Japan’s “happy” youngsters

The FT (Financial Times) has a decent article on Japan featuring young Japanese 20-somethings, all of them seemingly bright and earnest, and determined not to live like their parents or grandparents. It’s a long article, but well worth the read. There’s an interesting contrast where on the one hand, young people want a happier life and refuse to conform to rigid salaryman/companyman roles that their parents had to bear, but on the other hand, there’s a lot of unhappiness because of a slowing economy and a loss of sense of purpose. It is true; one should live for oneself if given the chance and it’s cool to open your own business, be your own boss, be responsible for yourself and so on. But to have no responsibilities at all is a bit too lackadaisical (though I should be the last person to lecture anyone about a lack of goals), and to deliberately have no job and spend all your time playing videogames in your parents’ home is ridiculous (Taiwan’s got a bit of this as well). I will say though that living in a safe, prosperous society with a lot of material and social resources is what allows people to have this quandary, of  deciding whether to strive hard or work or decide to settle for less so easily. Countries like China, for instance, have much less of this, which the article mentions. I think the cross-generational struggles also happen in Taiwan and even the West, where younger people prefer to enjoy life rather than work themselves to the bone or settle down and raise a family. The people profiled here aren’t big slackers though. It’s not hard to admire the “social entrepreneur” guy who runs a nonprofit helping disadvantaged kids and who went to Iraq at 18 and got kidnapped, or the guy who works in a kind of startup helping struggling businesses. For me, the most important thing about life is meaning, not money (nor getting wasted, ha).

Japan is a mysterious country to me, one which is prosperous and ultramodern, but also supposedly decaying and stagnating economically. This article was informative and a good read, though it did little to clear up the contradiction.


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