With retro T-shirts, nerd memorabilia, and pop culture nostalgia, adult infants are common these days - but nowhere rifer than in Japan.
In many conversations with Japanese, especially young adults, I am often surprised to learn of their age, though not because of their youthful looks (I'm used to that now) but due to the nature of the conversation. I've taught multiple young adult Japanese women who confessed to believing in Santa into their teens, and they only accepted the discovery kicking and screaming - preferring to entertain the idea of his existence than embrace mundane reality.
Japanese people often have an earnest appreciation of "fantasy." The most extreme example is the almost universal love of Disneyland. Ask any Japanese person why they like Disneyland and the first answer is almost certainly going to be "because it's a fantasy." I don't want to be a joy killer and it'd be strange to actively dislike Disneyland, but the child in me feels a true fantasy shouldn't be something you have to spend money on. Disney isn't a fantasy but it's a product selling the idea of that - and customers in Tokyo lap it up in long 90-100 minute lines. I've met people who go to Disneyland alone dozens of time in a year and many even lose count of the number of visits. The social reasons for this could be explained in various ways but I don't think it's only the rigors of the school system or the eventual chains of working life that necessitate the purchase of Daisy Duck figures.
A lot of young adult Japanese people lack cynicism in regards to their consumption of goods and this can be refreshing at times. You can just go to McDonald's and embrace Mac for the dopamine hit that it is. In many countries these days, McDonald's eating is associated with shame and obesity, but in Japan the brand image that it's simply fun and tasty is enjoyed even for people old enough to know the health concerns.
Many young Japanese appear to live by the notion that it's best to just enjoy life without thinking about it too much. It's not that these people are unaware of the negative points, more that there's an earnest enjoyment of services for their good points in the moment of indulgence, and that's to be admired in one sense as a contrast to overt snobbery. But as Socrates once said, "the unexamined life isn't lived." This lifestyle, I imagine, is fun when you're in your late teens but when this youthful moratorium continues into the late 20s and beyond the future of these young people, it can seem troubling. Are they going to be in their 30s listening to One Direction, going to Disneyland and embracing the latest Mac menu?
The cliché that eventually the bird should leave the nest isn't a concern for young people with families based in Tokyo. Why would people leave home at 18 when they can enjoy free food everyday and save their money on accommodation? It's common for single working women to stay in their parents' house indefinitely as long as they aren't married, and it's rare for people to move away from their parents in Tokyo for the sole reason of the desire to be independent. The idea of coming of age or rites of passage seems lost. The old fashioned ones; leaving the family house, getting married and having children, remain those that enact organic change out of Neverland in Tokyo. Some could call this Peter Pan syndrome but I don't believe young adults want to be the Robin Williams character in "Hook." Regardless of their living conditions many do grow up and get jobs and careers and maybe it's more adult to be pragmatic about the cost of living arrangements.
Yet even those who do get away are often more so in body than in mind. Bizarre as it sounds, I have met multiple 20 something Japanese people who have their meals cooked and delivered to them by their mothers. I knew a guy in his late 20s who was in the process of having his mother organise his passport renewal and he didn't see anything odd about that. The lack of self- awareness and desire for self-improvement is the core of the problem.
There's also an issue of familial co-dependence where many mothers believe the best way to take care of their children is wrap them up in cotton wool. Anything that causes problems for the children of these mothers is automatically categorised as bad. The idea that growth and change as a person, often attained via facing hardships, separations, and adjustment to loneliness, seems wholly lost - and this appears to carry over into the values of their progeny.
One reasonable response is to assume these young people will grow out out of it naturally someday. Yet unless they find it in themselves to push away from their comfort zone, it's difficult to see how.© Japan Today