2012年07月08日

今週のFinancial Time magagine UK版 -続き-

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Although her career sounds successful – she was HR director at one foreign company, something a woman working for a Japanese firm could never aspire to at such an early age – she talks with bitterness about her banishment from the Japanese Dream. “I think it’s a kind of social discrimination,” she says. “Once you drop off the promised road, you’re evaluated as ‘not a good person’.” Through no fault other than being born too late, she and millions of others have been excluded, accorded a “lower social status” and no second chance. “I was just a senior high-school student when Japan was really booming,” she says wistfully. “So, personally, I am really jealous of that generation. They had their very happy hour. But the people of the ice age, like me, don’t know what the bubble was. Today’s younger generation don’t know what growth is. Their experience is just downsizing and recession ... That’s why dreams are shrinking in Japan.”

Shimotsubo’s is a common explanation for what has happened to the post-bubble generation. Most stories, however, can be read more than one way, and Japan’s is no exception. One person with a more optimistic take is Noritoshi Furuichi. A 27-year-old PhD student at Tokyo University, last October he published Happy Youth in a Desperate Country, a book arguing that, in some ways, the prospects of Japanese youth have not shrunk, but have expanded and brightened.

Furuichi dresses fairly typically for a twenty-something Japanese man, which is to say he looks nothing like a drab-suited salaryman. He’s more like one of the stylish, androgynous creations of a manga comic, such as the dashing young wizard in Howl’s Moving Castle. His well-groomed hair has a delicate henna tinge and he wears casual, neatly pressed, off-the-peg clothes. He carries an iPhone 4S and, over his shoulder, a capacious purple shoulder bag.

Furuichi says that, far from being miserable, young Japanese have never been happier. “The media has been unrelenting in their depiction of youth as poor, desperate, in dire straits and hapless.” In fact, he says, data show younger people are more contented than ever before. Of respondents in a recent government survey aged 20-29, nearly three-quarters expressed themselves satisfied, the highest level of youth “happiness” since the survey began in the 1950s. Back then, youth satisfaction was at 50 per cent. It has risen steadily over the decades to 73 per cent, with young women marginally happier than young men. That is a startling statistic given what is commonly written about the optimistic years of economic take-off and the supposedly sad, directionless youth of today.
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