Minutes of Forum
"Have Young People Lost Their Dreams? A Portrait of Young People in Modern Society"
ESRI Economic Policy Forum: Vision of Japan in the 21st Century Series

Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
March 2005

The abstract of this forum was prepared by the Secretariat. For details of the discussion, please refer to the minutes.

(Date and time)
Friday, December 24, 2004 10:00-12:30
Chikako Ogura Psychologist (Ph.D.)
Reiko Kosugi Assistant Research Director, The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (member of Working Group on Life and Region, Japan's 21st Century Vision)
Tamaki Saito Psychiatrist, Director of Medical Service, Sofukai Sasaki Hospital
Tetsuya Miyazaki Columnist (Vice Chief of Working Group on Life and Region, Japan's 21st Century Vision)
Shinji Miyadai Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Tokyo Metropolitan University
Izumi Nakato Deputy Director General for Policy Evaluation, Minister's Secretariat, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (Former Executive Research Fellow, Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan)

The forum opened with keynote speeches by Mr. Shinji Miyadai and Dr. Tamaki Saito, followed by a panel discussion. At the end, the panelists responded to questions from the general audience.

<Keynote Speech 1 "The Hearts of Young People - A Portrait of Contemporary Youth" (Mr. Shinji Miyadai)>

  • Young people today tend to be dissociated, have a tendency toward depression, and a waning tolerance for noise and other problems. They also tend toward complacency, even in the absence of other people.
  • Job-hunting used to require revealing one's true self, but recently what is required is to prepare different personalities for different situations, and to present those varied personalities that are deemed most appropriate.
  • In classical depression, one has the feeling that he/she is not desirable. But a key characteristic of mild cases of depression, which have recently become widespread, is that people who perform well at work, who are socially apt, and who seem to have nothing to do with depression, fall into depression time and again.
  • Regarding noise tolerance-which refers to the physical distance between another person before one feels the presence of a foreign body-for many people, sharing space with others has recently become increasingly difficult.
  • Dissociation and depression can be understood as an adaptation toward an increase in social mobility.
  • In a world of demand for high-level data processing, being able to act in every situation through adopted personalities is a reasonable proposition from the perspective of lowering the cost of data processing.
  • As social mobility increases, the possibility of replacement, or the idea that "it doesn't have to be me" increases. This increases the sensation that communication is fruitless, or that there is no need for one to be there. This too leads to mild cases of depression.
  • People are conscious of the notion of differentiating between "living cleverly" and "living honestly." Behavior that optimizes corporate rationality does not always coincide with the conduct or attitudes of a decent person.
  • In family restaurants and fast food shops where global-standard hospitability exists, workers are seen as easily replaceable; individual names and identities hardly even matter. For local, independently run stores, however, conversation is expected with shoppers, and this requires names and memory. It is non-mobile. That is, goodwill and initiative count more than roles and manuals.
  • Today, living-care facilities provided by self-supported mutual assistance are being administered and marketed by the government.
  • As represented in the case of the deregulation of large-scale shopping stores, there is a need to consider what kind of society most accurately reflects the people's consensus. If it is a highly mobile, replaceable society in which following the manual according to one's role will do, noise tolerance will be low. On the other hand, if a family restaurant-type amenity is desired, heavier punishment for juvenile crime and criminal offense as well as a criminal alienation policy, must be affirmed. Furthermore, a technology-based securitization of society based on surveillance cameras must be tolerated.
  • If the society genuinely approves of high mobility, it will not be consistent if the notion that conduct and attitudes of dissociation arise in order to adapt to such a society is not accepted as well. There is something odd about demanding consistent personality from young people and telling them to integrate to society because it is fruitful, while supporting a highly mobile society.

<Keynote Speech 2 "Suicide and Withdrawal of Young People - Why Do They Isolate Themselves from Society?" (Dr. Tamaki Saito)>

