Youth is wasted on the young - Monocolumn | Monocle


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25 March 2010

Bad news for luxury retailers: young Japanese people don’t want to spend money anymore. At least that is the conclusion of a study published by the Nikkei Research Institute of Industry & Regional Economy.

Hoshigaranai Wakamonotachi (“Young People Who Don’t Want”) by researcher Taku Yamaoka is based on 10 years of research and interviews with young people which led him to conclude that, unlike their parents, young people don’t want brand-label goods, don’t drive, don’t play sport, don’t drink, don’t travel, don’t want serious relationships but do like to save and stay at home.

While their parents were busy shopping, playing golf and dedicating their working lives to one employer, young people prefer to grow their own vegetables, watch the seasons change and do volunteer work. If the previous generation was intent on modernising Japan at high speed, the next one prefers a slower pace with less consumption.

Yamaoka, whose study was published at the end of last year, is not alone. His work is one of a flurry of books and articles on the same subject. In Ken Shohi Sedai no Kenkyu (“Study of the anti-consumption generation”), Hisakazu Matsuda paints a similar picture: the children born in Japan’s high-spending bubble years are saving more and spending less. Job security is an issue but it’s not just about financial restraint – young people don’t have the appetite for conspicuous consumption. Even if they have the money they don’t want to buy expensive cars or oversized televisions. A recent edition of the weekly television show Close-Up Gendai was devoted to the subject, reiterating the same points about the frugality of the twenty-something generation.

Spend any time here and you realise that the habits, fads and fashions of the country’s youth are scrutinised by the media with an almost anthropological curiosity. Never more so than now when the economy is fragile and people are looking to divine some hint of what the future holds for Japan. From the rise of NEETs [Not in employment, education or training] to the phenomenon of “herbivorous” men who prefer eating cake and hanging out with their mothers to long-term relationships, this forensic analysis of the younger generation frequently draws its own conclusions, the underlying point apparently being that young people don’t have the motivation or the stamina of their parents.

Sociology professor Masahiro Yamada agrees that there’s a generational shift. “There’s no upward mobility now,” he says. “The parents of these young people weren’t rich – they wanted to be middle class and buy brand name goods. Nowadays those people have earned a good life and their children don’t want for anything.”

Professor Yamada – who coined the infamous phrase “Parasite Single” to describe the legions of unmarried women who live at home with their parents – sees the new thriftiness as part of a bigger trend: the increasing conservatism of Japanese youth. Burdened with anxiety about money and jobs, young people are looking for stability. So they squirrel away their money and become increasingly risk averse.

“They prefer safety to challenges,” he says. “Consumption could be risky so they don’t buy anything. If they go abroad for a year they might not get a job when they come back. They enjoy a modest life and don’t stretch themselves.” For Yamada this passivity cuts to the heart of Japan’s future as a creative force. “It’s critical,” he says. “Young Japanese are so docile – if they don’t rebel how will anything new be born?”


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