“I’m More Worried Than Excited About The Future”: Coming of Age Day in Anxiety in Japan | Japan

ohn the second Monday in January each year, 20-year-old Japanese people don their best kimonos and costumes, brave the winter cold and gather in reception halls across the country to celebrate their official coming of age.

In happier times, Coming of Age Day is a chance to reunite with old-school friends from the same neighborhood and snap countless commemorative photos, knowing that a party invariably involves drinking. Legal alcohol will be just a reward for attending dismal speeches by local dignitaries. .

But for the latest cohort of Japanese men and women who have turned 20 in the past eight months – or will do so by April 1 – this year’s festivities will be tinged with anxiety, as they contemplate a future filled with uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the asymmetric demographics of Japan.

Mao Kato.

Mao Kato, who celebrated his 20th birthday last month, will be among those to mark the occasion in a traditional, colorful way. furisode kimono that she will wear at the official Tokyo Metropolitan Government ceremony seijin shiki, or coming of age ceremony.

Like many of his contemporaries, Kato spent almost all of his two years in college living in the shadow of Covid-19. “It definitely disrupted my studies,” says Kato, a social science student at a university in Tokyo. “I couldn’t make new friends because our classes were online and I didn’t have any proper contact with my elders, which also affects my job prospects. “

Kato, graduating in two years, will enter a labor market very different from that experienced by the generation of her parents and grandparents. Japan’s “lost” two decades of little or no growth and the rise in the number of low-paid and non-regular workers have created a generation that can no longer hope for the post-war guarantees of a lifelong job. ‘salary increases based on seniority and a comfortable retirement.

Twenty-year-old men and women in kimonos and costumes leave Todoroki Arena in Japan on Adulthood Day on January 11, 2021.
Twenty-year-old men and women in kimonos and costumes leave Todoroki Arena in Japan on Adulthood Day on January 11, 2021. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri / AFP / Getty Images

Instead, they can expect to work until “retirement” – contributing to a pension fund that will be of little benefit to them by the time they reach their twilight years – as part of a labor force. shrinking work meant to fund older members of a declining, aging population.

“I’m definitely more worried than excited for the future,” Kato says. “It’s getting harder and harder for graduates to find jobs, and we don’t know if we’ll be paid enough. We will also have to pay our parents’ pensions.

A record 1.2 million people in Japan hailed the Year of the Tiger as new adults, according to the Home Affairs Ministry, 40,000 fewer than the previous year and a record high since the government started keeping records in 1968. One-year-olds now make up only 0.96% of Japan’s 125 million people.

In contrast, the number of people aged 65 and over reached 36.4 million last fall, nearly 30% of the total population, while life expectancy reached a record high of 87, 74 for women and 81.64 for men. The birth rate, meanwhile, remains stubbornly low.

Against this background, it’s no surprise that Japanese millennials have been the most pessimistic about the future compared to their contemporaries in 17 other countries, according to a 2016 poll.

Shota Nagao.
Shota Nagao.

Shota Nagao, who will spend Monday catching up with his high school friends but decided not to attend his coming-of-age ceremony in his Tokyo neighborhood, says the pandemic has highlighted the challenges he and others face. other new adults are facing.

“It took a toll on my mental and physical health,” says Nagao, a sociology and anthropology student, of 18 months of distance learning at a university in the Japanese capital. “The stress of not being able to socialize really rocked me, but the biggest problem was that I wasn’t getting the quality of education that older students had. “

In other respects, breaking the post-war labor contract between state and citizen could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. In return for lifelong employment and financial security, postwar generations had to put in strenuous hours, often to the detriment of family life and their sanity.

“I’ve heard that the work-life balance is better today in Japanese companies and that it’s not nearly impossible for women to have families and careers anymore,” says Kato, who lives with his parents in the same building as his grandparents.

Nagao can also see the benefits of the less rigid work culture that is emerging as more Japanese companies look beyond a shrinking domestic market. “I don’t see myself spending my entire professional life doing the same job… people my age don’t think that way,” he says. “We feel like we have more freedom to choose and change jobs, and maybe even start our own businesses.”

But as he and Kato prepare for Monday’s step, with independent bank accounts and state pension books, Nagao – like his contemporary who speaks fluent English – has said he would trust Japan … for the moment.

“I don’t feel at all that politicians are listening to my generation,” he says, despite promises from new prime minister Fumio Kishida to close the growing income gap – which disproportionately affects young people and women – as part of its so-called “new capitalism”.

“Some of them use social media to make it look like they’re engaging with young people, but their policies are not benefiting us. They are even more interested in what my parents and grandparents think.

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