2012年07月08日

今週のFinancial Time magagine UK版 -続き その2-

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I met Furuichi in a café at the top of a glass tower overlooking Shinagawa station, one of Tokyo’s busiest. The tower itself was built in 2003, part of a massive complex, one of several ambitious projects that have transformed the skyline in the two decades since the economy supposedly slipped into a coma. Just as Tokyo’s physical surroundings are constantly shifting, so, says Furuichi, younger generations are adapting to their new environment, even thriving.

He puts the high happiness quotient down to the fact that younger people have no need to endure the delayed gratification of previous generations. When the economy was booming and the cult of gross domestic product was rampant, he says, people were continually chasing a better life – but rarely living it. In the 1960s, when the economy was growing at rates comparable to today’s China, half the population was rural. Those in the cities were often alone, sending their pay cheques back home to relatives. “They were working on behalf of someone else. They were serving the future, serving the provinces, serving something other than themselves,” he says. Today, jobs may be less secure, but people are living in the moment. “Now they’re working for themselves, making their own decisions, taking their own responsibilities and reaping their own results. That’s a major shift.”

Many older Japanese sympathise with youngsters’ lack of job opportunities. Some also complain about what they see as youth’s loss of “fighting spirit” and apparent contentedness to live off the wealth built up by their hard-working parents. Furuichi says it’s true that many Japanese in their twenties and thirties have less drive. Some cut down on expenses by sharing an apartment with friends, a relatively new phenomenon. Absolved of responsibility to get one of the dwindling number of prestige jobs, many simply strive to be happy in the present. They set up their own businesses, volunteer, take up a hobby or adopt alternative lifestyles. So-called “slow living”, a sort of modern version of the hippie lifestyle, has become fashionable, with its emphasis on the environment, localism and “gross national happiness” over the “empty affluence” associated with the previous rush to GDP. Some like to travel or eat out in Japan’s high-quality restaurants. “More young people are staying in the provinces, fewer are buying cars. In exchange they’re spending money on food, clothes, phones and spending time with their friends.”
"We knew our fathers were being called ‘economic animals’ and made fun of … Our mothers were essentially maids"

- Noritoshi Furuichi

Youngsters, especially the so-called “parasite singles” who live rent-free with their parents, are in no rush to get married or to have children. Although it has risen slightly in recent years, Japan’s fertility rate has fallen to 1.4, well below 2, which is the rate needed to maintain a population. That is higher than South Korea’s 1.23 or Singapore’s 0.78, though – unlike Japan – Singapore supplements its dwindling native population with a steady inflow of immigrants. The UK, at 1.91, is close to being able to maintain its population without immigration, while the US, at 2.06, could just about do so unaided. For Japan pessimists, the low birth rate does not stem from the inevitable decline of fertility rates in affluent, urban societies, but is a sign that Japanese youth is feeling too poor and too pessimistic to reproduce.

Furuichi disagrees. Many youngsters are taking conscious and rational decisions about how to maximise their enjoyment, he says. Very few would trade their current lifestyle for that of their parents. “I don’t think there are many 20-year-olds who want to return to that system. We knew our fathers were being called ‘economic animals’, that they were made fun of for being hapless cogs in the machine,” he says. “Our mothers did what they could to be happy housewives, but they were essentially maids.” Younger Japanese of both sexes have broadened their outlook.
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