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We youngsters lack passion and ambition? Hardly

40 Comments
By Yui Shapard

I was watching NHK recently and a show came on in which young adults were having a heated debate with members of the older generation. “You youngsters just don’t have dreams anymore,” said one man who looked to be in his early 50s. “In my day, there were no such things as neets or freeters. We all worked hard to make the nation better, and to make our own lives richer by buying things for ourselves and for our economy. Seems to me you are all just scared to dream and afraid of failure.” To this, the 20-somethings argued back with passion and fury, and for the whole hour I was arguing back with them.

I am Japanese and 24 years old, and at the time that this show aired, I was in the midst of a life-altering decision: I was about to make a potentially reckless career change by pursuing my childhood dream of going to graduate school in the States. And here’s this 50-something "oyaji" accusing my generation of being cowardly underachievers?

Clearly, older Japanese fail to understand the concerns of young people like me—which is hardly surprising, as generation gaps have existed all over the world for as long as there have been parents and children. Yet the problem is that their stereotypical view has come to define my generation. We are labeled as "shohi shinai wakamono" or “young people who don’t spend.” When you Google "wakamono" (“young people”) in Japanese, the words "shohi shinai" (“will not spend”) pop up, as though the two terms should belong together. Seriously?

To be sure, my generation spends less than our bubble-era predecessors, who are currently in their late 30s and 40s. But why is this so? Because, having spent the prime of their lives during the economic Golden Age, they developed a passion for the “3K” -- "kuruma" (cars), "kaden" (home electronics) and "kaigai ryoko" (overseas travel). Their idea of success meant working at a top-notch corporation, owning a big house and an expensive car, and vacationing in Waikiki—all attainable dreams, even for the average Joe. Yet in 2010, when over 37% of single people in their 20s have an annual income of 1 million-2 million yen, and when even getting a job is no longer guaranteed, the same dream is next to impossible.

One reason the media makes a big deal out of this is the belief that our failure to embrace The Next Big (Material) Thing drags down the whole economy. If we don’t buy, they say, the older generation will not follow suit, and there will be no trends. If there are no trends, companies will not make money. And if companies don’t make any money, budgets will be slashed, employees laid off, and the country will go bankrupt.

But aside from economics, why are we categorized as a bunch of cowardly losers? It’s no wonder that many members of my generation suffer from disillusionment. We’ve seen the economy collapse before our eyes and our parents suffer from it—twice. The internet is brimming with thousands of stories of real-life failures. We’ve read about the depressing suicide rate, and understand that life ain’t a fairytale. But there’s another, much bigger, and simpler explanation for why the older generation just doesn’t “get” us: their values don’t coincide with ours. That’s why, in their eyes, we are spiritless zombies obsessed with the internet and afraid to hope or dream.

Well, don’t tell that to my friends “S” and “L”. They work at a large Japanese corporation—not to make money to spend on brand goods, but because they’re saving up for their dream of opening an inn for foreign tourists. Or my best friend “K.” She loves to travel—any chance she gets, she’ll tell you about her trip to Egypt, or Turkey, or Denmark. She hasn’t had the time to go overseas at all since landing a full-time job, but her dream is to travel around the world and open up a little store full of local goods. Another friend’s dream is to work at UNICEF. She’s currently studying to land a position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Instead of lacking drive or passion, my generation is defined by a belief that happiness cannot be measured by comparing ourselves to others. Older Japanese may say that we’re missing a competitive streak, but I would say that we accept and appreciate differences and focus on our own personal idea of success.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

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40 Comments
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Dont blame yourself millenials...its the older generation that screwed you over by voting in and tolerating bad politicians, greedy investors, excessive bad loans, etc...and the younger generation is left to clean up the toxic mess from the 80s. 90s and 2000`s. I feel bad for the younger generation for the economic disaster they are stepping in...all because of the care-free, reckless and stupid decisions taht older people made a couple of decades ago. The Lost Decades were not caused by millenials...they were caused by baby-boomers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As much as each generation would like to claim that the younger generation has or lacks ambition, what this article is giving as 'proof' is anecdotal. I'd like to see more evidence that a) the younger generation is ambitious and b) they are being thwarted by the current economic situation.

