Japan's young generation pursues stability over promotion


This autumn, the Japanese media has been jubilant over the announcement that two compatriots were named to receive the Nobel Prize for chemistry. But looking at the trend toward introverted behavior that's so apparent among the younger generation, Shukan Post (Nov 5) offers survey data that suggests such laudable achievements may be less likely to occur in the future.

In one of three articles jointly titled "The theory of young people leading to the nation's downfall," the magazine examines the laid-back younger set, and the implications in academia and business.

Take the number of Japanese researchers on extended stays abroad, now down by half from its peak. Last year, only 3,739 Japanese spent one month or longer conducting academic or private research outside the country. In 2000, the figure was 7,674.

Out of a total of 666 non-American students who have attended professor Michael Sandel's long-running "Justice" lecture course at Harvard University, just five have been Japanese -- compared to 42 South Koreans, 36 Chinese, 22 Singaporeans and 20 Indians. Overall, the fewer than 30,000 Japanese now enrolled in U.S. institutions pale in comparison to the figures for students from other countries.

Among students from foreign institutions earning doctorates in the U.S., those from the elite University of Tokyo ranked 425th overall, with 23. In first place was Beijing's Tsinghua University, with 472 candidates. Chinese institutions accounted for three of the top 10.

Japanese are also showing signs of falling further behind in realm of global business as well. According to a survey by the Sanno Institute of Management, 49% of new company freshmen in 2010 said they had no desire to work abroad. The responses were 29.2% in 2001 and 28.7% in 2004, but began to rise sharply from 2007, when 36.2% said they wanted to remain in Japan.

Another significant change among new hirees was that 71.1% of survey respondents this year said they aspired to lifetime careers with the same employer. Ten years ago, the figure had been roughly 50%.

Japan's public servants show a similar lack of initiative. In recent years, the number of applicants to take examinations, required to move up the promotion ladder, are reported to have declined sharply. Many prefer to put emphasis on personal activities or spending more time with their families.

The disregard for ambition, moreover, appears to apply equally for both males and females. A survey of males and females in their 20s to 40s, conducted by JTB Motivation, determined that the type of person least desired as a "lover," was "a person driven by ambition, who is obsessed with gaining rank or promotion." The response, voiced by 40%, was the highest among both genders.

It appears that more young people lack the desire to strike out on their own.

"I was surprised to see a male student who came to a recruiting interview accompanied by a parent," a personnel manager at a logistics firm tells Shukan Post. "I don't think someone so attached to his parents can be expected to do good work. He didn't get the job."

Human resources training consultant Naomi Hashimoto also expressed concern over the attitudes shown by members of the younger generation.

"A lot of these 'laid-back company employees' in their 20s seem to lack common sense," she says. "New hirees at a regional bank didn't even know how to pour tea. And as members of the cell phone generation, they have trouble responding to telephone calls from people they don't know."

Sure, newbies are always awkward when they encounter unfamiliar things for the first time. But growth can't be achieved without desire for self-improvement and ambition, and the lack thereof may pose a serious threat for the future of business.

"Now, you no longer see workers who aspire to rise to the top of the ladder and become president of a company," observes professor Hajime Ota of Doshisha University. "Under the current hard times, a title only means heavier responsibilities, with less esteem or money to go with it. Even after the system of lifetime employment collapsed, the system of merit-based worker assessments didn't become widespread. Rather than seek jobs that just pile on more responsibility, I think it's inevitable that more young people would prefer job security."

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Well, as my American son said to me, being born and raised here, WHY should I travel. I can watch everything about foreign countries right on TV. Definitely likes to STAY home. Frightening really, especially as I like to travel. Another problem that causes this is the gameboys, DS LLs, and manga which end up creating a infantile mindset. When I say some 20 something year old, driving around in his car with a manga figure, I just had to laugh!!

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When I say some 20 something year old, driving around in his car with a manga figure, I just had to laugh!!

I have a 40 year old Japanese friend (father of two kids) who does the same. He even gets all exited to see new manga figures in the convenience store and "must" buy them.

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Well, I think these guys are right to choose a career of stability with medical and a retirement over bouncing around from company to company for promotions. In the long run in the guy saves his money, he may be ahead of the game.

Opting for a stable life isn't a lack of initiative,it is looking after your own self interests first, exactly what the company is doing that sends you on trips all over the world living out of suit cases. When you die, they find another moron to shove around and destablize their family life. (so they don't have to deal with it).

Either way, the one who properly saves and invests in his future is the one who will come out ahead.

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A "stable job" is mostly an illusion. Very little is stable today, so these people are kidding themselves. Now, more than ever, young Japanese need to be international. If not, they will simply be low paid staff of their Chinese betters, if anyone will have them. This generation is kicking back just when they need to kick it up a notch. The future won't be pretty. Not much time with the family when you have to work 20 hours a day just to feed them.. and that's what awaits.

