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 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:



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.



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!”



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.



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”:


“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・・・」

> “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”:


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.



“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:


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.


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”).


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:




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.


  • 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.

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