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From the Desk of SofJ:May/June


Living in Japan as an expat is quite a rare experience indeed.  It's strange that even some long term expat residents have become more culturally adept than many of the young native Japanese in their own country! 


A foreign resident wouldn't be caught dead talking on his mobile phone on a train, but almost everyday you can see a young Japanese person either chatting away on his/her phone or talking loudly to friends on busy trains.    The elderly people are no different.  It's becoming quite common to even see them breaking the same rules they once reprimanded their own children for.  It's a different Japan now.  This all, of course,  may just only apply to the urbanites and not the rural folks or maybe I'm being too sensitive...


According to the local news today a man was punched in the face while talking on his cellphone on the train this afternoon.  They guy who punched him had warned him about using his cellphone on the train, but the guy with the cellphone didn't heed his warning and got pop in the face.   Another  true story incident took place a few months ago when I was on the train.  I witnessed a young teenager chatting away on her cellphone loudly and rather obnoxiously.  She had no regard for the people sitting next to her.  A man dressed in construction gear punched her too!  She finally got the point.  I applauded. 


So many young Japanese are searching for so much more outside of Japan, that they show complete disregard for social norms and customs.    This behavior stems from many of them falling in love with a lot of the negative aspects of Western culture, like forgetting to be mindful  and considerate of others .  They think that being loud and shooting off at the mouth is cool, because they saw it on T.V. 


I got into a discussion the other day with an elderly chap about the sudden decline in morals.  He attributed it to the education system and the breakdown of the family.  According to him there was an education reform policy introduced to the Japanese called "yutori" (ゆとり教育, yutori-kyōiku), a Japanese education policy which basically translates to " relaxed education."  Basically what that means is that the school hours are reduced along with the curriculum.    Apparently, the whole thing was designed to lessen stress for the students.  These policies have had a trickle down effect on the quality of students over the years and whether that's good or bad is becoming clearer.  


When the system that's responsible for educating the students is weak, it has an affect on student behavior.   Japanese parents expect the school to instill morals as well as education in their children.  The task of rearing and actually raising their own kids is quiet tiresome for many Japanese parents, especially if both work.  


The irony is that Japan even with yutori still enjoys a literacy rate of 95%.   I'm not sure how the yutori system has affected the academic output of students, but for sure it has lessened their ability to cope with healthy stress and hasn't stemmed the decline of morals.  This analogy could also be tied into the high suicide rate.



How this all came about started decades ago back in the 70s when there were mass student riots on college campuses around Tokyo.   This was at a time when Japanese society was undergoing major changes in its thinking and cultural identity in the world and at a time when economic prosperity was growing at an enormous rate.  Students wanted to catch up to the modern Western world.  These elements coupled with social  demands created a lot of unrest amongst students.    



Eventually over the years yutori was implemented into the school system in an attempt to decrease the level of stress kids were going through which wound up only creating weaker and less ambitious students who lack basic values.   Of course yutori alone is not the only reason, there's  still this obsession with Western excesses.   This also can be attributed to living in an affluent nation where young people tend to be less motivated.  At any rate, this problem isn't entirely a Japanese problem.  Other affluent nations have been known to have similar issues. 


In conclusion, I suspect that the Japan many of us expats who live here have come to love, will eventually become another U.S.A....  Especially with all the incompetent leaders this country has been producing. 


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