In my last entry I tackled the mammoth topic of the work situation in modern Japan, a subject that some people devote their entire careers to studying, which I pithily tried to summarize in a blog post knocked off in around an hour. Clearly two blog posts should be sufficient to cover the primary obsession of a country of 120 million people. (I also revised yesterday's post adding a paragraph about women in the workforce and better conclusion for all of you who just can't get enough of this subject.)
Somebody (who failed to disclose their name) asked how "ganguro" kids fit into the work situation here. While I gave two educated guesses (convience stores and fashion boutiques), the question opens up the larger issue of the current state of youth and employment in Japan. The phrase parasaito shinguru (parasite single) refers to the increasing number of young folks who don't move away from home or get married, enjoying the free room and board and (according to the mass media stereotype) spend their work money on clothes, shopping and partying. Outside of the parasaito shinguru there are three major terms that have been bandied around a lot in the Japanese media that refer the irresponsibility of my generation.
The first, friita, coming from the English word "free", refers to young people who don't pursue a specific career path, instead flitting from part time job to part time job, and pursuing personal interests more than work. This may sound pretty unremarkable, but it is a brand new concept for Japan, where, since the rigid social structuring of the Tokugawa era (1603-1867), your job defines your identity. Japan's "economic miracle" was the product of a society that was soaked with memories of postwar devastation and put work ahead of all else in the hope of a better future. You sold your life to the company in long hours and total commitment, but the company would take care of you and your family through old age. The friita style of putting oneself before one's job smacks straight in the face of this system, and Japan has been tying itself in knots trying to figure out what's going on, with innumerable articles, panel discussions and economists weighing in on the economic and social damage friita are causing. Services hooking up applicants with short term work have been exploding. But as my pushing 30 cousin put it in a conversation we had about friita "Dude, sounds like me and most of my friends..."
Another trend that has wasted about as much ink and airtime as the friita issue is the emergence of "NEET" (pronounced neeto). In Japanese academia's love affair with clever English, NEET stands for No Education Employment Training, which basically sums up the NEET phenomenon. NEET sit one rung below friita on the troublesome youth scale, encompassing people who work only when they have to, disdaining higher education or any kind of commitment as a waste of time.
They are dynamoes of energy compared to the truly disturbing hiki-komori, which roughly translates as "the secluded." These are adults who for some reason or another never leave home, never find a job, and live off their parents. I have heard about this not just in the media but have several relatives of friends who are hiki-komori. I think the widespread existence of the problem points to a fundamental philosophical and spiritual malaise at the heart of the country.
The postwar era idea of being taken care of for life has lingered on, but the memories of widespread starvation and poverty during the Great War have faded, leaving no driving incentive to "rebuild Japan." Given Japan's draconian immigration laws, there are no major immigrant populations to shake the system up. With a steadily aging population and dropping birthrates, immigration is currently the only option, but not one that anyone has breached. A multicultural Japan is a subject that no one breaches, and seems almost impossible to imagine.
(Next entry more funny stories and less armchair philosophy. I promise.)