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Japan: Coming of age in 2009

Every year, on the second Monday of January, in the neighbourhood of every city hall of Japan, one can see young men wearing the hakama (typical Japanese trousers) and women dressed up in furisode (long sleeved kimono, traditionally worn by unmarried girls). On that particular day, in fact, since 1946, “Coming-of-age Ceremonies”(成人式 seijin shiki) have held to celebrate the passage to adulthood of people who turned 20 years old in the period between April of the previous year and March of the current year.

In comparison to ceremonies held in the past, however, ceremonies on January 12th were different this year, according to the mainstream media. Articles and surveys published in national newspapers and on TV shows presented a desperate picture of coming-of-age Japanese adults in the last few months, the economical crisis and lack of work being the topics everybody is talking about.

Some “grown-up bloggers” noticed the different turn that the coverage of the Coming-of-age Ceremony took this year and commented on it in their blogs. Two papa romio, for example, despite understanding the worrying economic situation Japan currently faces and the anxieties held by young people in the country, encourages the younger generation to be proactive:

数年前の成人式の日には新成人の暴動なんかがよくテレビで流れていた気がするが、今年はそういった報道が無かった。「仕事がないので不安です」「これから の若い人間が働きやすい環境を作ってください」などのコメントが多かった。学生の内定取り消しや雇用の削減が若い人間にも大きな不安を与えているのだろう。確かに彼、彼女たちがこれから飛び込んでいこうとする社会がこの状況では不安だろう。

In past years on coming-of-age day, my impression is that TV news used to broadcast footage of things like young people who had just come of age causing trouble, but this year there wasn't anything like that. There were many comments like, “I am worried because there is no work” or “Please create a working environment where young people are able to easily contribute”. It would seem that the un-hiring of fresh graduates [naitei] as well as unemployment cutbacks are making many youngsters anxious. Certainly the society that these young men and women will be plunging into is, in the current state of affairs, not very reassuring.

でも若い人間がこれからの社会を変えないと日本は変わらない。人頼みではなく自ら変えようという心意気で社会に飛び込んでもらえたらいいのにな。とはいいつつその頃の自分がそんな事を思っていたかというとそんな事はない(><)

However, if the new generations do not change the future of our society, then Japan will not change. People need to make the plunge into society with the determination to change it themselves. Of course, although I say this, I wouldn't have been able to do this at their age. (>< )

Encouraging words come also from other bloggers who turned 20 some years ago. One of these bloggers, nanatsuboshi(ななつぼし☆ ), whose son just turned 20, encourages him and others of his age to show their mettle in these difficult times.

きのうは成人の日であった 息子よ おめでとう
急速な景気悪化の中 息子の通う大学でも 就職の不安を抱えている先輩たちが
多いらしい 厳しい時代でも厳しい時代だからこそ 成人となり将来に向け 気概を新たにすることを望みたい
ゲームやネット それにケイタイで育った世代である
コミュニケーション下手と言われる世代だが 仲間とのそれは違うようだ

Yesterday it was “Coming-of-age Day”. My dear son, congratulations!
In this period of tremendous crisis, many senior students at the university my son is attending seem to be very worried about employment. But even in such harsh times, or maybe exactly because of these harsh times, I do hope that they are going to grow up to become adults, able to face the future and show their mettle.
This is the generation that grew up on video-games, the internet and mobile phone, and for this reason, they say that this generation lacks the ability to communicate. But it seems that this is not so among their friends.

[…]

それもこれも ケイタイでの連絡 情報機器の活用に慣れているからか
隔世の感はある が それらを有効に活用して 自身の知識 教養を深めながら 未来に邁進するがいい
加えて 思いやり 親切心 感動できる豊かな心や感性を持つことは 忘れてはなるまい

Maybe it's because they are used to information technology and communication by mobile phone, but there is the strong sense that they are a generation that has faced very rapid change. If they could make effective use of those communication tools and, at the same time, deepen their sense of self-awareness and cultivation, then they would advance into the future.
It is also important not to forget the importance of having a warm heart and spirit capable of kindness.

A group of girls at their Coming of age Ceremony. Photo by danny choo

Similarly, Gainet Hayataku (ガイネット ハヤタク), remembering when he turned 20 y.o. during the Bubble years, expresses his optimistic view about the new generation of individuals who, as has happened before in Japanese history, will be able to change the country and rescue it from the critical situation that it is in nowadays.

この時期、いつも思いだされるのは、自分が二十だったころ。
もう少しすると、2回目の成人式かというくらい遠い日の事になりつつありますが。
あの頃は、バブルも崩壊したものの、バブルの残り香と下がる景気の雰囲気が世の中に入り混じっていました。

It's during this period [of the year] that memories of when I was 20 always come to my mind.
Those times are really a long time ago (so much so that I could almost celebrate my second “Coming-of-age Ceremony” now). The Bubble had just burst and the atmosphere of the sagging economy with its bitter aftertaste had permeated [Japanese] society.

[…]

バブルは崩壊したと言っても、今とは違い仕事も沢山あったし、仕事も嫌なら辞めればいいぐらいに思っていました。
それに比べて、今は適当にしていたら、ちゃんと生きられない。
世の中の流れなので、生きるのが大変なのは若い人に限った話ではありませんが。

Even after the Bubble, unlike now there were plenty of different jobs available, so much so that I used to think to myself, if I didn't like the job I was doing I could simply quit.
In comparison, nowadays you cannot live a proper life if you don’t act responsibly.
And living in a proper way, in such circumstances, is difficult for everybody, not only for young people.

こういう時に若い頃を過ごせると、生きる力が強い人が沢山育ちそうです。
反面、落ちこぼれも増えるのかもしれませんが、初めの大衆心理の話じゃないけど、意識の押し上げにはなると思います。
こんな世の中から、何か凄い人が育ってくるのかもしれません。
いつの時代も、若者を導くのは大人の役割です。
見て育つというのもあるでしょうが、周りの状況以上に大きく育つことは難しいでしょう。
自分の状況を大きく超えるには、想像以上の世界をみせる必要があるのです。

Being young in these harsh times, many people will grow up to be strong energy for life.
On the other hand, the number of dropouts may increase, but (and this has nothing to do with the mass psychology mentioned earlier) I believe that it may also be an expression of consciousness.
These difficult circumstances could bring out an incredible individual.
From time immemorial, it is the role of adults to lead young people.
Usually you grow up looking at other people and it is very difficult to grow up so as to be greater then those around you.
To overcome the conditions around you, you have to show a world that exceeds your imagination.

私の好きな明治維新には、吉田松陰や勝海舟などの思想家がいました。[…]
当時の若者達にそれほど想いの差があったとは思いません。
彼らにあったのは、自分達の周りの状況の差でした。
現代は情報の時代。 
しかし、自分を成長させるスイッチを入れなければ、目にした物を自分の状況に落とし込むことはできません。
身近にメンターを持つことが、人生に大きな差が生まれるでしょう。
こんな時代だからこそ、若者達を正しく導く大人が沢山出てくることを願い、そして、自分もそういう存在になって行きたいものです。

At the time of the Meiji Restoration, that I admire so much, there were thinkers like Yoshida Shōin and Katsu Kaishū. […]
I don’t think that there is so much difference with what young people in those days may have been thinking.
Now we are in the communication age.
However, if you don’t switch yourself on to the “grow-up mode”, you cannot “integrate” yourself with the reality around you.
Recently, having a mentor seems to make a big difference in life. And precisely because we are in this kind of age, I hope that there will be many adults who are able to lead young people in the proper way, and in fact I would like to be one of those [adults].

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