Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japanese Youth Embracing Diverse Values and Lifestyles
ANDO Yuka / Former Political Secretary to the Foreign Minister of Japan

June 14, 2016
In June last year, Japan revised its Public Offices Election Act to lower the voting age from twenty to eighteen. The new provision will be applied from the Upper House election this summer. In a society where the falling birthrate and greying population place a growing burden on the younger generation while diminishing their relative presence, it is hoped that the lowering of the voting age will give Japanese youth a voice in national politics.

Yet, there were conflicting views surrounding the revision. Given that the social environment for exercising such rights was not yet in place, considerable number of young Japanese themselves objected persistently that they would be clueless as to who they should vote for if voting rights were suddenly handed down to them. Debates on current issues, and political discussion in particular, have been avoided in classrooms of junior high schools and high schools. It is no wonder that Japanese teenagers are only vaguely aware of “politics” and “society” in their daily lives.

And giving them voting rights will not instantly change their mindset. Just how active have young people over twenty been in participating in politics until now? According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 32.58 percent of voters in their twenties turned up for the last General election held in December 2014. The figure was the lowest among all age groups, as well as being the lowest on record for the group. For several decades now, young voter turnout for national elections has basically followed a downward trajectory.

Still, I believe that lamenting over the state of today’s youth based on these facts would be a case of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” True, it has been some time since it was noted that Japanese youth were becoming more “introverted.” Recently, young men in particular have been described as being “herbivorous,” attracting much attention by raising concern that they seemed weaker than the “carnivorous” young men who were predominant during the period following the end of World War II through the bubble economy years. But is this ---that young men have become “grass-eating”---really the case? According to the “Family Income and Expenditure Survey” report published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, while food expenditures per head remained little changed nationwide, meat consumption maintained a steady uptrend, led by the younger generation.

Numerical data on the literal habit of “meat-eating” aside, there is indeed ample data from the workplace indicating that a growing number of young people in Japan tended to “lack the desire to succeed,” appear “meek,” “place family before company” and “prefer to stay in the same job location rather than being transferred.” But is it fair to jump to the conclusion that these tendencies signify a decline in social vitality? I see these signs as the result of diversifying values among Japanese youth and evidence that they have reached a point where they are willing to express their own values. Young people today demonstrate a stronger preference for seeking their own “way” over the definition and paths of “success” and “happiness” prepared for them by society and adults.

In reality, ever since the bursting of the bubble economy, young Japanese have lived through an era of hardship brought about by two decades of economic stagnation that was marked by severe job shortages, an increase in irregular forms of employment and a widening gap between the rich and poor, as well as the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. They are being forced to seek out their own lifestyles. While appearing “meek” at first glance, the younger generation has seized on the rise of the Internet, constructing a network of unprecedented scope and engaging in active exchange through e-mail and social media.

These young men and women profess a keen interest in serving society and attach greater meaning to participating in volunteer activities such as those related to the earthquake than working obsessively for a promotion. And more often than not, young men who place family before work are supportive of women’s careers and are eager to share the housework. As for young people who seek continued employment in the same area instead of being transferred, in most cases their reasons involve caring for family members and children’s education. However, there are those who offer a more positive reason, of wanting to play an active role in their local community.

In the “International Survey of Youth Attitude” conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2013, 54.5 percent of Japanese respondents said “yes” to the question: “Would you like to do something that can contribute to your country?” coming in first compared with six other countries in the survey—Sweden, Germany, France, Korea, U.S.A. and U.K. On the other hand, Japan scored lowest among these countries with respect to the questions: ”Do you have bright hopes for your future?” and “Do you think that your country has a bright future?”

Tapping into the inner passion of young Japanese men and women and ensuring that they are fully expressed requires an effort to promote their aspirations and sense of fulfillment on the part of society as well as young people themselves. The upcoming Upper House election is expected to be the first step in that direction.

(The writer is former Political Secretary to the Foreign Minister of Japan.)
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

安藤 優香 / 元外務大臣秘書官

2016年 6月 14日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japanese Youth Embracing Diverse Values and Lifestyles