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Japan: Generational Gap of Hope in Tough Economy

Japan’s younger working generation are leading a very different life from their parents, who prospered in the ‘Bubble Economy’ [en, ja] or temporary boom of the mid-1980s and early 1990s. This generation consumes less, works under stricter conditions, and have less hope in their future.

Throughout the temporary boom, the society was eager to consume day and night, and people worked to make quick money, often skipping on sleep. Real estate, cars and other luxury items flied off shelves; land prices skyrocketed, and the “money management” boom emerged.

After the land market burst [ja] triggered by economic chaos, like many other countries, Japan has been struggling with economic depression, financial problems and an unforeseen future.

Image by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/">rmgimages</a>under CC BY-SA 2.0

Image by Flickr user rmgimages under CC BY-SA 2.0

This blog post [ja] written by neji-ko, translated in its entirety with permission, reminds us of the uneasiness of Japan's younger generation, now in their 20s and 30s, towards their parents generation and the society built by them, during the bubble economy [ja]:

こないだ会社の50代くらいのオッサンと27歳の若者と三人で飲みに行ったんですけど、オッサンとのジェネレーションギャップがすごかったです、

そのオッサンは、若い頃は自営で仕事をしていて、そりゃもうブイブイ言わせておったそうです、
数年前にうちの会社に入ったときには、給料明細をみて、「子供の小遣いか!」と思ったそうです、
そんでオッサンが「お前らもこんなチンケな仕事じゃなくて、もっと他にあるだろう」と言うのだけど、27歳と29歳の二人は「いやいやいや!」と言う。
オッサンの娘さんがもうすぐ結婚することになって、婚約指輪をもらってきて嬉しそうにつけているけど、オッサンの奥さんはそれを見て、
「あんな小さいダイヤのついた指輪じゃ、かわいそうであたしの結婚指輪なんか見せられないわ」と言うてるそうです、
奥さんは指が隠れるくらいでかいダイヤのついた結婚指輪を買ってもらったんだって。

I, a colleague in his 50s and another who is 27-years-old went to a pub one day. I was astonished by the difference in thinking because of the huge generation gap with the elder man. He said he worked for himself in his early life and indulged as much as he wanted.  After he joined our company a few years ago, he was surprised to see his salary slip. “Is this a child's allowance or something?” he asked. “You guys, forget this low-paying job. There must be other better options,” he added. However we, the 27-year-old and myself the 29-year-old, replied, “No, no, no!” His wife sighed while looking at their soon-to-marry daughter, contently wearing a promise ring. “She looks so pitiful wearing a ring with such a tiny diamond. I can't show her my ring,” she admitted. The wife wore a ring that her husband bought, with a diamond huge enough to hide her finger.

そのオッサンはたぶんうちの父親と同世代だと思いますが、この、親子の世代間のジェネレーションギャップは、なかなか大変だなあ、と思います。いま50すぎくらいのオッサンと、いま30くらいの我々が見ている世界は全然違うのだなあ、と。

This guy might be the same generation as my father, but the gap between parents and their children is quite troublesome. Elder men in their 50s and we 30-somethings have a completely different outlook to the world.

Image by Flickr user hatash CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

わたしはいま、正社員で、残業代がついて、しかし残業せずともがんばり次第では定時に帰れて、完全週休二日制、有給休暇有り、そのほかに年間十二日まで有給の休暇が有り、賞与年二回(月給約六か月分相当)、昇給有り、産休・育休取得可能、子供が小さいうちは時短勤務可能、という労働条件で働いているのですが、自分よりも労働条件のよい環境で働いている人が友達とか知り合いに一人もいません。

I work full-time, with overtime compensation, but may leave the office on-time, depending on how much work I get done. I get two full-days off every week, with up to 12 days paid leave every year, two bonuses every year which is equivalent to six-months pay, salary increments, maternity and childcare leave is available, and working on a reduced schedule when a child is young is also an option. I don’t know anyone among my friends or acquaintances working under better terms.

お給料がよくても労働時間がすごい長いとか、仕事は楽だけど非正規雇用とか、休みがないとか、そんな感じで、自分が一番マシ、と思わざるを得ない、
大企業に勤めるOL、とかならもっと労働条件がいいかもしれないけど、大企業に勤めるOLの友達がいないのでわかりません……。

Some get better pay but work longer, or the job itself is easy but is part-time or offers no holidays, etc… So I think I’m working in the best environment. Maybe women working at major corporations have better working conditions  but I have no such friend and have no idea…

そして、まさかの、国土が放射能汚染されたという現実
こんな展開は漫画とかでもあまりないんだけど、これでもともと難易度の高かった「子供を生み育てる」という選択肢の難易度が更にパワーアップして、人生全体がハードモードになりすぎている……いま30くらいの日本人にとっての日本での生活って、生活レベルの向上を志向するどころか、いまの生活が維持できるのかも不明、子供を生んでも健康に育つかも不明、自分が健康に人生を全うできるのかも不明、現実から目を背ける以外にポジティブになれる要素皆無、というのが実際のところなんですけど、そんなもん50代60代の世代には実感できるはずないんだなあ、よかったですね、幸せな人生で……。

And to top it off, our land is now contaminated by radioactive material [en, ja]. I had not read such a scenario in the Manga comics [en, ja]. The bar for “rearing and nurturing a child” has been raised further. Our life is entering a harder level [like in a video game]. For Japanese in their 30s, we can hardly aspire for a better life in Japan, or even maintaining the current standard of living. It's unclear whether a child can grow up healthy even if we manage to have one. It's unclear whether I will live a full healthy life. In fact, there is nothing positive, unless one ignores the reality. I bet [Japanese] in their 50s or 60s can never feel like that. So they are living a happy life…

いまの日本の状況に、あえてポジティブ要素を見出すとすれば、よくわからないけど社会がなんか変わるかもしれない、そういう局面にある、
というのは面白すぎる、あれだけ国策として推進してきた原子力発電事業について、首相が脱原発とか言い出すなんて、思いつきで言っているのだとしても普通ありえなさすぎるし面白すぎる、人生の先行きは暗いけどとりあえずいま目の前で面白いことが起こっている、という点ではわたしの人生は高く評価できるぞ!

I'm not sure, but the society may be changing, and I might dare to see some hope in Japan's situation in the future, which is interesting. It's encouraging that the PM [ja] (who resigned in August 2011) has started calling for “denuclearization” of the nuclear-centric power industry, which was once strongly promoted as a national policy. Even if it is just talk, the very fact is that there is a possibility, is encouraging. Although my life ahead is completely uncertain, I can now value my life more, at least something interesting is going on, right in front of my eyes!

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