and the nice things they can buy, rather than democracy.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:19 PM on June 15, 2009


I think the 60's radicalism in Japan is one of the strongest factors, actually. It was very confrontational, very angry, and didn't have much good-feely stuff. Compare it to American 60's radicalism: sure, it was confrontational and angry, but also had lots of art, free love, focus on peace, etc. People can look back on that period with a certain nostalgia and fondness. It makes the idea of political protest and activism a kind of romantic notion. You can't really look back at Japanese 60's radicalism with the same romantic view. It seems alienating. Which, of course, tinges the way kids think about politics and activism. I know I was affected by the American 60's political movements, despite the fact that I was coming of age 20 years later, and was not remotely a hippy.
posted by Bugbread at 9:16 AM on June 16, 2009


I often worry that I'm perceived as the tiresome guy you mention.

Nah, that would be me.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:36 PM on June 17, 2009


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