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In violent times, young Japanese just shrug

by

Special To The Japan Times

The weekly Shukan Kinyobi discerns a “new fatalism” among young people. Meaning what? A feeling that effort reaps no rewards and so is not worth making; that the world is what it is and cannot be changed — at least not by me, even if I felt like changing it, which I don’t; that luck or inborn talent (which, being inborn, is just luck under another name) determines destiny, excluding most of us from the really good things in life — if they really are good, which they’re not, so to hell with them.

It sounds like despair but it is not. In fact, reports Shukan Kinyobi, young people have never been happier. A paradox indeed — one well worth exploring.

Fatalism. The first thought that comes to mind is, “No wonder.” The world seems to have spun murderously out of control, the Islamic State symbolizing rampaging insanity abroad while at home a 19-year-old Nagoya murder suspect has allegedly confessed to police, “Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to kill somebody.” It could have been anyone, she allegedly said, as, apparently, it can be anyone for the Islamic State. How not to be the unlucky “anyone”? Some places are safer than others, no doubt, but ultimately, with such a spirit at large, there is no refuge. An individual might well feel lost in the immensities involved.

Economic factors, always important, figure here too. Japan’s youngest men and women were born into a stalled economy. They grew up in it, are used to it and are now entering it as workers. In 2010, a journalist named Taku Yamaoka wrote a book titled “Hoshigaranai Wakamonotachi” (“Young People Who Don’t Want Anything”). Status, prosperity, success, victory, love, sex, truth, justice — the key motivators of our species since it became recognizably human — mean little to them. A half-ironic description took hold — the “satori generation.” Satori is a religious term suggesting the enlightenment that raises an adept above worldly desire. Very likely Shukan Kinyobi is right in bringing the whole thing back down to earth with the word “fatalism.”

The magazine enlists specialists and academics to examine the “new fatalism” from their various viewpoints. Psychiatrist Toru Kumashiro looks at pop culture — manga, anime and computer games — and observes an evolution over the past half-century in line with research he cites to this effect: In 1998, one-quarter of young adults in their 20s and 30s harbored a feeling that “effort is not rewarded”; by 2013, one-third did.

The surprising thing, says Kumashiro, is the absence of resentment among today’s young people. You’d think they’d think they were getting screwed and be bitter about it, but no, they have their escape hatches — the very manga, anime and games that Kumashiro studies — and seem quite reconciled. Happy, even. Maybe happier than their more driven parents and grandparents were.

What of those manga, anime and games? Fans today would hardly know what to make of the manga of the 1960s. “Sports grit” sums up their theme and mood: Effort, sweat, failure, more effort, blood if necessary — and then, finally, success, victory! As in sports, so in life. The prize — the good life, however defined — went to him (it was a man’s world) who wrestled it from the jaws of adversity.

By the softer 1980s, this was more or less passe. Sports grit yielded to “love comedy.” Effort mattered here too, but the goal was love and the struggle was subdued — subtle rather than feral.

The 1990s saw a culture shift whose effects, as Kumashiro sees it, are still with us — a shift to superheroes. Japan’s economy had crashed. Overseas, wars in Rwanda, Serbia and the Middle East bespoke a return to primordial chaos — ominous background to the triumphant march of science as symbolized by Dolly the cloned sheep and Deep Blue, the IBM computer that defeated world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Only superheroes could cope with this. Japan, with its rising otaku (nerd) culture, led the world’s retreat from “reality” into the virtual dimension we largely inhabit today.

Consider computer games, says Kumashiro. Back in the 1980s — the now-quaint Famicom era — gaming demanded skills that had to be honed. No longer: Now, “the biggest hits require the least effort.” Reasonably enough. If career, love, wealth and so on are not worth the bother, why should gaming skills be?

Separately in Shukan Kinyobi, but as part of the same package, Tsukuba University humanities professor Takayoshi Doi draws a comparison between the “new fatalism” and the old class system, under which birth was destiny: You were born into your future. Born a peasant, you died a peasant; born a samurai, you died a samurai, and so on. Some broke the mold, but very few.

Modernity, Doi explains, trashed that. Now there is no mold; we make our own destiny. We’re free! — if we want to be. Do we? Doi fears not. To him, the contentment the opinion polls consistently find in the young generation is mere resignation. “Dissatisfaction,” he writes, “is the gap between expectation and fulfillment. Low expectations to begin with make for less dissatisfaction”: I’ll accept my lot if acceptance spares me the trouble of changing it.

Less dissatisfaction seems good, but are low expectations? Strangely absent from Shukan Kinyobi’s discussion is eros. Has it been dulled too, along with “expectations” in general? It seems it has. The weekly Shukan Post is alarmed by the rise of “sexless couples.” It’s been going on for some time but the accelerating pace is “shocking.” Here are the figures, released last month by the Japan Family Planning Association: 44.6 percent of married couples aged up to 49 are “sexless,” defined as engaging in sexual relations less than once a month, which often enough, if Shukan Post’s supplementary research is trustworthy, means never. The JFPA figure is up 12 percent from a similar survey it did 10 years ago. And 10 years from now? Will sex have gone the way of cannibalism and other messy primordial practices — something it was high time we outgrew?

The most obvious consequence is visible already in Japan’s elderly-overwhelmed, youth-deprived demography, but there is, of course, more, and whether you call a de-eroticized society “satorial” or “fatalistic” or something less kind — “torpid,” for example — it is, most would agree, something altogether new in the history of civilization. Whether for better or worse, we’ll soon know.

