So-called "youth theories" have come to play a role in defining the characteristics of this era and that era. Nowadays, people speak of the "unfortunate generation." However, 26-year-old social scientist Noritoshi Furuichi, who retorts that "young people these days are happy," argues that the act itself of lumping an entire generation together has become pointless.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
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Question: I'm 35, part of the "lost generation." They say we've got it tough, but your generation is even more unfortunate, right?
Furuichi: Are you talking about the fact that young people will have to pay an estimated 100 million yen more than the elderly for pensions, health care and such? If you call that the “Unfortunate Generation,” then you're certainly right. But that's a different story from whether 20-somethings are unhappy.
Q: Your generation is suffering from severe unemployment problems, creating so-called "net cafe refugees." I really feel bad for you.
A: That's what I thought, too, before beginning my research. However, if you look at the Cabinet Office's 2010 public opinion survey, 70 percent of people in their 20s answered that they are satisfied with their current lifestyle. That's higher than any other generation, and the highest rate in the past 40 years.
There's definitely a large gap between that and how the media portrays youth. On the other hand, although less than 40 percent responded that they had "worries or anxieties" in the late 1980s, that's risen to 63 percent now.
Q: Isn't it strange to be satisfied, even with anxieties?
A: Social scientist Masachi Osawa's explanation provides some understanding. People who thought that the future would be better than the present are not satisfied with their lifestyles now. On the flip side, people who think they won't get any happier than now are satisfied with their current situation. The latter applies to today's 20-somethings, who have only known a society with stalled economic growth.
Q: One of my senior colleagues says it's meaningless to live without hope for the future.
A: Yes, that's how the baby boomers think. Of course, they lived while the economy was growing. But was slaving away for the company as a workaholic employee really a happy way to spend one's life?
I don't want to go back to those people's younger days in the 1970s. There were no cellphones or Internet. Pollution was bad and sewers were lacking. I prefer to have a great society now than to think that it'll get better in the future.
Q: OK, so if we allow that people in their 20s are not unfortunate, then Japan's young people now are ...?
A: You keep going on about youth and young people. It's just a theory about youth, a way to make conversation at the pub. People my age say that freshmen entering university this year have no ambition, that they're self-absorbed.
Q: You've also been guilty of using the expression "young people these days."
A: What I want to say is that people shouldn't expect too much of youth theories. They're crude and focus only on generation while ignoring class, geography and gender. They only held meaning for people when they believed in the all-Japanese-are-middle-class mentality.
Q: But theorizing about youth at the pub does liven up the conversation.
A: Yes, you analyze us by saying we suffer from "game brain" or that we're turning into monkeys, then classify young people as "nonconforming others." I think adults just engage in youth theories to find themselves. "Young people are like that, we're like this ..." Can society change if we look down on young adults?
"Don't give up, youngsters." "Change society." This is what we're told, but something's out of place. That's because it looks like the desire of older people is to encourage us to do the things they themselves want to do to change society, for their own convenience. That's the same thing adults did during the war.
Q: We certainly notice people promoting things like, "Young people, be more angry."
A: Shouldn't those people just stand up for themselves? The elderly have relatively more resources at their disposal: money, knowledge, connections and power. They often cite the student movement of the 1960s. But only 5 percent of that generation actually got involved in that. It was just some of the elites causing a stir. If older people use a special event like that as an example, then it's silly to expect that of all young adults.
Q: Is there instead a need to pursue government policies that consider the future of 20-year-olds?
A: What we call “youth measures” are actually an issue for all of Japanese society, if you think about it from a different perspective. If we don't shore up social security and job security, then skilled labor will flee our country en masse. The birthrate will keep declining if we can't feel secure about raising kids.
The people who really need attention from government policy are actually those in their late-30s and 40s. A lot of them are aging without steady careers. They are at higher risk of developing disease and have to deal with the problem of finding nursing care for their parents. They need more help from society than 20-somethings. In other words, what we're calling a youth problem is actually a problem for older young adults and people in their early middle age.
Q: But you're lucky to be part of the generation you're in, so that's easy for you to say, right?
A: That may be so. But I think it's inconsiderate to debate on behalf of someone who can't take personal responsibility for or who I can't empathize with while pretending to help or empathize with that person. You just end up using them to facilitate a conversation with yourself. That's why I have no intention of trying to represent young people. But if my interests come into play, then my position may change.
Q: Are you going to work as a social scientist in the future?
A: I plan to get my Ph.D., but I still don't know what I'll do in the future. I'm thinking that research will be part of my work from now on. I'm still in my 20s, so I'm just studying youth. When I become 40, I might be theorizing about 40-year-olds.
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Noritoshi Furuichi, 26, is a social scientist. Born in 1985, he graduated from Keio University and is now enrolled at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Furuichi continues to research young people and communities. His books include "Kibo Nanmin Goikkosama" (The delegation of hopeless refugees) and "Zetsubo no Kuni no Kofukuna Wakamonotachi" (The happy youth of a hopeless country). Furuichi also serves as an executive officer at IT firm Zent.
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