Menu Content/Inhalt
Главная arrow Publications arrow Culture arrow Katasonova Y. Japanese Youth: a Few Strokes to Complement the Picture
Katasonova Y. Japanese Youth: a Few Strokes to Complement the Picture Печать E-mail
26.02.2014 г.

Japanese Youth: a Few Strokes to Complement the Picture

Katasonova Y. Dr. Sc. (History), Institute of Oriental Studies

Unusually strong as it is, the mood of delayed, or returned, childhood in Japan is accompanied by the spirit of infantilism. In fact, it has so deeply penetrated Japanese culture that the Japanese, a sensible and rational people before, seem to relish nowadays the pleasure of submerging themselves in the world of childhood, happy and nostalgic for many. Moreover, despite its social closeness, many traditional regulations, and rational thinking, Japanese society as a whole seems to have long accepted the terms of this general fun game of childhood.

Tokyo and other major cities of Japan are highlighted with bright posters featuring popular manga and anime characters - a serious competition to ads of beer and home appliances. Cute puppet characters - both real and virtual - are filling up shop and even pharmacy windows, not to mention major specialized toy retail centers. One of them, named "Kitty rando," or "Kiddy Land," has recently popped up on the most fashionable street of Tokyo, Omotesando. Not only children and teenagers, but almost every adult dons one of the must-have accessories - pendants with funny little faces, bells, bows, and other intricate bric-a-bracs attached to bags, wallets, and cell phones. Even in a crowd one catches now and again glimpses of a young official or a respectable businessman in a tie with dogs or lion cubs, or a lady draped in a scarf with images of kittens, monkeys, and other cute creatures.

Dictating the need to stay and look young are the media, manufacturers of consumer packaged goods (CPG), and the ubiquitous advertisers who, aware of their lasting effect, have reoriented their marketing strategy solely towards what is believed to be the youth standards. Global shifts in the value orientations of the population, the material wealth that has risen many times, the rapid development of new technologies, and amazing advances in medicine at times propel the Japanese toward an endless pursuit of "The Makropulos Affair."

Young unmarried women are gripped with a craze for a talking doll named Purimo Pieru, with which one can communicate just like with a child. Many women treat the doll as a full-fledged member of the family: with a large assortment of clothes in the stores, many women buy them in bulk for their dolls; they have their pictures taken with them and take them along on their journeys. The more time you spend with this amazing creature, the more words the doll utters, the more responsive it becomes to your presence, and it would even sing a few dozen songs. Is this just a new toy or a new and relatively inexpensive way of entertainment for single people? No wonder these puppets are even sent to nursing homes to somehow brighten up the dull and monotonous life of their elderly residents.

Teenagers, for their part, prefer their own toys and are engaged in collecting inexpensive plastic or rubber figures of characters from popular animated cartoons - the so-called karakuta figiya (from the English ‘character's figure'). Things have come to the point when the most popular figures are being sold in grocery stores in sets with sweets. A new and very strange phrase has come about, a mixture of Japanese and English words - ato (from the English. art) shyoku gangu, which is translated as "edible art toys." Note that chocolates or candies in these packages are mere add-ons, while the fashionable figures, the major attraction for buyers, go for $3 to 4. In short, it has become a habit with the Japanese of all ages to surround themselves with all sorts of small and pleasant inexpensive toys and other trifles, which, they feel, have a positive emotional effect and create a sense of peace of mind that transports them into the world of childhood.

Back in the 1930's, German philosopher Karl Jaspers described the main idea of ​​the century's mass culture with the following observation "People need to stay young." [1]. Developing this idea, some experts nowadays say "whereas the 20th century made popular youth culture the main culture of the western world, the 21st century has made a step further - from youth culture to child culture."[1] While it is too early to agree with or challenge such projections, the absolute leadership of youth subculture in the general gamut of multifaceted 20th-century popular culture looks objective enough. At least the cultural experience of Japan proves it convincingly once again.

Much is being said and written in Japan today about the crisis of the younger generation, which is called "confused" or even "lost," a description associated primarily with the profound social and cultural changes that have occurred in Japanese society over the past few decades. The prolonged economic depression of the stagnant 1990s, continuous waves of the global financial crisis, the tangible failures in the system of lifetime employment (without which the entire way of life of the Japanese basically tends to break down), and other negative phenomena of modern life have radically changed the economic and social situation in the country and paved the way to radical changes in people's minds. Most aptly defining this situation is the term "quiet revolution." [2]

Japanese boys and girls do not wish to follow in the footsteps of their fathers: they no longer place common group interests above their individual interests. Individuality and self-expression have become their creed. Furthermore, Japanese individualism is not merely a replica of the Western pattern, but a protest against the group consciousness of the past epoch. Hence, changes affect literally everything: the attitude towards life and work, relationships with one another and one's parents, etc. Young Japanese can no longer be called "workaholic" (the definition that before seemed to have stuck to representatives of this nation for all times). The "live to work" principle has become meaningless for them, while fanatical devotion to one's company and dreams of a career development have largely lost their popularity among the young. Unlike their parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren today seek, whenever it is possible to work less and live more interesting lives. As for slimmed-down incomes, these are readily made up for with sharp reduction in material wants. The main thing for most of them is independence from society and free time for realization of their own artistic and other needs and interests.

