Magazine article UNESCO Courier

For Japan's Perplexed Teenagers, the End of an Era

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

For Japan's Perplexed Teenagers, the End of an Era

Article excerpt

For over a century Japanese society was welded together by a struggle to catch up with the West. Now, as the old certainties fade away, Japanese youth faces a complex and ruthless world.

It has often been said that Japan, unlike the United States, is not a country of immigrants, and that for all practical purposes it has a single religion and a single language. What's more, since their country emerged from isolation in the Meiji Period [1] the Japanese have had one overwhelming national aim: modernization. The profound desire for modernization worked like a centripetal force on the people to bring them all into a single close circle of stability. Today, that circle is disintegrating. The modernization of Japan ended in the 1970s. That was when the great national aim that had existed since the Meiji period ceased to exist and as a result the nation's centripetal force petered out. In every field, the community's standards, the way things were done and even communicated were called in question. For previous generations of Japanese youth, it was enough just to become part of any highly ranked sector of the Japanese community. Entry into highly selective universities, major industries and power ful bureaucracies brought with it the promise of a stable life.

Today, in a Japan fully conscious that modernization is over and that we have caught up with the West, we turn to our youth and ask them not for the devotion that served us so well in the past but for fully developed skills and immediately useful knowledge. I think that less than five per cent of young people have actually registered this message from society and are actively seeking an education that will provide the necessary training. Whether this percentage falls to three or rises to eight is going to be what makes or breaks Japan in the future.

The great number of young people who have not got the message fritter away their time as slaves to commercialism or fall under the sway of some charismatic fashion. The problem is that society has not made it clear enough to them that to lead a full life they now need specialized skills. So many elementary schoolchildren are still locked into gruelling exam preparation schedules, but no one is encouraging them to think about what sort of training they are heading for or how best to prepare for the future. I think this is unfair.

My son is nineteen. He is studying pharmacology at college and later plans to go to an American or European university to do advanced work in toxicology. I have taught him since he was a child that in the future living a free life will be difficult without a basis of highly professional knowledge. …

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