LONDON -- An article in the Jan. 31 issue of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun began with these words (my translation): "It was afternoon when he woke up. There was nothing he had to do. To avoid meeting his parents he got up without making any noise and went out of the house. It was the same thing for him every day. . . . He was 27 and a 'freeter.' He had been enrolled at Waseda University for eight years and had graduated last spring. He said: 'I went to university but there is no job I want to do,' Last spring he had become a company employee, but had left after three months. Now, apart from a bit of part-time work, he did nothing. His father, who was over 60, was annoyed with him and told him to get a job and leave home, but he could not take the decision to live on his own."

The article, which will not have aroused much surprise in Japan, went on to quote a Labor Ministry White Paper. This had reported that there were 1.51 million "freeters" -- or casual part-time workers -- in 1997 and that this number had risen over the last five years by an additional half-million.

Sadly, there are dropouts from every society. In North America and Europe, the phenomenon is often linked with drug problems, although emotional stress, homelessness and poverty are often also factors in young people's reluctance to face up to the demands of modern life. In Japan, fortunately, drugs do not so far seem to have been a major cause of young people dropping out of society. One factor which, though not confined to Japan, has been a particular issue in Japan has been the country's highly competitive examination system -- the so-called examination hell -- in combination with the parental pressures personified by the "education mother," or "kyoiku mama."