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Last week, over 1.26 million 20-year-olds celebrated Coming-of-Age Day in Japan in local ceremonies all over the country. This year’s celebrations were special because the number of 20-year-olds increased. Last year saw a record low 1.21 million young adults coming of age. The increase was a welcome sign that Japan’s aging population still has many young people ready to take up the new challenges of adulthood.

Unfortunately the upswing this year is only temporary. Demographic reports indicate that the number of 20-year-olds in Japan will fall. In 2020 there will be only 1.18 million turning 20. In 2025 even fewer, just 1.06 million, will become adults in that year’s January celebration.

The downward trend is one that must be taken into consideration for all aspects of Japan’s future. With over 25 percent of the Japanese population now 65 years or older, 20-year-olds this year make up just 0.99 percent of Japan’s population. That hardly seems enough to fill the needs of the society and economy, much less continue to buoy the nation’s pension system. In 2025, 20-year-olds will make up only 0.88 percent of the population.

As the elderly retire in increasing numbers and pass on society’s responsibilities, will the young people be ready to do their share in business, government and other aspects of society?

Despite the excitement of taking photos, visiting temples and celebrating, many of the new adults felt lost and undecided about their prospects. A poll by an online market research provider found that of those coming of age this year, only 34.4 percent felt optimistic about Japan’s future, down from 44.4 percent last year. Those 20-year-olds who said they knew what they wanted to do for a living was just over 24 percent this year.

Those low numbers do not inspire confidence. Young people need greater support from adults and better opportunities to develop a stronger sense of purpose. The pressures of university study and the outdated system of job hunting don’t help them develop their talents or direct their energies in positive ways. Less emphasis on passing exams, finding jobs and listening to one-way lectures would greatly help young people develop the adult qualities needed to function well in society.

There was some hope amid the low numbers and uncertainty. In the same poll, a large percentage of this year’s new adults, 67.6 percent, said they felt their generation should be in charge of changing Japan. One thing they should change is how young people are brought into adulthood.

Amid the congratulations to those 1.26 million new adults, let’s hope that year by year, young people in Japan can truly learn what adulthood really means.

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