Summarizing and analyzing these phenomena, which were quite atypical for the Japanese before and virtually unknown to the older generations and which are taking place in the modern youth, Japanese sociologists write much about the formation of a new type of people. Thus, the famous Japanese scholar Hayashi Tikio, who studied for years the national character of Japanese, refers to them as nothing but a "new people" - shindzinrui. Based on the trends that he observed over the last several decades, he states with confidence that a new generation of sindzinruy will represent the Japanese nation in the 21st-century. "Its appearance is not just a consequence of Westernization, internationalization and a greater complexity of Japanese society... Although they will have a lot in common with their predecessors, these representatives will differ greatly from them in their system of values ​​and emotional world," says the sociologist [3].

According to T. Hayasi, the main difference between the sindzinruy and other age groups consists in that these young people have finally completely overcome in their minds the "Achilles heel" of many generations of Japanese people by getting rid of the dichotomy dividing the world into "traditional" and "modern." This signifies that the contradictions and conflict between these two concepts in contemporary reality are rapidly losing all meaning. The younger Japanese are not as spellbound by the Western values that were of such a consuming attraction for the older generations, because they have harmoniously blended into the present Japanese reality. Tradition, too, is no longer seen as something obsolete and out-of-date, which was the case with many generations of the Japanese from the very first years after the Meiji Restoration.

Hosei University professor Osamu Nakano outlines other differences that distinguish the shindzinrui from previous generations; on top of his selection are the "growing role of individual priorities" and the "gradual transition from the common ​​to individual and aesthetic values, from interest in the function of things to their semiotic aspects (color and shape), from stability to variability, from the search of structure to free-form," etc.[4] He explains these fundamental changes in national character by, first of all, the relativization of values, which the Japanese public embraced as a result of economic wealth and the erosion of the old hierarchy of values ​it has generated;" he sees this as a natural transition from modernism to postmodernism.[5]

O. Nakano also writes about the recent transformation in the minds of the young from material to spiritual values​​. At this time, the reference is merely to the long-term trends that are gaining momentum as the material component still clearly prevails today in the value orientations of a large enough group of the younger population. Indeed, the researcher is compelled to admit that young men and women these days "are concerned about pleasures and comforts." [6] He writes further on as he analyzes the situation in more detail, "Pleasure is closer to them than suffering; entertainment is closer than work; consumption is closer than production; evaluation is closer than creativity; movability is closer than immovability; changeability is closer than stability; fluidity is closer than the organization; escapism is closer than participation; signs are closer than things; appearance is closer than substance, free-form is closer than structure." [7]

He calls the "new Japanese" a "moratorium generation," a people whose consciousness is marked primarily by outspoken infantilism: they prefer the game of playing children to reality and do not want to become adults. Moreover, "moratorium psychology," according to the Japanese researcher, is not only a consequence of material abundance, but also the result of increased aversion to the so -called modernist values as reflected in the increased interest of young Japanese in illusory simplicity and naturalness." [8]

The term "moratorium people" was first introduced into scholarly circulation by the famous Japanese psychiatrist Okonogi Cagan in the 1980s, after which the theory was widely accepted in Japan. "The kind of people who increasingly manifest themselves in today's society are those who tend to take on no responsibilities to society, who do not intend to identify themselves with any party or any organization, who prefer absolute independence and try to escape from the control of society and the narrow confines of official youth culture." [9] In fact, young people today are pleased to identify themselves with this new type of the Japanese, thus demonstrating their antagonism to many aspects of modern Japanese society.

(For full text, see journal "Asia I Afrika segodnya," January 2013)

[2] The term was coined by Japanese sociologist Sumiko Ivao. See: Yaponia: ekonomika I obshchestvo v okeane problem //"Япония: экономика и общество в океане проблем". Мoscow, 2012, p. 128.
[3] See: Postmodernizm I dukhovnye tsennosti yaponskogo naroda (Постмодернизм и духовные ценности японского народа). - Мoscow, 1995, p. 20.
[4] Nakano Osamu. Shinjinrui genron //'Theory of New People'). «Сэйрон». 1986, №11, с. 31.
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
« Пред.   След. »
Институт Дальнего Востока РАН