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2011年1月12日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10
EDITORIAL: On Coming-of-Age Day

For those of you celebrating your Coming-of-Age Day, have you ever heard this phrase: "J'avais vingt ans. Je ne laisserai personne dire que c'est le plus bel age de la vie" (I was 20 years old. I will not allow anyone to say that is the most beautiful time of one's life)?

These are the opening lines of "Aden, Arabie," a novel written by the French writer Paul Nizan.

Grown-ups say that youth is beautiful, but Nizan crystallized the universal sentiments of the frustrated youth into those sentences.

However, even for us grown-ups, the situation surrounding you, the 20-year-olds of today, seems quite grim. The times are hardly "the most beautiful" for you.

The year 1990 began with stock prices plummeting on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. That was when the asset-inflated bubble economy burst. Since then, neither equity nor land prices have returned to bubble-era levels.

You are the first generation of those who have lived through constant economic decline.

Japan is caught in the grips of the long-term stagnation of the "lost two decades." And we are rushing into an unprecedented state of an aging society with fewer children.

The burden of the country's huge national debt and the increasing pension premiums and medical costs will weigh heavily upon your shoulders. On top of that, it's a hard time for job seekers. Your part-time jobs are not paying more, either.

While other Asian countries are rising, you are said to be inward-looking.
Your generation has been called "herbivores." Young women are described as aiming to become full-time homemakers. You have been criticized as lacking gumption compared with young people in China or South Korea.
The older generation constantly badgers you with such phrases as, "Ryoma, come forth," referring to Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867), a key figure in the restoration movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate.

I'm sure you want to say to such grown-ups, "Excuse me, but who exactly was it that made a hash of things in the first place?"

Nevertheless, we worry about whether things will be all right when we see your peers engrossed in their games and mobile phones on the train. We worry that perhaps you are averting your eyes from reality to avoid becoming further depressed.

If our old-age fears are totally unfounded, that would be great.

Your generation grew up along with mobile phones and digital devices. You can connect with a myriad of people all over the world through Facebook.

The adults used to get all geared up about life, saying the goal was self-realization. But you and your peers have something else. It may be a group of buddies, or the importance of being connected with your friends.

The number of this year's new adults is 1.24 million. For the first time, this is less than 1 percent of the entire population. In terms of numbers, you are a minority. So it would not be a bad thing for you and your peers to stay connected.

But how about talking with many different people outside your group?

Take your e-books and go outside into the world. Seek knowledge and learn about the situation surrounding you. Then work with your mates and aspire to change the world.

As you embark upon these hard times, we would like to dedicate to you a phrase from a poem written by another revolutionary at the end of the Edo Period, Takasugi Shinsaku (1839-1867): "To spend this uncheerful world with much cheer."

This is the spirit to live by as you make your way in the world.


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