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Japan’s public servants show a similar lack of initiative. In recent years, the number of applicants to take examinations, required to move up the promotion ladder, are reported to have declined sharply. Many prefer to put emphasis on personal activities or spending more time with their families.

The article makes this sound like a negative thing

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and why shouldnt the young pursue stability. they have seen what this countrys offices have done to their parents.

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There are really two issues here not just one. These attitudes are a repudiation of the life-sucking corporate system of Japan, not personal ambition per se.

However the infantile/kawaii/music video lifestyle dumbs the brain down and to support it rather than more intellectual endeavours has inevitable results.

As the Chinese are striving to improve their position, it might be easier now for Japan to just become a part of China. If they've sold out so far, one more step would hardly be surprising.

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this would be regrettable

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"“New hirees at a regional bank didn’t even know how to pour tea." And what is scary too is that a bank evaluates its employees by checking if they can poor tea or not.

"“Now, you no longer see workers who aspire to rise to the top of the ladder and become president of a company,” "

Who would be such a dreamer in a country that puts hierarchy over actual skills, and where old men never leave the place to the young generation?

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I think one thing this article is leaving out is that simply because they lack drive to be promoted or travel overseas, that doesn't mean they are focused on being really good at the job they have. I think that not only do they NOT want to promote themselves, but they ALSO want to sit around and get paid for doing as little as possible.

Not craving promotion isn't a bad thing if you are focused your job, and want to get really good at it. But if all you want to do is sit around and collect a lifelong paycheck, that's a much more ominous sign for Japan's future.

The whole economy here is based on exports, and once they are surpassed by China, India, Southeast Asia (in both price and quality, which is already happening), Japan is FINISHED.

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Not surprising. People are worried. They want to make a decent living, have a family and live a balanced life. They don't want to live and die for work like past generations. They want their own time and interests. Why aspire to be the ultra stressed out worker clawing your way up?

There are negative implications of course. But we cannot dismiss this thinking. Instead, Japan must find ways to have strongly enforced work/life balance with as much stability built in as possible. Then, within that context, encourage people to work harder for efficiency, for competitive edge and for moving ahead.

It is a myth that you cannot have both balance and ambition. It is possible and it is necessary for the future.

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I think this is all good news. Japan is probably the richest country in the world now if you include the strong yen on a per person basis. The Japanese rightfully can relax and enjoy life more like the French. I am glad to be a part of it.

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gaijinfo -- spot on. Having 71.1% want to stay with one company is not necessarily a bad thing -- until it is combined with a lack of desire to truly excel at their job and take some measure of individual responsibility. Japan has one of the least efficient domestic economies, so the only way they can start to become competitive, with a shrinking population, is to hope folks will rise to the challenge. But I see just the opposite, as do you apparently. They just seem to want to collect a pay check for 40 years or so regardless if they ever actually accomplished anything or not -- plus get twice annual guaranteed bonuses, for basically just showing up. Not going overseas is not necessarily the problem, but it is symptomatic of a greater problem facing Japan -- a real lack of determination among the younger folks.

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Whilst I agree with the posters saying that it is great to focus on family and to have a nice work life balance, if the survey is indeed accurate, Japan will face severe difficulties in years to come. Their study implies that the young generation do not have any drive and want to work with one company for life. Sure, that is possible, but when there aren't any movers and ambitious workers in a company, it will eventually fail. There is no business that you can continuously run by a mediocre effort and still be successful. If the entire next generation opts for being the life long staffer in the company, then all corporations in Japan are doomed. You need initiative and innovation to beat the competition. We are already facing difficulties with the aging population, lack of future pension funds and unstable global economy. If you add on a generation of barely motivated workers and then Japan can say good-bye to the days of being a major world economy.

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Lack of ambition in Japanese employees means better chances for ambitious non-Japanese employees. Not too bad eh.

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Awful that the study is implying it's these young people's fault that they aren't inspired by a system that uses its workers like drone bees. If some efforts had been made to worker rights that aren't superseded by social expectations, people might be expected to strive harder. Oh, and an education system where what you learn actually matters for your job - that would help too.

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Ah, they're just nostalgic for the good old days of lifetime employment, proper salaries and stable work/family lives. Who wouldn't be? They see all the vestiges and past evidence of that left being possible; their parents lived that life and have probably passed that desire down to their kids.. but the problem is that that world doesn't exist anymore.

I'd hardly blame it on the world outside of Japan, more like corporate greed. The executives of Japanese companies see the insane profits that foreign companies make by downsizing, outsourcing and getting rid of/reducing benefits for full-time employees and they start getting ideas. These ideas have now fully blossomed and you see the dichotomy happening: faithful workers in a faithless employment system (you can't even call it a proper job, as most of these poor souls are hired out thru Hello Work style temp work).

