Japan: Bridging the Generation Gap

What with all the news last week of beheadings, shoot-outs and baby dumping — and subsequent soul-searching on the part of Japanese bloggers, at a loss for what to make of the nation's younger generation — I felt that it would be appropriate this week to highlight a slightly more uplifting story, by shifting the spotlight to a thoughtful response from an unusually self-reflective corner of the Japanese blogosphere.

The story this week regards an article which appeared in the newspaper Asahi shimbun on Saturday about a 16-year-old girl named Fukuya Natsumi, a fan of Visual Kei bands and Shoujo manga [girl's manga]. According to the article, young Fukuya-san, who graduated from middle-school last spring, has since been working 5 days a week, 8 am to 5pm, at a gyuudon chain, as well as 6pm-9pm shifts two to three nights a week at a restaurant, in order to make enough money to make ends meet, supporting her mother and one younger sister. Working two jobs, she was making 160,000 yen, or less than 1500 USD, per month. Needless to say, given this work load, it was not possible for her to continue her high-school studies.

From the point of view of mainstream news, the story starts last March when young Fukuya-san is suddenly told by her new boss at the restaurant where, by this point, she has worked for a whole year, that her dyed brown hair must be “made more black”. After thinking about the demand for a week, Fukuya-san refused to change her hair colour, and was subsequently fired from her job. Fukuya-san fought back through a union of young workers (Shutoken Seinen Yunion), eventually negotiating an agreement in which she did not have to darken her hair in order to continue working.

Gyaru

Gyaru in Shibuya, Tokyo (For a picture of Fukuya-san herself, see the Asahi article)

The story was widely commented on in Japanese blogs, notably sparking a heated debate at one bulletin board site which drew, at last count, a staggering 5600 comments. Rather than try to cover in any depth the range of opinions expressed on this topic across all blogs, I though this week I would translate just one particularly thoughtful blog entry and comments that it prompted, posted on Sunday (May 20) at That's the way I am and titled “Watashi ga oji-san ni nattemo” (Even when I become an “old man”). Blogger Yasu recounts his experience of meeting three young “gyaru” on the train one night:

人を外見で判断する癖が治ってません。

先日、夜10時過ぎの電車内でのこと。20歳前後の女性3人が乗ってきました。
髪の色は非常に明るい茶色、目はマスカラで真っ黒、スカート丈はマイクロミニ。
渋谷の某ファッションビルの店員か、夜の仕事をしているのか、はたまた学生か・・・最近の若い子はさっぱり見当が付きません。

I am not yet over the bad habit of judging people by their appearance.

Yesterday, just after 10pm, I was in the train when three girls, each about 20 years old, got on.
Their hair colour was an extremely bright brown, their eyes were jet black with mascara, and they were wearing very short skirts.
Maybe they were employees of some Shibuya fashion store, or doing some night-time work, or maybe students… these days, it's really hard to tell with these young girls.

3人のうち、2人が空いていた席に座り、残りの1人が立っていました。
すると、隣に座っていた女性がスペースを作ってくれたので、3人とも座ることができました。

その際、立っていた残りの1人が「あ〜、すいませ〜ん、ありがとうございま〜す」とキチンとお礼の言葉を述べたのです。

Of the three of them, two found places to sit, while the other girl stayed standing up.
At this point, another girl sitting next to them made some space so that all three could sit down together.

The third girl, who was standing up, expressed her thanks in a very proper way, stating: “Sorry to bother you! Thank you so much!”

正直驚きました、と同時に、彼女達のことを誤解していた自分がちょっとだけ恥ずかしくなりました。

その後の3人の会話は「え〜、あいつ〜、チョーキモいですぅ〜」系の会話でしたが、それでも彼女達が愛おしくさえ思えてきました。

I was honestly very surprised, and at the same time a little bit embarrassed about having misjudged these young women.

After that, the conversation turned to the “Really? … so-and-so … ew! gross!” type of conversation, but even so, they had become very sweet in my eyes.

夕べ読んだ記事。
この子はまだ16歳でフリーターで茶髪ながらも、しっかりとした考えの持ち主のようです。

「最近の若者は・・・」などと思い始めている「セミ・オジサン状態」の私。
40代のオジサンになっても、外見で若い人を判断せず、理解する努力をしていきたいですね。

I read this article last night. [Asahi article described above]
Although she is only a 16-year-old freeter [part-time/freelance worker], it seems that this girl holds very solid views.

And here I am, a “Semi-Ojisan” [“ojisan”=old man], starting to think things like: “Young people these days…”
But even once I turn 40, I want to work to really understanding who young people are, rather than simply judging them by their appearance.

