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The outlook for Japan's younger generation

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By 2055, an estimated two out of every five Japanese will be aged 65 or older. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks of wanting to reverse the trend of the aging society and improving conditions for young adults. Yet the government remains lukewarm to the needs of high school and college graduates who would like to go out on their own but finding they are unable to do so.

“Japan is not investing in its younger generations, and there is no political party advocating their needs,” says Shun Otokita, 31, who was elected to the Tokyo city council in 2013. Otokita belongs to the Assembly to Energise Japan, an offshoot of the failed Your Party, whose stated objective is to re-engage young people in politics.

Last year, Japan lowered its minimum voting age from 20 to 18. Government officials described the change, the first of its kind since 1945, as directed at inspiring young people to vote. Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the change has “great significance … [and] will allow for more young people’s voices to be reflected in politics.”

However, many observers believe the change will have little impact on the fortunes of young people who still represent a small fraction of the electorate.

Consider the government’s apathy to the recent growth of politically activist youth movements — particularly on the left. According to Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo, the largely symbolic voting-age reduction speaks volumes about the limits of what groups like Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALD) and other left-wing groups are able to accomplish. Their time in the political limelight may be short-lived due to the offsetting strength of right-wing Internet activists (net "uyoku"). In Nakano’s mind, the popular appeal of net "uyoku" has emboldened political conservatives and a fair share of establishment lawmakers to become more relaxed about disclosing their own extreme beliefs.

“Some members of the right wing have even come to think that — by utilising the fact that the newly enfranchised youths will be of school age — they can apply further pressure on school teachers and university professors to be ‘neutral’ in the classroom: meaning, they shouldn’t be openly critical of the government,” Nakano says.

Classroom political bias is not all that should worry students, however. According to anthropologist David Slater, at Tokyo’s Sophia University, the Japanese education system contributes to a wealth-based segregation, from middle school through adult life. Though students are almost universally stellar in basic language and numeracy skills, Slater argues this equality is insignificant in the long run because of the critical role played by juku (cram schools) in ensuring success on the life-determining entrance exams for high school and university. It costs a fortune to send children to juku over the many years needed for it to have the desired impact, and they are more prevalent in the cities where real estate is higher-priced. These factors combine to ensure that students from privileged backgrounds tend to have better access to the institutions most instrumental in deciding which university and what job opportunities are presented.

While Japan’s economic future is not looking bright — with faltering educational standards, and diminishing liquidity and individual earning potential — there are some grounds for reassurance.

“Generally speaking, Japan is not abandoning or tearing down any of the social welfare benefits that safeguard hardworking people,” says Jakob Edberg, managing director of GR Japan, a leading government–relations firm.

Although Japanese workers tend to lack boldness, they remain highly efficient and productive, according to Edberg. He feels that even a problem like increased labour mobility can benefit companies and employees. Companies, especially international ones that guarantee job training and competitive employment benefits, can tap into Japan’s abundance of blue-collar workers. He believes that this helps them meet the needs of the country’s highly demanding consumers.

A 2010 McKinsey study suggests that, unlike in past decades when Japanese buyers tended to value quality and convenience, the “new” Japanese consumer is an Internet-savvy bargain-hunter who — when persuaded to shop in the real world — would rather frequent malls and standalone specialty shops than the more high-end department store outlets.

“Another promising change is the government’s focus on promoting women in the work place,” adds Edberg. Half of GR Japan’s professional staff are female, he says. If others followed its lead, the effect on Japan’s economy would be significant. In 2014, Goldman Sachs estimated that if Abe’s Womenomics campaign were to raise Japan’s female employment rate in 2013 (62.5%) to the male employment rate that same year (80.6%), Japan’s GDP could grow by nearly 13%.

Whether Japanese women can overcome gender pay gaps and unequal career opportunities to “lean in” to the workplace, as Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says they must, remains uncertain. But as Goldman Sachs’ analysis indicates, even a little improvement can go a long way to growing Japan’s economy and transforming consumer-spending patterns beyond the significant alterations they have already undergone.