Also, the older (30s? 40s?) generation's idea that success was measured by the amount of stuff they could buy is sad. They should measure it in terms of how happy they and their families are because they can spend time together. (But maybe their families - including the younger generation - are happiest when the breadwinner brings home a new toy (stereo, car, house).

Interesting article, just needs more facts or something.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Older people always thing younger people are lazy and shiftless (not all, of course). When I was in high school people always told my generation we were lacking ambition - which we probably were at the time - but so many of my Gen-X'ers have done much in the world.

It's not really important to worry about what others think, I think.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have been researching the phenomenon of "soushokukei" (herbivorous men) recently for a friend of mine who is counselling couples and notices that often the male partner is soshokukei - the idea behnd the label, amongst other thigns, is that they are lacking in ambition. This label applies specifically to males, but maybe I can furnish you with some stats Borscht:

60% of men aged 20-30 are considered to be soshokukei They are generally content with reasonable salaries and working hours, and shun professional competition. 51% say they would rather work fixed hours than overtime Their interests include fashion, desserts, cosmetics. They often have very close relationships with their mothers They are not interested in overseas travel, designer brands, expensive cars. They are very careful with money and usually carry many retailers "points" cards The average annual pay of men in their 20s is 3.25 million yen 25-34 year olds making more than 6 million yen constitute 3.5% of the total They feel like the older generation (now in their 50s) got screwed with the collapse of the economic bubble, they have watched the next generation (30s and 40s) struggling and working like crazy just to keep a crappy job, never mind get promoted, and now they feel a sense of "why bother at all" They are more comfortable with setting their own values, rather than what society tells them they should do.

I could go on, but there is a ton of quantitative and qualitative data. Most of this comes from research by Megumi Ushikubo, CEO of Infinity Marketing.

Personally, I think the types of youngsters coming into adulthood now are exactly what this country needs. It will breed more equality, afford women more opportunities, and lets be honest, the aggressive salarymen of times soon-to-be-past haven`t exactly done a great job for the country have they?

I commend Yui on a well-written and thoughtful article, and if she is reading this, I wish her every success in graduate school. She is absolutely right that happiness should not be measured by the "3K"`s and I only wish I had had her insight at 24!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank you for a great article. I find the criticisms recently aimed at younger generations to be ridiculous; first they're "too material, spending all their money on designer goods and not saving for the future," and then they're "destroying the economy by not being material enough." Which is it? Meanwhile the younger generation is reacting naturally to the economic crises that had destroyed the dreams of their parents, and finding value in non-material things. You can see the same phenomenon in the US with the minimalism and "new frugality" movements. Older people just have to have something to complain about. By the way, I'm part of an older generation myself, and I applaud young people like this author for having the courage to follow a different path than their parents expected.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This was a really interesting read. And yeah, I think every generation is always criticized for not being one thing or another. The old ones always want to go back to the "good ol' days", unaware that when they were young, their parents pretty much said the same exact thing. But at the same time, there are a lot of people today who lack ambition, but I'm not so sure that's entirely their fault. We need only look at who's raising the children, really. I wish the best for the ones like the writer of this article who do want to make something of themselves.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

old people think young people are selfish. other breaking news: water is wet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Some of the older Japanese adults have no conscious about climate change, or environmental issues, they are like predators, they just want to own things and sport branded goods with very cheesy big logos, and throw away and buy new things, and they believe they are moving the economy by doing that. as for Japanese young people carry on in whatever you want to be, if Japan is in decadence is not because of you, Japan had its 15 minutes in economy and the oyajis didn't save but bought Valentino dishes and huge sedans instead... May be Japan will have a chance again in 100 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Being in the middle (my 30s) I agree with both sides. The younger generation needs to grow a pair and start distinguishing their identities as either Male or Female instead of androgynous children on a 10 year maturity curve behind the rest of the world. And the old people need to migrate out of soceity like elephants to a warmer climate..say, Okinawa and play Mah Jong with fellow geezers and stay OUT of the way of progress.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Most of my Japanese friends are in their 20s and 30s, and I wouldn't characterize a single one of them as unambitious. Those who are stuck on the salaryman treadmill are constantly studying and searching, looking for ways to hop off and explore a more fulfilling life, and those who get by on part-time jobs or work in less secure industries such as retail and food service usually have some other project they're pursuing, whether it's eventually owning their own businesses, or focusing on raising a family, or going abroad, etc. They work hard, scrape by on a pittance, buy only what they like and can afford (often a really good pair of shoes, certainly not a car), and in general seem remarkably optimistic about their lives.

