From Thu Jan 20 17:11:56 2000
Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 13:25:07 -0600 (CST)
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Subject: CULTURE-JAPAN: Growing Up After ‘Adults' Day’
Article: 87069
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
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Growing Up After ‘Adults' Day’

By Suvendrini Kakuchi, IPS, 12 Janmuary 2000

TOKYO, Jan 12 (IPS)—When 51-year-old Keiko Arata celebrated Adult Day 31 years ago, she says she was quite a different person.

I was a meek and quiet young woman who was overwhelmed with her brand new kimono and a speech given to the audience by a government official. Young people don't act like that any more, says the slightly graying middle-aged woman, who lives in a large house in a plush residential area of Tokyo.

Reflections on Japanese youth today—and what they will become in a changing society—are rife as the country observed coming-of-age day on Jan 10.

As in past years on that day, thousands of young women and men dressed in expensive versions of traditional attire made specially for that day made trips to the city office and temples to mark their new legal status as adults.

According to Japanese law, youth who turn 20 can be treated as adults and are allowed to vote, drink alcohol, or smoke without bothering about parental supervision. Some 1.2 percent of Japan's 127 million people are ‘new adults’, says the prime minister's office.

The Management and Coordination Agency reports that 1.64 million people celebrated the event this year, down from 1.7 million a year before. But sociologists say the point is that this year's Adult Day is not quite the same as past ones.

Ten years from now, these young adults will be living a life very different from their parents as a result of a new era in Japan, opines Hidehiko Sekizawa, an expert on youth affairs at Hakuhodo Research Institute, a private think tank.

Research conducted by the institute reveals that youth are no longer passive conformists as was the norm especially during the past two decades, when Japan's economic boom was at its peak.

In contrast, more and more young people are expressing individualism and variety in their lives and turning their backs on values such as conformity and group loyalty that were once considered the best in Japan.

For example, we will no longer see unflinching loyalty to the company as was the norm in Japan till recently. Instead Japan's future generation will have job loyalty because they take pride in what they do, says Sekizawa.

Experts trace this change to the fact that Japanese companies, facing stiff international competition, are undertaking painful restructuring programmes that are already seeing tens of thousands of their loyal workers jobless and out on the streets.

As a result, college graduates are no longer reassured of a life-time job these days. In order to survive the harsh realities, Japan's young adults must strive harder to develop special talents to be able to stay ahead of their counterparts in Japan's new work place.

This mew work culture is the reason for the thriving business of Yu Hirano, manager of Loft Plus One, a bar that in addition to drinks, offers a nightly topic for discussion among its patrons.

Today's young people are outspoken because they do not expect the company to take care of them, he explains. At the bar, discussions regularly focus on social change and they get so serious that its 200 seats are almost always filled and sometimes there is standing room only.

Likewise, the new outspokenness is reflected in the growing popularity of magazines like Nomadica, founded by students of prestigious Waseda University and based on the principle that values held by people outside one's own group should not be judged bad or dismissed.

Hakuhodo also points out that a major characteristic of Japan's new generation will be an openness to foreigners compared to their elders who because of history are generally suspicious of outside influences.

The old trend in Japanese society was the west as ‘superior’ and Asia as ‘inferior’. That thinking is long gone among young people who do not care whether their boss is a foreigner or of Japanese origin. What they are looking for is any individual as long as he is clever and unique, explains Sekizawa.

Naoko Ariyoshi, who joined a large group of Japan's new young adults in Tokyo Monday, says she is looking forward to adult responsibilities like voting in the future.

I want something done to change Japan for the better, she said. Indeed, a survey this week by the English-language daily Japan Times shows that 58 percent of young adults polled wanted to vote, a much higher percentage compared to the usually dismal turnout rates of less than 40 percent on average.

But the government seems to have a different idea of the young generation's concerns—it said it moved Adult's Day which is traditionally marked on Jan 15 to Jan 10 so that it would fall on Monday, a work day, and boost consumer spending by adding extra holiday. Monday was also dubbed ‘happy Monday’ for that purpose.

But, says Sekizawa, while Japan's new adults will be eagerly consuming, they will do so differently from their parents by expressing individuality in their choice of products and lifestyles.

The time when the Japanese market was filled with goods mass produced for a society that lived similar lifestyles, is over. Young Japanese will be looking for different products that suit their various lifestyles, he explained.