Monday is Coming-of-Age Day, in honor of those who will turn 20 this year.

What do they see, these fledgling men and women, as they look into the future? Most of them — the lucky ones, those whom circumstances have not forced to mature too soon — will still harbor a child's view of the world. They know little, know they know little, but feel ready to know. Their time has come. What will their first years of adult experience teach them?

The starkest fact facing them is that theirs is not a youthful environment. In 1976, 2.76 million Japanese turned 20; this year, 1.26 million do. Youth in Japan today seems an afterthought, a footnote. In their parents' time it was the main text. A chilling thought.