The least ambitious, and most conservative, 'millenials' I know have gone to good schools, absorbed all of the traditional lessons (and really, upper education here--as is increasingly the case in the U.S.--is mostly just a training ground for corporate drones), and are determined to hang on to the rails of whatever track they've chosen for themselves. Most of them have no interest in what goes on in the world, would be horrified at the prospect of being transferred overseas, and still believe that material things can define their worth as members of society.

The real concern should be for those in their teens, twenties, and thirties who have been most directly impacted by the recent decades of recession, deflation, and growing economic disparity. This is true in any country where the social safety net is stretched too thin or extended unevenly. An unrelenting cycle of poverty can breed poor nutrition and health, tumultuous home lives, failure in school, and delayed social development, eventually robbing the individual of the skills, ambition, physical fortitude, and psychological wherewithal they need to deal with, and eventually escape from, the very conditions that perpetuate such a cycle.

Much of the convulsive crime seen as being on the rise these days (stabbings in the street and the like), the domestic violence and child abuse, the youthful suicides, come out of this environment, and much of the blame lies with the government, which until quite recently refused to acknowledge even the statistical existence of a segment of society mired in poverty, desperation, and hopelessness. To this day, the government continues to believe that the nation's problems can be solved through more exports, more babies--in short, more of the same. An entire generation, maybe two, are being left behind as a result.

Social commentators here tend to lump the NEETs with the "freeters" with "otaku" (and, by association, the "hikikomori"), and try to treat it all as a single phenomenon under the rubric of "Young people these days...blah blah blah". But they're entirely different issues, and this approach only exacerbates the problem and encourages the government to think in sweeping generalizations rather than tackling real, specific issues.

I agree with the writer. The issue is not so much a lack of ambition, it's a difference in values. Young people don't necessarily lack direction, they're simply choosing to take a different direction. And that, in the long run, is bound to be a good thing for the country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A very well written and thoughtful article.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Overall, many Japanese people in Japan today dont think mush about creating a good society. They even forgot who they are as a people and really know what they really want to do with their lives. Many of them copy everyone and dont think for themselves. Seems like they all lack the common sense to move forward.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As someone here wrote, young Japanese people are taking a different direction than previous generations, but they are not direction-less. All to the good of the country I think.

I applaud young people who dare to express themselves and establish their own identities rather than having Japan.inc dictate precisely who they should be.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The old people I see are a heck of a lot smarter and ambitious than the young.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good article. I certainly hope that many more of the young Japanese are like this man.

Moderator: The writer is a woman.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But aside from economics, why are we categorized as a bunch of cowardly losers? It’s no wonder that many members of my generation suffer from disillusionment.

So they are cowardly losers?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the statistical existence of a segment of society mired in poverty, desperation, and hopelessness.

It's the "government please take care of me" young generation vs the "you get what you deserve, so work hard" older generation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh cripes is that so not the problem... The govt doesn't do anything for the young and everything for the elderly...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's telling that merely traveling and spending is viewed as "ambitious" here...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

manfromamerica:

No, I was referring specifically to the government's intentional suppression of statistics clearly indicating a growing below-poverty-line segment of society (often the live-alone elderly and single mothers) as long as they thought they could push the tried-but-not-so-true "we're all middle-class" myth. It was only when many other factors converged in the past decade that they've been forced to be honest about this social and economic stratification.

I don't think the younger generation expects to be taken care of, at all.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The govt doesn't do anything for the young and everything for the elderly...

Except keep proper tabs on them. Just sayin'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this is one of the biggest problem in this country, just blame it to someone else.