Anyways, this happened in America too, albeit much earlier than Japan, although the labor force had unions to protect them somewhat (whereas Japan has had nothing at all). The companies stopped caring about the workers and now the workers have responded (it's now normal to hold 10 jobs over an average Western worker's career). This will happen in Japan to, it's just that they're going through an adjustment period and the economic troubles of the time (possibly caused by this very change) are slowing the process.

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I would take this article with a big grain of salt. Perhaps young Japanese people are not ambitious, but I wonder if they can ever be, at least in the "Western" sense of the world. As some readers noted, in the Japanese context, work commitment, rather than work mobility (within or across companies), may be a better indicator of business vitality.

Also, it is a specious argument that high-quality research in Japan is predicated on conducting research abroad, visiting a particular class at Harvard, or obtaining a PhD from a US institution. Even though academic exchange is desirable because it may stimulate the generation of new ideas, I cannot see how it is either a prerequisite or a guarantee for high-quality research.

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Japan needs a healthy balance between work and personal/family life.

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The new generation seem to have lost sight of the principle that once made this nation the powerhouse it was. Whatever happened to the ZEN that was much talked about while major corporations like Sony were buying up much of hollywood? Whatever the case, the japanese are not stupid. They may have hit this long slump and maybe better off for it. They are easily 5 years ahead in technology compared to the rest of the world. That one caveat alone can only be mimicked and by South Korea and China, but not at the core of the country.

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Saborichan, right on the mark. Why feel guilty for looking after your own mentat and physical health first.

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Most of us, Japanese or not, tend to have old-fashioned ideas towards work and our subsequent lives. The rest of the world is slowly catching on to new ideas and the realization that employment for life is dead, Japan is alarmingly burying its head in the sand when faced with this issue.

The luxury of lifetime employment (if you can call being an indentured company slave luxury) is gone yet so many in Japan and elsewhere refuse to believe that the individual is ultimately responsible for their career, lifestyle and retirement.

Economies thrive when people are ambitious and have drive to succeed. Trying to secure a steady salary as an employee for the rest of one's life is anything but ambitious. Entrepreneurial spirit is what powers the economy while generating lifelong wealth and satisfaction.

It really is a shame that the majority of today's graduates in Japan can't see this. Is it their fault though? Not necessarily. We learn from our parents, teachers and society as a whole. Unfortunately Japanese society has taught its children to fear change and ambition. The result will be Japan's status as a world economic and cultural power sliding into insignificance. This all may sound overly negative. It's not like I want this to happen but it's inevitable unless there is a drastic change in thought here.

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I fully agree with Saborichan. I'm part of the new generation, so i can fully understand the desire for a more stable system. All i can see is chaos. I recently started to work at a gas station (i'm taking a one year break from college) and the only question that came in to my mind when i took a look at how the system worked: Why, why should i put effort into making the rich more richer? I'll never see a reward for my hard work. It's just plain ridiculous. That said, it's my opinion for the moment. I hope it'll be able to change for a better one in the future.

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Good points by tkoind2, saborichan and Leeroy. The younger generation saw their fathers enslaved by the company, trying desperately to get to the top, never at home...and obviously thought--I don't want to be anything like my father! I want to have a good job where I can also have time to do other things like have a family.--So what happened is they swung too far in the other direction, thinking that if they showed any ambition they would end up swallowed by a company and having no social life.

Young people are generally idealistic and think that life should just give them a perfect job so they can make all their dreams come true. And the education system here surely doesn't prepare them for the realities of the working world. They need to grow up and stop looking through those rose coloured glasses. Be optimistic but also be realistic.

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Out of a total of 666 non-American students who have attended professor Michael Sandel’s long-running <

Anyone notice the 666?? Good thing were in Japan, different religion.It doesn't have any effect here.

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Why, why should i put effort into making the rich more richer? I'll never see a reward for my hard work. It's just plain ridiculous. That said, it's my opinion for the moment. I hope it'll be able to change for a better one in the future.

This is why you should pursue the things in your heart. If you're going to be relegated to the ranks of the working poor, or just making ends meet anyways, regardless of the job, then why not work at something you have great interest, desire, and aptitude in? The problem seems to be that very few people actually know what they really want out of a career, once you get beyond the superficialities of money making and security / stability. Honestly, how many people get genuine satisfaction from their jobs, that isn't tied to money or power? How many would do the same job for free or for a much lower wage?

I don't think it's a bad thing, necessarily, that the younger Japanese are taking a different view than their predecessors -- that being said, you need innovators and risk takers to push the boundaries outwards in all aspects, or society will not grow.

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