  • It is impossible for all young people to reach a desirable adaptation level. Some people are geniuses at adapting; others dropout. If we are to pursue outstanding talent, dropouts must be inevitably accepted as something that accompanies the former.
  • A socially withdrawn person can be defined as someone who has not participated in society for more than six months, under the assumption that mental disorder is not the principle reason for the withdrawal. Social participation is having an interpersonal relationship with someone other than a family member and having social participation or not distinguishes socially withdrawn people from NEETs. In addition, I think that NEETs of age 25 and older are almost always socially withdrawn.
  • The correlation between social withdrawal and school refusal is high. Prolonged school refusal has grown since the latter half of the 1970s, which was a turning point, when the manners of those undergoing puberty and adolescence changed considerable.
  • Social withdrawal is often seen in men. There is a spiral aspect to social withdrawal, in which someone who happens to withdraw him/herself from society continues this situation for a long time.
  • There is a possibility that an aging society of socially withdrawn people will emerge in 20 or 30 years. At that time, the problem of pensions for these people who have never paid their taxes will arise.
  • Withdrawal is not limited to Japan; it is growing in South Korea as well. Perhaps, in an extremely moderate sense, it can be considered a problem in areas significantly influenced by Confucian culture, which stresses the concepts of filial piety and children living together with their parents. Because independence is not the criteria for maturity, because many sons and daughters continue to live with their parents, I think there is a high probability that the withdrawal syndrome we see today is connected to this.
  • In Western countries, the growing number of young homeless people has become a problem, but this has not been the case in Japan. The difference may be dropping out of society versus dropping out of one's home.
  • Socially withdrawn people have extremely poor communication skills, yet they somehow maintain a stable self-image. They rarely use the Internet or cellular phones. In this way, in most cases, they isolate themselves from communicative circuits.
  • Regarding the immaturity of young people, there are two axes: an axis of withdrawal and an axis of self-searching. When they are excessively communicative and mobile, they retain their unstable personality and impulsiveness and resort to suicide (sometimes connected with an Internet group) and cults. They tend to have dispersed self-images and have a weak grip on pride.
  • The age at which many people feel they have fully matured to adulthood has risen to somewhere between 30 and 35.
  • The degrees of maturity of society and of individuals are in inverse proportion. When the social system is completed, various skills are required: much work can be outsourced, and when society has the ability to separate and adapt, individuals cannot possibly integrate all of that complexity. Therefore, the ability to imagine why one must work is greatly reduced. The sense of obligation to work becomes weak, and one searches long and hard for a reason to bother working. The destruction of this self-explanatory nature is a problem common to developed countries.
  • The communication gap is also a big problem. Due to initial conditions, the relationship only proceeds in a direction that greatly increases the gap. When one is convinced that communication is his/her weak point, there is a tendency to think of oneself as a loser.
  • Non-adaptation occurs in every age and society. The problem is that there is a need to be prepared so that non-adaptation is not diffused more than necessary. It is inevitable that withdrawal occurs, but something must be done so that this does not lead to a joint suicide attempt involving one's parents. Concretely, the concept of withdrawal must become widely known and understood.
  • In many cases, the reason withdrawal occurs is that there are many people who believe that work is an obligation. I think that young people should consider work not as an obligation, but merely as a pastime. If society reduces pressure, perhaps withdrawal will not be such a problem.
  • There are many cases of withdrawal among men. Pressure on graduates to participate in society is clearly stronger for men.