The old ones should blame no one but themselves since they are too busy trying to be selfishly rich during their times that they forgot to impose values to the next generation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many of my 20's Japanese friends have dreams but no push or drive. They are pushed to be responsible for Japan when they aren't given the means to do so. The ones that are ambitious many times have ambitions that their parents don't approve of. THIS is the biggest problem in Japan to me. The fact that everyone is forced into the same bubble. Do it the Japanese way. About 20 percent will be different and beat the odds but the rest will fall into the "SHEEP" mentality of Japan. I recently had a Japanese woman tell me that they really don't want too many people being really good at English for fear of the "Brain Drain". They know they will lose talented people to better salaries and freedom elsewhere. Many westerners say respect their culture and don't try to change it...but it is the young who have ambitions who want change...they are just ostracized by the elite power structure not to fit in. After reading this and also about Kobe wanting to ban tattoos at a beach because young people smoke marijuana makes Japan's future with it's 1.29 birthrate look very bleak. I hope it isn't.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

.. again an article defending the spineless lizards..

Some real facts:

Japanese salarymen, who were once regarded as modern-day samurai, are today known as soshoku-danshi (wussy, unambitious “grass-eating men”). Since 2003, the proportion of young Japanese entering the labour force who want to be entrepreneurs has halved, to 14%, while those who seek lifetime employment has nearly doubled, to 57% (see chart 2). Bosses grouse that the young eschew overseas posts; even a foreign-ministry official confides that Japanese diplomats prefer to stay at home.

The herbivores are markedly less “globalised” than their elders. Since 2000 the number of Chinese and Indians studying in America has doubled, whereas the number of Japanese has dropped by a third, to a fraction of the other Asian countries’ total. And despite years of mandatory English-language classes in secondary school, the Japanese score lowest among rich countries on English tests.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Given the factors that drive Japan and the world economies, there are obvious reasons why the old folks view the younger generation to be less ambitious. The bubble era of Japan and the recession made a great impact especially to the young people who are about to enter the workforce. Because of these conditions, the old folks are expecting the young people to do something about the problem by taking risks (like they did after the war) and save Japan. Unfortunately, the media is biased and they show only the bad side of things where they feature young Japanese as freeters,otakus (with their virtual GFs,), Hikikomori etc.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

One reason the media makes a big deal out of this is the belief that our failure to embrace The Next Big (Material) Thing drags down the whole economy. If we don’t buy, they say, the older generation will not follow suit, and there will be no trends. If there are no trends, companies will not make money. And if companies don’t make any money, budgets will be slashed, employees laid off, and the country will go bankrupt.

Those are really the "values" of the oyaji Japanese generation? "If we don't buy, there will be no trends"... Huh? If that is really the case, what a sad, shallow, airheaded bunch of losers! Vapid beyond my wildest imagination! The planet will be a whole lot better once they're out to grass. I don't think I wouldn't even waste my breath trying to argue those kind of arguments if I were a young Japanese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's the "government please take care of me" young generation vs the "you get what you deserve, so work hard" older generation.

Right... it's more like "entitled, entirely lacking in any sort of managerial skills (both politically and in business) capitalize the profits, socialize the losses" baby boomers/older generation vs the "stuck with the bill" younger generation. Knowing that we as the younger generation will have to pay for the stupidity of baby boomer generation is most certainly enough to cause a certain amount of disillusionment. Why would they follow in the foot steps of a generation of epic failure? Perhaps they should have too much pride to work "Lesser" jobs and live in tent cities in Ueno park.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

With a last name like Shapard and an interest in studying in America, she does not seem to be the typical Japanese girl. As for cowardly losers, how many times have you heard the word hikikomori or read about Japanese men dating, even marrying, digital girlfriends? Could explain to me how these social disorders are a part of your generation's new way of "focusing on your own personal idea of success"?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

While the author may have a couple of friends who've traveled around the world, (how daring and exciting!) statistics show younger Japanese are less likely than previous generations to study or travel abroad.

As for the friends who entered large Japanese companies in order to save money to open a trinket shop, why not just achieve funding and open it directly? That would show some true ambition. Develop a business plan, get investors, etc.

While it sounds nice to write a passionate article after watching a debate on TV, I'm not convinced of the general motivation of the author's generation.

Traveling around the world on your parents dime (even though "S" or whoever may have earned the money herself, she likely did it while living at home and not having any bills) doesn't count as having lofty dreams and goals.

Going to another country on a one way ticket and only a tourist visa, only with the hope of finding a job (as friend of mine's daughter did) is another story. But they are very rare.

BTW, who was paying for your graduate school in the U.S.? Scholarship? Money you saved? Or your parents?

Achieve something on your own dime and then talk about how ambitious you are.

