Kengo Kyogoku borrows about ¥122,000 ($1,035) per month in addition to a scholarship and a part-time job, because his mother can't afford to pay his college fees at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo.

"The amount is huge," said Kyogoku, a sophomore of communications and computer engineering. "I get depressed when I think about it. I wonder if I will have to pay it back forever. But I have no choice."

Kyogoku's case is becoming the norm rather than the exception in Japan, where more than half of college students now need financial aid. Loans were rare in the past as most students came from affluent middle-class families who could afford the fees. Today's parents inherited the legacy of Japan's long economic ice-age, with fewer family-wage jobs and lower savings, fueling a sense of generational inequality.