Young Japanese are too westernized these days

Japan

A dense network of seemingly unresolved cultural contradictions pervades people's lives on the Japanese islands. Behind the external westernization, which is clearly expressed in the lifestyle of young people, there are still traditional norms of value such as the high status of the family, group security or the unabashed pursuit of harmony.

Tokyo at night. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

The future seems to have already begun. A two-kilometer-high residential and office tower on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay is planned, and group trips into space are being offered, for which a place in a holiday complex on the moon can already be booked. No plan is daring enough not to be thought of in Japanese companies. The public is intoxicated with such visions of the future, and yet the Japanese repeatedly testify to deep pessimism in surveys: Fear of war, concern about the supposedly overpowering neighbor China and, increasingly, concern about jobs are in stark contrast to a limitless optimism about the future, the makes one believe that anything is doable. At the same time, traditional values ​​are still alive: the young people still honor old age, as statistics show. According to this, the majority of young men still wish that their old parents should spend their retirement years with their families, even if the living situation makes such wishes illusory. Japan's average apartments are too small for such forms of life.

Japan in the field of tension between tradition and modernity. A castle from the 16th century. (& copy JAPAN photo archive)
In a society that is aging ever faster, tensions arise between the generations: Japanese youths experience how families live in the USA or Europe and increasingly perceive it as a deficit that their fathers are only present on the weekends, often only on Sundays. The values ​​of the parents' generation are increasingly being questioned by Japanese youth. Young Japanese people no longer want to go into a company after their studies and work there without complaint and ready to make sacrifices for the good of the company and the Japanese nation. The group of "freeta" (pronounced: friita, a Japanese-English made-up word) is growing, who "drift" aimlessly for some time between graduation and working life.

Apparent contradictions

"Old Japan" is still alive as it is found in the romantic ideas of western travelers, and it can still be discovered in the big cities. But already the impression arises that only tourists are interested in this. Japan's big city youth is about to drift between pleasure addiction and consumer frenzy into a futuristic art world. To be fashionably "in" and to enjoy life seem more important than self-sacrifice for the company: work performance "until you drop" six days a week, in extreme cases perhaps death through overwork (Japanese karoshi) appears to more and more young people to be undesirable . Fulfillment in work is increasingly being questioned as a value.

Japan in the field of tension between tradition and modernity. The Shinjuku district of Tokyo. (& copy JAPAN photo archive)
"Robotland or Lotosland?" As early as 1961, the publicist Arthur Koestler wondered helplessly after a trip to Japan. The European intellectual saw the uniformed, disciplined industrial workers who looked "robot-like" to him - and at the same time experienced the silence of Buddhist temples, which he described with "Buddha's flower", the lotus. A dense network of seemingly unresolved cultural contradictions pervades people's lives on the Japanese islands. Behind the external westernization, which is clearly expressed in the lifestyle of young people, there are still traditional norms of value such as the high status of the family, group security or the unabashed pursuit of harmony. The rapid economic development after 1868 (beginning of the Meiji era) did not abolish such values, but instead incorporated them into industrial society.

However, this society has been exposed to tensions since the 1990s, which are now also threatening the structure of norms. The traditional Confucian demand for elite selection through rigorous educational selection, which underlies the Japanese educational system, has produced far-sighted, nationally conscious entrepreneurs and a disciplined, highly motivated workforce over a broad, evenly distributed post-war period, when heavy industries and plastic products shaped the economy have distributed factual knowledge. Outstanding individual achievements were rather undesirable in this system. In the future society of digital technologies of the next century, other values ​​will also be required: Individual creativity and real internationalization of Japanese society, especially of Japanese companies; Inevitably, the Japanese education and training system will have to change.

In the deafening vortex of optical and acoustic overstimulation of giant Japanese metropolises, it seems hard to imagine getting lost in contemplation of nature and Zen meditation and hearing the "sound of silence", aesthetic traditions seem lost - and yet there are top managers who retreat to mountain monasteries for Zen meditation or have rooms for the tea ceremony in their office buildings. A head of government practices the art of sword fighting (Japanese kendo), other politicians are masters of the tea ceremony, or they wear black belts in judo; Entrepreneurs practice the traditional art of archery to gain new strength. All arts (Japanese ido) have in common that they lead away from everyday life through discipline and extreme concentration. Even in a media-flooded society geared towards Western product tastes, a Japanese sense of beauty and uninhibited enjoyment of the traditional arts are preserved: classical Japanese dance, calligraphy, ikebana, tea ceremony - they all have an unmistakable following. Japanese classical music asserts itself alongside pop and western classical music, and traditional theater also survives alongside underground, opera and western drama. Traditional aesthetics permeate western styles in the fine arts and architecture of Japan, artists and architects of the country have long been among the best in the world - and no one will deny the influence of Japanese traditions.