As far as the 'oyaji' in the audience, I can sympathize with his anger. His generation worked their a$$es off (though not likely due to any conscious decision, rather they didn't have any other choice) and now their children are reaping the rewards like spoilt babies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Going to another country on a one way ticket and only a tourist visa, only with the hope of finding a job (as friend of mine's daughter did) is another story. But they are very rare.

This is not ambitious, it's simply irresponsible, and in many cases, illegal.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sounds like the old man the writer is talking about is stuck in the 80's mode, classic "Greed is good" mode of thought. What can anybody do in economic times like this, right? If he believes that, after the spending sprees of the 80s and 90s, the Japanese consumers can spend the country out of recession he must be drunk again.

These people have lived their whole lives frugally as a result of the excesses of the previous generation and that old man has the nerve to blame the problems this nation has on them? What nerve! I'd like to ask him one simple question: who is in charge of the important decisions? Since Japan is such a heirarchical society, it stands to reason that the people in charge should deserve most of the blame for the dire straits of the country. Hint: it's certainly not the young people or even people in their thirties. It's just like the members of that oyaji's generation to create self-serving reasons to shift the blame for this failed economy from himself to other people, be it young people, foreigners or women.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

gaijinnfo, in the end, the children will inherit nothing but a horrible pile of debt and ecological disaster.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The younger the Japanese the less they want to know about anything outside of Japan or attempt to explore. There is an unhealthy obsession with everything Japanese with most young. The lack of interest in anything foreign is weird, especially as how much was embraced in previous decades. I don`t see many young Japanese with drive and most importantly independence. The group mentality is strongest amongst the young with fre having any ambitions outside of their town, let alone abroad. The system and media is to blame for this and it will not benefit Japan. This is a globalised world, but unlike other countries the young in Japan do not want to realise that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You cant spend what you dont have, quite simple economics. The wages are a fraction of what they were in the bubble economy, how can you spend if you get 2.500.000 yen a year. If women workers were valued here then the economy may have some real go getting women helping driving the economy. Instead of my wife working 12 hours a day and getting 200.000 a month they should be paid a fair salary, given promotions over male deadwood but the old greys would never see that happen. Myself personally i would rather travel every few months than buy a great car or buy the missus louis vuitton bags. Some posters said travelling doesnt show ambition i have to strongly disagree, someone who saves up for a trip off their own back then travels for a year or two has shown tremendous ambition in my eyes. I wish i was as ambitious as the old shichi san brigade and give my wife and family no attention whatever, go to karaoke twice a week and then off to club de la snack every night possible, holiday in Hawaii in the Japanese restaurants and when they feel adventurous go off to Bankok to hang out with other Japanese people- yeah real stimulating ambition there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

everyone has a dream. It doesn't mean you aren't lazy or useless.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I was in the midst of a life-altering decision: I was about to make a potentially reckless career change by pursuing my childhood dream of going to graduate school in the States. And here’s this 50-something “oyaji” accusing my generation of being cowardly underachievers?"

Because goign to grad school even abroad is something incredibly ambitious now? Actually going to grad school or going to study abroad for a short period of time is quite the norm nowdays.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this generational gripe has been going on since the beginning of time...a little more freedom is the answer

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a good reason for them to be like that. Passion and ambition don't work just like speaking to someone on the train or other public spots don't work a lot of times. It's a culture here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In a way, this comment is kinda true. Youngsters of today in Japan are too much into their cell phones, electronic hand held games and the internet. They lack ambition to think for themselves and focus on what they really want to do with their lives. As of passion, the only passion I see the young kids of Japan having is trying to be someone who they are not and being filled with a perverted mind by looking at porno magazines ann manga at convenience all across Japan.

But I dont blame them for being thee way that they are. I BALME THE THEIR PARENTS!! Their parents are as childish as they are and they have no concept on reality at all. They dont know how to raise kids and all that they seem to think about is themselves. So sad....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The generation that re-built post war Japan worked like dogs, true, but for that generation, the country was the same one that the previous generations knew and understood. The young in Japan today are in a difficult terrain. There is the push to westernize, be globally minded, see themselves as the world see them and not as the previous generations taught them. Little wonder then that many youngsters withdraw to be antisocial, and be apathetic about becoming the vital force.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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