<Panel Discussion>

  • The unemployment rate of the young generation is increasing. Forty percent of the generation that graduated from junior high school in 1996 did not obtain the position of regular employee. Employment is not forming a general process. Against this background, is a fact that there aren't many openings for employment upon graduation. At the same time, working in the form of "arubaito" (part-time) is increasing. NEETs are also increasing. If women who mainly dedicate themselves to household chores but are not full-time housewives are included as NEETs, there isn't much of gender gap in NEETs.
  • The form of transition from school to work is changing. Until now, being employed as a regular employee by a company was built into society, but since there are fewer openings for regular employees, society requires a mechanism that allows a process in which a "freeter" becomes a regular employee, or shifts from a NEET to a freeter, or from being unemployed to a regular employee. It is necessary to form a society that shows young people the direction for their capacity-building and careers.
  • NEETs and freeters include people with largely varying backgrounds; there is a big difference between the type that dropped out from high school or is a high school graduate and the type that is a university graduate or has dropped out from higher education. For those who have received higher education, it can be considered a problem of self-search, while those that dropped out or graduated from high school are in a family environment in which the force to lead them to work is not being transmitted.
  • Increasing numbers of NEETs and freeters leads to a deficiency in society members. This is a problem. For society to continue existing, society must make them people that form society through policy measures.
  • Is it not a problem in itself to decide, "what the problem is" on issues concerning NEETs, freeters, and marriage?
  • In urban areas, non-marriages are prominent. There are increasing numbers of single men and women with high education and high income. That the so-called "winning team" is single and the losing team is married is a fact. I think that the marriage rate of NEETs and freeters is actually high, especially in rural areas. People get married when they have nothing else to do, and for example, many babies are born in refugee camps. In situations where there is nothing to do, men can affirm their existence only by making women pregnant. This is how "the maternity class" is formed.
  • There is an increasing number of young people who do not feel a sense of lacking, even in the absence of other people. There is indeed a large number of students who enjoy spending time with their boyfriend/girlfriend in their own way, but who feel relaxed once they are alone at home. There are more people that don't want to live together or that prefer separate bedrooms even when they get married. It is an age where one must tolerate the separation of the partner's personality. Formerly, men had two faces: one for working outside the home and the other for home. However, now there is a total of four faces at home because women also work outside their homes. When there is a growing tendency for families to have individual rooms, each person has three worlds: one for him/herself, another for when they are with their partner, and another for when they are with their children. Their personalities change with each world and it comes down to how far this situation can be tolerated.
  • In today's workplace, manuals outlining the duties of workers are common. This is because young people nowadays tend to quit their jobs easily; it is a method that business executives must inevitably adopt from the standpoint of risk management. However, this is a vicious circle: from the perspective of workers, they leave their jobs after a relatively short time, since there is no sense of fulfillment at holding a job that can be performed by anyone. Therefore, people who cannot tolerate highly replaceable work have a stronger desire to get married.
  • On the other hand, the outsourcing of marital functions has advanced, and this is an age in which money can facilitate every function. Therefore, in today's society, even with a strong desire to get married, it is difficult to get married and to stay married.
  • Marriage and child-raising are fraught with difficulties. When one is used to shopping from a young age and has matured as a consumer, one develops an eye for selecting a marriage partner as a product. When life after marriage is not very comfortable, couples divorce easily.
  • - The linking of romance to marriage is common today, but the contradictory nature of that link appears to be causing some strain.
  • Together with employment, marriage is also becoming something that cannot be explained by itself. The breakdown of marital life and work life is occurring almost simultaneously. The life circuit, which is high education high income affluent life after retirement, formed in a period of high economic growth, is no longer functioning. For this reason, hope has been lost and the value of living only for the moment and the phenomenon of freeters and NEETs have appeared. Furthermore, I think that this kind of conscience is arising among ordinary people as well.
  • In this sense, personalities are shifting to something that responds to advanced capitalism, and this is destroying conventional labor, marriage, and other areas.
  • At the entrance to this problem is the issue of education and at the exit is the issue of social security such as pensions. Policies are not responding well. The decline of academic level is being questioned, but even if cramming is restored, at the end is a phenomenon of young people who do not attend schools, get married, or become employed. The cause does not lie in cram-free education, but in the fact that they lack "the zest for living."
  • The current educational system was established in a period in which there was nothing but dreams, but we now live in an age in which there is everything but dreams. So it is odd that the conventional system remains in place. There is need to form an educational system that focuses on how to provide hopes and dreams.
  • It is said that today there are fewer opportunities to meet working adults. Before, there was a feeling that what one is studying now was related to work or self-realization. Young people nowadays are not satisfied if the means are not accompanied by immediate results. Therefore, it is necessary to teach what a working life is all about. Professor Genda of the University of Tokyo has recently come up with an intriguing proposal: he suggests that14 year-olds have the experience of working, just like a fully employed adult, for one week.
  • Once a certain value is chosen, one must yield to and accept the negativity that accompanies it. If the negativity is an important matter that must be recovered, the grand design should be modified. Increasing mobility while telling children to be tolerant or worrying about the decline of academic level is contradictory.
  • If anomie is the result of a pursuing high capacity through cramming, there is no other way but for this person to learn the conduct and attitude of competing, surrendering at an early stage, and respecting the winner. This is the way to make cram-free education and elite education compatible. The gap is enlarged and accepted. Winners are selected and they are given another motive to compete again. While such thorough screening takes place, for losers there is no other way but to head in the direction of respecting the winners. To surrender and respect, a clear awareness of the position that one holds in society is necessary and this requires being conscious of the process of division. Thus, learning a model that convinces that one can live if he/she holds a certain position in society is critically important in the "process of division."
  • Families have not yet been destroyed, and in practice it is still maintained voluntarily as a deep-rooted system. Even now, the ultimate basis for value judgment lies in the family. The standard for value judgment of individuals lies in the family and nowhere else.

<Questions and Answers>

(Floor 1)
  • How do you consider religion, which is believed to be lacking in the Japanese educational system?
  • Since a large part of the history of man consists of poverty, hunger, and disturbances of war, it was not an objective circumstance which left room for hope. However, people have lived with hope. If we are to head for a denial or removal of society, I believe that the possibility of something religious existing ahead cannot be denied.
  • Believing that religion is sufficient for one to live straight without hesitation is oversimplifying.
(Floor 2)
  • The withdrawn and NEETs live on their parent's income, but what will happen when their parents pass away or can no longer work?
  • I believe that the withdrawn and NEETs will soon hit a ceiling. It will no longer be a generation so tolerant as to provide for them, and the more parents take care of their withdrawn child, the greater the loss of the principle of family. As for the withdrawn that already exist today, a situation in which the aging mother provides for her child relying only on her pension is likely to occur. The flexibility to question the value of labor and productivity is necessary. It is desirable for the family to function as a basis that allows value judgments, in a way that the value is reached after becoming skeptic, having questioned and deciding that it is better to work.
(Floor 3)
  • What is your opinion on public servants who are not very productive?
  • Cram-free education and elite education are two sides of the same coin; the problem here is how elite education is being conducted. The basic principle of elite education is to teach thoroughly how spoiled Japan is and to form people that believe that even if Japan is so spoiled, they are the ones that will save the country.


  • Anyone can become a NEET or become socially withdrawn. Rather than neglect these people, it is necessary to invoke policy measures. It is necessary to change the social situation which does not allow stable jobs or a future if one does not perform well at the age of 18 or 22.
  • Parents are also the cause of withdrawal. Mothers have no place to live other than being mothers and this causes withdrawal. In Japan, children are too pampered.
  • This is not limited to economic issues: society in general is undergoing great change, in awareness and in values. Policies should be considered, with the strong recognition that the long-established, self-explanatory nature of Japan is breaking down.
  • In a Confucian society, people who act outside the framework are treated quite coldly. This approach assists only those who act within the framework of family; an aging society with a declining birthrate cannot be stopped.
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