Besides the more Internet-focused companies taking advantage of e-commerce’s surging popularity, “some successful industries in Japan are old or mature industries that are renewing themselves and still generating new growth,” says Trond Varlid, programme director of the Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC). For the past 22 years, JMEC has provided practical business training to experienced mid-career professionals in Japan, as well as business plans for market entry or business expansion to companies here.

Accordingly, Varlid is encouraged by Abe’s support for structural reforms intended to generate business growth in the country’s vast economy.

“Over the last 10 years, many more Japanese start-ups have been going to the Tokyo Stock Exchange MOTHERS Index for high-growth and emerging stocks,” says Varlid. “In time, high-flying entrepreneurs like Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son, and Joi Ito at MIT Media Lab are sure to be a great inspiration to the new generation of young people.”

Steve Burson, president of H&R Consultants, offers some caution about how long it will take start-ups to succeed here. “Japan still has many challenges in the face of globalisation. The time it can take to build the necessary trust for business to bloom is unlikely to be one or two years in Japan, but more like three or five, or even 10.

“Japan’s culture of slower and more methodical decision-making creates challenges when the world is moving so fast,” Burson adds.

And what about the outlook for the rank-and-file staff in Japan?

“For Japanese workers who cannot keep pace with the global community by studying abroad and working for a multinational company, the future is not all bleak,” says Seiichiro Iwasawa, a Harvard-educated behavioural economist and professor at Nagoya University of Commerce and Business. “If young people can become productive members of society, Japan will provide a market for them.”

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


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“Generally speaking, Japan is not abandoning or tearing down any of the social welfare benefits that safeguard hardworking people”

A bit hard to reconcile with the earlier statement that:

By 2055, an estimated two out of every five Japanese will be aged 65 or older

But don't worry. Even if your means won't let you...

keep pace with the global community by studying abroad and working for a multinational company

...shrinking demographics and near-zero immigration means:

If young people can become productive members of society, Japan will provide a market for them.

Read: plenty of low value jobs for you. Great news for instant noodle makers!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This article confirms the future is headed towards bleak......

There is NEVER talks about repairing the horrid work/life balance here, only talk of opening a few day care centres, the ole lets hire a bunch cheap nurses from poor countries crap, and of late the scams of trying to get more women into the work force WITHOUT the necessary backup families need which brings me back to work/life balance, ITS CRAP!!

Until Japan starts dealing with problems instead of a tiny winy few symptoms NOTHING will change for the better, it is indeed bleak here sadly

7 ( +8 / -1 )

This is what will happen. I'm free for a chat anytime, Eurobiz. Does of reality here we come:

LDP will reign for decades to come, and we only have an apathetic voting public to thank for it.

Population will continue to decline, workplace conditions will not improve. Japan is not a great country for raising kids (for obvious reasons).

Japan could be down to a population of two on a deserted island and would still NEVER change its immigration policies.

Japan Inc. will never change, grasping on to it's business models 'from the good ol' days' for decades to come. Change & competition are two things it just cannot handle. Oh, and business without corruption. Everyone's got their fingers in all kinds of pies.

Old boys' club will live on as the middle managers that have endured 20+ years of hell at the hands of their geriatric bosses will want nothing but the same for their subordinates - and all the benefits (amakudari positions included) that come with it.

Media will continue to grow increasingly right-wing & insular - Japan is rapidly losing its significance on the global stage. Let's be real here, the Olympics are great for the local economy but no one really cares for an event that's controlled by drugs & brown envelopes.

Younger generations, as victims of an indoctrinated & insular upbringing, will lose interest in the 'big world' outside of Japan. We're already starting to see this, with a report late last year stating that 63% of graduates have no interest in studying, nor working abroad. The old boys' club media is largely to blame for this.

With the farming population dying out (with the average age currently around 65), not even the JA & its questionable 'influence' will be able to save the industry. Young people are leaving rural towns in droves.

Pension system will go first, with the health system following a decade or so later. This will lead to a total collapse in the economy.

