Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
“In a first, new adults under 1% of population”(January 11th) made me think afresh of my daughter’s approaching Adults Day ceremony, still two years coming. I regret the economy and the domestic social environment that each new breed of contemporary certified Japanese adults enter but I admire their strength in dealing with the difficulties they are already inheriting from their elders. Most of all I admire them for tolerating their elders’ guff and nonsense so bravely. Teenagers and young adults are almost regularly criticized for their perceived shortcomings - a declining work ethic, an insufficient store of traditional values, technology-fed anti-social behavior, lack of respect for each other in society, etc. Elders predictably bemoan the slow disappearance of the world as they know it and blame the young for their insufficiencies. But I think that with an alternate view of the facts young Japanese can be said to be very admirable, not to mention patiently longsuffering.
The two post-war generations are often held up as sterling examples of Japanese virtue - especially their conscientious work ethic. It was their hard work that affected the“economic miracle.” But it could be said that the only true economic miracle was the miracle of protected markets and that all the current economic woes Japan has been enduring for twenty years already are more the product of the folly of those same hard-working post-war generations than of their wisdom. Specifically, the current economic and social woes are precisely the product of traditional values. No surprise, really, if one subscribes to an alternate reading of things. So my advice to each New Year class of Japanese adults, and to my daughter when her time comes, is to try to avoid imitating the values, behaviors and accomplishments of their elders, the very people who have brought near-ruin to this still great country.
Published on Sunday, January 16, 2011 as “No country for traditional values.”
The title chosen by the newspaper plays on the movie title “No Country for Old Men” (2007, directed by Ethan and Joel Coen) starring Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem. My comment that the miracle of protected markets is something that Japanese cannot take credit for is a mistake that the paper did not edit out. I was thinking that the economic miracle was the combination of Japanese protected markets with the benefit of open American markets, and it is the open American market that the Japanese cannot take credit for.
I would have liked to submit this letter a week earlier than I did, in time for the Adults Day holiday on Monday, January 10th. But the timing seemed wrong as I had just had a letter published on Sunday 9th, “The heat of anti-Christian passion,” about readers’ reactions to the December 24th Kevin Rafferty article. The news story about the low percentage of new Japanese adults - less than 1% of the total population - I thought was a weak opportunity for a new letter, but an opportunity nevertheless.
I think an argument can be made that greed, selfishness and folly of older Japanese have contributed to the economic malaise that currently afflicts Japan, so it is invalid to blame young Japanese for not doing enough to pick up the torch from the retiring generation. Profuse apologies by retirees might be more appropriate.
I am not a cynic. But a cynic might be quick to take advantage of the chance to comment on the record Japanese have of brining near ruin on their own country. I wrote about the folly of the post-war generations delivering debt-crisis, a stagnant economy, and low fertility to the nation. But the pre-war generation did even worse by supporting governments that took Japan into a disastrous war it had no realistic hope of winning. Hence the disastrous defeat of 1945.
I also might add that being “traditional” by itself is neither a recommendation nor a solution. There are bad traditions that ought to be either abandoned or changed because being traditional is not an argument for retaining bad habits. And new traditions can easily be made. Japan excels at this. Many customs are labeled“traditional” that, in fact, are relatively recent imports.