Youth Culture in Japan

By Kawasaki, Ken'ichi | Social Justice, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Youth Culture in Japan


Kawasaki, Ken'ichi, Social Justice


1. The History of Youth Culture in Japan

In order to understand youth culture in Japan, it is necessary to examine its history in comparison with youth in the United States and the United Kingdom. This article analyzes the main generational groupings to have grown up under conditions of affluence and discusses their readiness to take part in an increasingly global culture. There is hope that they can reconcile the best qualities of traditional Japanese culture, with its emphasis on the group, with the individualism and voluntarism demanded by information-based societies.

1.1: Modernization and Youth Culture in Western Europe

Modernization, which consists of urbanization, industrialization, and the development of an information-based society, began in British society in the last half of the 18th century. It subsequently spread to the European continent and the United States. In the decades following World War II, the world was dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, however, the balance of power in the world drastically changed, giving way to multidimensional centers, e.g., the United States, the European Community, and Japan. Accordingly, late modernization swept away the Western-style model and today requires reconsideration as a multidimensional model.

Despite differences in degree, almost all nations were caught up in the wave of modernization. Consequently, they share similar economic institutions, political systems, and cultural values. Direct comparisons among them were difficult before modern times. Comparisons were perhaps possible in the case of neighboring regions or those having close relationships.

According to J.R. Gillis (1981), the history of youth culture in Western Europe can be divided into five periods:

1. Young people before industrialization (before the 18th century);

2. The early period of industrialization (end of the 18th century to the 1860s);

3. The birth of adolescence (from the 1870s to 1899);

4. Adaptation and deviation (1900s to the 1940s); and

5. Mutual penetration, coexistence, and formalization (from the 1950s to the present).

Youth in the sociological sense of a life-cycle period came into the world in the modern period. The concept was supported primarily by the middle class, whose values emphasized that a man behaves in a manly way and a woman does so in a womanly fashion. Although middle-class values were adaptive and conservative, they ironically fostered deviance from the norm. The middle-class value of adaptation came to dominate all classes. At the same time, many forms of resistance occurred against them in the 1960s, especially experiments involving lifestyles. The lifestyle experiments that emerged in the culture of the younger generation during the 1960s continue into the present. Yet the younger generation has experienced the huge wave of consumer culture along with economic dependence on their parents. Thus, consumer culture engulfed the youth generations and deeply influenced them.

The diaclonic consistency of youth culture in Western society may be an artifact of class culture. That is, when a Japanese researcher looks at Western youth, a strict class culture nonetheless remains. To be sure, the wall between classes has become thin - especially after the 1960s, but the culture of the working class remains distinct from that of the middle classes. Moreover, the difference seems to have a deep impact on the nature of the youth culture in the West.

1.2: Youth Culture in Japan

Naturally, youth culture in Western Europe differs from that in Japan. It was established early in Western Europe and late in Japan. Support for youth culture from the Japanese middle class was weaker than that offered by their Western counterparts. Moreover, in Japan the influence of the military and farming cultures (which still have a considerable influence on youth culture today) was great. …

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