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

Debate on “The Young” is for Mass Consumption
WATANABE Yasush / Professor, Keio University

July 24, 2012
There are two types of people in the world; those who disparage the young and those who ingratiate themselves to the young.
As far as the young are concerned, those who talk disparagingly about "what's wrong with the young these days" are "have-beens", and there is no point in getting to know them. Those who ingratiate themselves to the young by saying "what's good with the young these days" are also "have-beens", not worth taking seriously. For the older souls, it's no use making a fuss either way.

Thus, as someone belonging to the generation "sandwiched" between the young and the old, I have come to feel that the best way to approach the young is neither to be disparaging nor ingratiating but to behave naturally. In fact, I have found the young to be at once wiser, more cunning, more ignorant and more reliable than I thought. To be quite frank, I feel uncomfortable lumping them all together as "The Young".

The Japanese are fond of pigeon-holing people in terms of "generations". I personally have been skeptical about such approaches. In particular, I have been fed up with the debate on "The Young" since the days when I myself was a party to it because of my age. Never once was I able to identify myself with the image of "The Young" that was being thrown around. Thus, to this day, I do not believe in those theories or discourses on "The Young".

People have a variety of attributes. Why do you have to draw a line to separate "The Young" from the others? What is it that you are trying to argue or prove? Why now? For whom, to whom, and for what purpose is the discourse or debate designed?

It is much more interesting for me, at least as a cultural anthropologist, to ask these questions than to try to determine how true or false (or good or bad) the generalizations may be about "what's wrong (or good) with the young these days". One could say the same about another tendency of the Japanese, that is, to propound generalized theories about the characteristics, or the strengths and weaknesses, of the Japanese as a nation, or, more parochially, of the people coming from each of the 47 prefectures of Japan. I don’t mean to say that such discourses are necessarily false or devoid of substance. However, unless the frameworks of analysis and the objects of comparison are clearly set out, they may end up as little more than "pub gossip".

It is often said, for example, that the young in Japan these days are "inward-looking", "lacking good manners", "ignorant about things" and so forth. It is perfectly possible for me to cite specific examples either to rebut or support these assertions. Fortunately, since my workplace is where the young congregate, I have no dearth of tidbits for "pub gossip". From time to time, I may join the chit-chat just to be sociable. But I will never sell my soul as an academic.

Why are the theories, discourses and treatises on "The Young" produced, distributed and consumed in such huge quantities today? There may be a number of reasons, such as decreasing birth rate and aging population, political stalemate, job insecurity, and mounting social security burden. The onslaught of new liberalism and intensifying international competition may have something to do with it, as do the diversification and personalization of the media as well as slumping publishing business and declining prestige of academics. It is also true that we have run out of common topics that can command everyone's interest. Not being an avid follower of the debate on "The Young", I really can't tell which of these myriad reasons may be right.

I still can't help feeling that it would be more meaningful to ask why these questions are being asked now than to rush to hasty generalizations about what's wrong (or good) with the young these days. It may throw some light on what ails the Japanese society today as well as what possibilities it has for the future.

It's fun to engage in "pub gossip" and to be one of the mass consumers of the debate on "The Young". Everyone has something to say. It is bound to give rise to a lively exchange whether in a drinking party or in a discussion forum. But, why do people find it fun? Perhaps that is where the real question lies. At least, that is what I am inclined to feel.

But, after all, the young may well consider me a "has-been" for thinking like this.

The writer is a professor at Keio University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渡辺 靖 / 慶應義塾大学教授

2012年 7月 24日









「居酒屋トーク」ないし大衆消費財としての「若者論」は楽しい。誰もが一家言持っている。酒席も論壇も必ず盛り上がる。 でも、なぜ「楽しい」と感じるのか。問うべき問いはそこにあるのではないか。 そんな気がしてならない。


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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Debate on “The Young” is for Mass Consumption