I could easily write another hundred points, but I think this is a fair summary.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

After a promising start to this article apparently the thing that Japan and the authors both share is more concern with the prospects of the younger generation as units of production rather than as citizens. This in fact always seems to me to be part of the problem. Education has always been more about creating a compliant workforce rather than citizens who are curious and can address the issues of society through a wide range of contexts and speak out about them. The kind of person who can think critically and analyse through different lenses seems to me not just to be potentially more creative workers but better citizens and people. Before anything a root and branch reform of the education system seems vital but there are too many vested interests to keep it the same or even intensify its mutilating effects that it is hard to be positive and I can only feel sorry for those who will continue to suffer it.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

After a promising start to this article apparently the thing that Japan and the authors both share is more concern with the prospects of the younger generation as units of production rather than as citizens

MoonR

Yeah nasty that aint it!! The powers that be really do not care much for their own citizens, cannon fodder more like!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

sighclopsJAN. 25, 2016 - 11:44AM JSTPopulation will continue to decline, workplace conditions will not improve. Japan is not a great country for raising kids (for obvious reasons).

Part-time positions now make up almost 40 percent of the workforce. They earn 40 percent less per hour than full-time positions. The rise of this part-time economy explains why Japan is the only developed country where the average pay has consistently fallen in the last two decades. In the rigid labor market, temp work is rarely a steppingstone to something better. It’s a permanent, low-wage existence. It’s Japan’s biggest problem. The decline in the proportion of well-paid, full-time jobs available to Japanese workers is directly linked to many of other economic ills: deflation, higher poverty rates, lower economic productivity, even depressed birthrates. Parents don’t want their children to marry temps, banks won’t give them home loans, and employers don’t want to spend money training them.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Who butters Jakob Edberg's bread?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I thought that photo was for auditions for New World Order, lol

As for this:

“Some members of the right wing have even come to think that — by utilising the fact that the newly enfranchised youths will be of school age — they can apply further pressure on school teachers and university professors to be ‘neutral’ in the classroom: meaning, they shouldn’t be openly critical of the government,”

Kids are at school to learn, not to be politicised by left or right leaning teachers and lecturers with an agenda.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

"The rise of this part-time economy explains why Japan is the only developed country where the average pay has consistently fallen in the last two decades."

Not true. According to Pew Research, the pattern for the US is "... after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then."

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

It's really quite impossible to predict population demographics, or much of anything, 40 years in advance. So it's a bit annoying when an article starts off with such a meaningless prediction. In any case, a smaller population is a good thing, not a bad thing. The world is suffering from vast overpopulation already.

Japan is not abandoning or tearing down any of the social welfare benefits that safeguard hardworking people

This is the real problem. What they call the "ageing society problem" is in fact a Ponzi scheme accounting problem that an ageing society will expose for what it is. Theft from future generations. There is simply no way to pay for all the goodies Japan's elderly benefit from without crushing future prosperity.

I don't see this changing, unfortunately, until Japan hits bottom. Like an alcoholic. When that happens, things will change. Japanese youth will be scrambling to move overseas in search of opportunity.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@sighclops

Thanks for your (doses?) of reality. So the olympics are a bunch of drugs and cash being passed around So you foresee the pension system collapsing then in 10 years the healthcare and then SOCIETY! A little overly gloom and doom don't you think?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This is a disappointingly poor quality article. It really rambles around in search of a coherent point of view.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@commanteer

a smaller population is a good thing, not a bad thing. The world is suffering from vast overpopulation already.

That's a simplistic way of putting it. A large population of highly productive, working age adults that contribute to the betterment of society is far, far better than a smaller population of unproductive elderly, which is precisely where Japan is headed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

From looking at the picture and seeing these people sleep on the trains. Nothing will change, the outlook is grim. Its the same old thing year after year, the system never changes and those who come through continue to except the rank and file and the way of life!! Sad!!!!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

People say nothing changes here. WEll, look at pictures from 70 years ago and reconsider your non-changeing thoughts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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