A number of comments followed the blog entry. The first, posted on May 20, is by someone named “ryuu”:

”人を外見で判断しない”
なかなか難しいですよね。
リンクの16歳の女性は行動力もあって素晴らしいです!!

“Not judging people by their appearance”
That's pretty difficult, isn't it.
The 16-year-old girl that you linked to is really a person who takes action, it's wonderful!!

> 「最近の若者は・・・」
 ギャル系ファッションの人を見ると確かに思います(笑・ついていけないとか・笑)
 でも昔は自分もそう思われていたのかなー?
 と思ったらおあいこだったりして・・・。

> “Young people these days…”
Certainly, when I see people wearing gyaru-type fashion I think this. (LOL)
But I wonder: did people think of me the same way, when I was that age?
When I think of that, I guess we are equal.

The next is posted on May 21 by “bujiichan”:

外見でみちゃいますね〜。
ギャルには素直にヒキますが。
でも意外と、けなげなほど良識的な事も言ったりしますよね。
「道にゴミすてちゃダメだよ〜」とかね。
人間は変わってないんですよね。

We do go by appearances, don't we.
Gyaru do turn me off.
But surprisingly, they sometimes say very sensible things in a sweet way.
Things like: “You shouldn't throw garbage onto the street!”
People haven't changed that much, really.

「最近の若いものはなってない!」なんてのは、江戸の昔から生きてる言葉だってのも忘れてはいけないと思います。

もっとも最近は、「今の大人はなってない!」なんて言われかねないですよね〜!
そのリンクの店長とかねヾ(≧▽≦)

“There is something wrong with young people these days!”, this expression has been around since way back in the Edo period and I think it's important that we not forget that.

Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if they start saying: “There is something wrong with today's adults!”
People like the restaurant manager in the article you linked to. (≧▽≦)

A comment by someone named “mocchi”, also posted on the 21st, follows:

人を外見から判断するのはある種しょうがないと思う。
一度もした事ない人はいないんじゃないのかな〜。

To some degree, I think you can't help judging people based on their appearance.
I don't think there is anybody who hasn't done this at least once.

電車でつめてあげたのに何も言わない人ってむかつくよね。
つめた事を後悔したりする。
それからエレベーターで同じ階でおりるのにボタンをおしておいて先に降りさせてあげたのに会釈もないしに当然って顔された時とかむかつく。
たまにアメリカのクロスワードを後ろから言ってやるのが精一杯。

I get really pissed off at people who don't say anything when somebody makes room for them in the train.
Then you regret that you made room for them.
And then, I also get irritated when you are in the elevator and getting off at the same floor as someone else, and you hold down the button and let them get off first, but they just get off without even nodding to you, giving a look that says: this is the natural way of things.
It's the best I can do to sometimes say an American crass word [see note] behind their back.

Note: The author wrote kurosuwaado (“crossword”) but probably meant kurasu waado (“crass word”).

でも16歳の行動はすごいね。
私だったらこんなとこで働けるかとやめちゃうけど、ま〜そうする事自体が甘い人生おくっているのかも

But the actions of this 16-year-old are amazing.
If it were me in that kind of situation, I would say: I can't work here, and quit … but well, that in itself is living an easy life.

And finally, a comment by “daikonhana”, also on May 21st:

まず、家計を支えてるってとこに、ぐっときました。

つい最近ですが、歩いていて自転車に道を譲ったら、いかにも悪そうな高校生が「あっざ〜〜す」と爽やかに挨拶していきました。

めちゃめちゃかわいく思えました。

First, when I read that she is supporting her family, I was touched.

Recently, during a walk, I made way for a bicycle to go by, and this high-school student, who looked like bad news, greeted me pleasantly, saying: “Thanks!”

I found it really cute.

For those who can read Japanese, Yasu also posted individual replies to each of these comments at his blog.

4 comments

  • epmason

    Very, very minor note but related to your desired profession:

    I think the person wanted to say “curse word” not “crass word”. Has nothing to do with the content (the translation of which is great, by the way) but as you made a special note I thought I would offer my interpretation.

    Keep up the blog translations. They’re really neat!

  • epmason: Thanks very much for your comment, and glad to hear that you like the translations!!

    And thanks also for that correction, that actually makes more sense. I actually ran it by a Japanese-speaker who also couldn’t quite figure it out. But now that I think about it, “curse” makes more sense.

  • I really appreciate this – I don’t read Japanese at all, and when I heard (from Technorati) that more blogs are in Japanese than any other language, I was shocked and wanted to be able to understand at least a little bit…

    to the subject: it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover – but there’s always the chance of a wonderful surprise…

  • Hi Terri,

    Thanks so much for the encouragement! I’ll keep looking out for interesting perspectives to translate. The world of Japanese blogs is really immense… hard to follow what’s going on. But well worth the effort.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site