Michael Hoffman blogs at www.michael-hoffman-18kh.squarespace.com

  • aa00145

    The only ‘violence’ Japan will receive will be due to its complicity with American foreign policy. The best way to reduce terrorism directed at Japan would be to distance itself from American influence.

  • GBR48

    What is described here as fatalism, is perhaps the most realistic take on life that is available to the majority of us, if we were to be brutally honest.

    As you get older, experience and circumstance beat this ‘fatalism’ into you by degrees. If young people have accepted it early on, and discovered a way to still be happy, then good for them. I wish I had.

    The lack of sex is good for their health, too. Those who fall in love and want to have families, will still do so. The rest are simply avoiding a range of health issues that they could cheerfully live without. The human race wastes too much of its time obsessing about sex and dealing with the consequences.

    These are positive findings. The economic consequences will not be as dire as folk fear, if Japan’s politicians finally accept the social and economic circumstances that they find themselves in, and plot a sustainable, low-growth course that enables their citizens to live comfortable lives. That is, after all, their job: They aren’t there to make the richest (the ‘1%’), the markets, the economists or the high-financiers happy. They are there for their citizens, or at least the ‘99%’ whose lives and well-being are influenced to a greater or lesser extent by government policies. As for the rich, the ‘1%’ that politicians tend to pander to: They are not really dependent upon the government for anything and can be left to their own devices.

    Judging by this survey, we could all learn from Japan’s youth, even if for most of us, it’s all a bit too late.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Maybe the youth of Japan have discovered what philosophers have been harping on for centuries: “Life is life and no need to get your panties in a bunch over it.”

  • http://www.an-chan.net/ Antoine B.

    Time to re-read “Brave New World”…
    Consumerism, social norms and dirty politics all around the globe have led to this situation. Japan, due to its history and social structure has ran into these issues faster than any other country, but it’s going to be more or less the same elsewhere soon (if not already).
    But it’s so difficult to break that cycle!

  • Robert Benesh

    I have checked this website regularly over the last 8 years and this is the most inspired article I have ever come across. I think you should consider expanding this concept into a book. Fantastic work.

  • Peter Lööf

    Young people have always been a mirror reflected image of adults – a spitting image – yet completely different.

  • drkvenger

    At what cost is this generational mindset? Creativity, innovation and the improvement of the human condition – to be replaced by laissez-faire, status quo, “ignorance is bliss”? Sounds more like capitulation and reliance on a socialist heavy government.

  • Two Cents

    Cue Grandma: Now, when I was young, people didn’t do things like that…

    “The world seems to have spun murderously out of control…” Since when? WW2? The Aum sarin gas attacks? The Akihabara stabbings?

    Murderers who have fantasized about killing somebody are something new?

    Status, prosperity, success, victory, love, sex, truth, and justice mean very little to exactly whom? A sampling of which young people? A sample size please. I can usually find at least one of these in the people around me.

    Grit in manga has not been seen since the 60s…er,…since last week’s Slam Dunk.

    Gaming skills back in the 80s required the skills of pushing buttons, choosing one of several directions for a toggle stick, and inserting an endless stream of coins or tokens into a slot.

    Sexless couples are on the rise? Or maybe it’s more acceptable to talk about it and easier to get data on it these days.

    The number of young adults in their 20s and 30s who feel “effort is not
    rewarded” has risen eight percent since 1998? A margin for error analysis
    on each study could bring that down to about zero. And what was the
    percent back in the good old days?

    And if young people do believe there is little possibility of social mobility between birth and death despite their efforts, then maybe they are better educated these days and have a better knowledge of the way the world works.

    If this “fatalism” simply means they are choosing not to hand themselves over as corporate slaves, then more power to them. Let them enjoy their lives now because forty years in the future, they’ll be having the same discussions about sex and cannibalism, and articles of little substance in the news.

  • KaiHarate

    Generalizing millions of people from wide ranging geographic areas with all sorts of subcultures would never bring an accurate portrayal of anything.

  • Jiru Ryōichi Cazzano Kawasumi

    I am most often not much for discussing so I am once again short and sweet. Happiness is happiness, people have sex or not. Pecorina or pompino.

    People do what they want and that is it.

  • ring ding

    apathy, fatalism, OBEY…. doesn’t matter how you frame it. they sold their souls for politeness and remain, to this day, anchored by this waning cultural ball-and-chain. the young generations are stuck to obligation not fitting their modernity and too weak to change things (everyone for that matter). See group think (use sadistic working hours as an example). cultural filial piety will continue dictate younger generations endlessly in Japan. to reach their potential, they must leave japan for a long time… it’s a psychological morose in Tokyo. I’ve given you more clear direction for a book. write away….

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qxUYpaVNZM wal_man

    This has the ring of the “No Future” generation in England in the mid 70’s and into the 80’s. Why work so hard if you have to pay more in taxes and never seem to get ahead? Of course the English youth in that period didn’t have much work at all, they went right on the Dole. All those people hanging around with nothing to do. Does this sound familiar? It’s happening right now also in the U.S. This is why we have young people trying to join ISIS. They face a slow death in our inner cities where their basic needs are taken care of by the State but they have nothing else to do with their time. The Devil will find them work. This is the curse of the welfare state.