Photographer's Note

Next generation...

Distinct differences are also evident between the generations since the economic bubble burst in the 1990s. Younger generations are facing a dramatically different working culture in which a job for life is no longer guaranteed.

Consequently, the identification of the self with the company is weakening. Japanese companies now routinely outsource work and lay off workers who may have been with the company for decades, as dramatised through the character of the father in the 2008 film Tokyo Sonata.

While that movie is of course a work of fiction and does not necessarily represent a typical situation, it does highlight the cultural shift away from an often-quoted Japanese idiom: "the nail which stands up must be hammered down."

The movie espouses individual development over conformity, as the son flourishes as a piano prodigy despite his father's attempts to have him conform to the existing system of education and employment. The wide generation gap and imposition of values is evident in the fact that the average politician is in his or her sixties.

In a highly competitive job market where learning fluent English is seen as one of the keys to success, more and more young Japanese people are studying abroad - mainly in the United States. This means that some are developing more stereotypically western individualist outlooks in their formative years.

There is also the social phenomenon of furita: young people who take a number of part time jobs instead of a single full-time role, and intersperse these with stints in places like Bali and Australia.

Traditionalists are particularly troubled by the number of hikikomori, a population of young adults estimated to be between one and three million who never leave home. In a significant number of cases, they are not employed and not paying taxes. This adds to the state's dilemma of how to provide for an increasing elderly population - the largest in the developed world - while the population as a whole is decreasing and some young people are only entering employment part-time, if at all.

The long-established equation between age and standing in a clearly defined hierarchy appears to be holding firm, and the relationship between the senpai (experienced) and kohai (inexperienced) is evident everywhere from college baseball teams to offices and factory hierarchies. Nonetheless, these structures are under scrutiny in economically uncertain times, and may belie a paradigmatic shift in the values and goals of young people questioning what it means to be Japanese.


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Additional Photos by Leszek Stefaniuk (jabumbum) Silver Note Writer [C: 4 W: 0 N: 428] (1308)
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