Chapter 4: Values and Behaviour in Societal Life

Japan has undoubtedly achieved affluence, but there is an increasing sense amongst the population at large that, whilst Japan has achieved economic success, the same cannot be said for the post-war social experiment. Certainly affluence helps cure some social problems such as starvation and crime, but it is by no means a universal solution to society’s problems. An affluent society opens up a new diversity of possible lifestyles to its members, but there is also a fear that this diversity might weaken the social order essential for the maintenance of such diversity and magnanimity, and indeed the affluence itself.

Section 1: Japan’s Social Indicators have not necessarily deteriorated with the Achievement of Affluence.

(Indicators of Social Stability)

Crime is a fundamental indicator of social stability. Japan’s crime rate (i.e. offences under the penal code per 100,000 population, excluding minor offenses and similar categories of action) declined gradually throughout Japan’s high economic growth period and until the mid-1970s, but has exhibited a slight upward trend since the 1980s. (See Figure I-4-1.) The rate of felonious offences (serious crime rate) meanwhile has shown a consistent downward trend. Also, Japan’s crime rate is low compared to other major advanced countries. Many other indicators of social stability such as the unemployment, high school drop-out, and personal bankruptcy rates, as well as their underlying causal indicators, have improved with increasing affluence in Japan, but there are also some indicators which have either remained flat or even begun to deteriorate, if only slightly, since the 1980s. All in all, in comparison with other countries, there has been no unacceptable weakening of Japan’s social order.

(Changes in Social Attitudes)

How then have these developments in Japan’s social indicators affected the attitudes of the Japanese towards their society? The "Public Opinion Survey of Social Attitudes" carried out by the Prime Minister’s Office asks respondents to indicate which of the following two statements best describes their way of thinking: "It is important to think more about society and the country," (socially-minded); or "It is important to concentrate more on improving individual lifestyles," (individually-minded). With the exception of a brief period in the mid-1980s, socially-minded Japanese have almost always outnumbered individually-minded Japanese. (See Figure I-4-9.) Furthermore, whilst the proportion of socially-minded people has been higher so far in the 1990s than in the 1970s or 1980s, the proportion of individually-minded people has risen by much less.

However, in investigating individual lifestyle attitudes in more detail, the same survey also reveals apparently contradictory trends over time. Statements expressing an individualistic lifestyle, such as "I pursue a lifestyle in keeping my personal interests and do not think about money or status," elicited agreement, whilst statements expressing a socially-minded lifestyle, such as, "I don’t do socially unacceptabe things, but pursue a proper lifestyle" and "I don’t think about myself, but only about the good of society," found little support.

Analyising support for an individualistic lifestyle by cohort group (those people born in the same period) shows that, generally speaking, the younger the generation, the stronger the support for an individualistic lifestyle. (See Figure I-4-11.) However, recently, the support for an individualistic lifestyle has been growing not amongst the young generation, but rather amongst the pre-war generation. In other words, whilst support for an individualistic lifestyle has been increasing slightly overall, a breakdown reveals that individual social attitudes and their pattern of change vary across generations.

(Differences in Values across Generations)

The standard of living of the Japanese people has improved dramatically over 50 post-war years, but individual attitudes and values are much influenced by the post-war generation into which they were born. Below we consider how attitudes have changed over time amongst various post-war generations of Japanese.

Section 2: Values of the Middle-Aged and Old Generations

The attitudes of individuals are fashioned in a number of ways, including the degree of affluence into which they are born, the environment in which they grow up, the education they receive, the circumstances in which they have worked, and so on.
Focussing on these formative forces, we now consider the particular characteristics of each generation.

(The Lifestyle Experience and Values of the Pre-War Generation)

A major characteristic of Japan’s pre-war generation (born between 1935 and 1939, and currently 56-60 years old) is their search for employment and accommodation in Japan’s cities. Although 37.0% of this generation resided in Japan’s three major urban agglomerations between the ages of 0 and 4, they moved to other parts of Japan during the wartime evacuation period, but gradually returned to the cities after the war with many others of their generation. If we look at the home ownership pattern for this generation, using the Tokyo area as an example, we find that 50% of household heads from this generation living within 10km of the centre of Tokyo are home-owners, rising to 70% for those living 20km - 30km from the centre of Tokyo. (See Figure I-4-13.)

Regarding the attitudes of this generation, many believe that "Welfare provision in Japan is comprehensive," and that, "Social traditions and customs are meaningful and should be respected." On the other hand, they do not believe that, "It is wonderful to sacrifice oneself and work hard for the sake of one’s family and one’s company," but rather, perhaps because of their own experiences in society, that "It is foolish to rely upon others."

Aged between 5 and 9 when the war ended, this generation cast aside the sacred pre-war text books, and became the pillars of the high-growth period and the subsequent consumption boom. They worked hard and were well rewarded. The future welfare of this generation will be provided for in the form of pension income.

(The Lifestyle and Values of the "Baby-Boomer" Generation)

Japan’s "baby-boomer" generation (born between 1945 and 1949, and currently 46-50 years old) is characterised by the pursuit of work and education in Japan’s three major urban agglomerations. Of this generation, 32.8% resided in these urban agglomerations between the ages of 0 and 4, rising to 45.1% between the ages of 15 and 19, and to 53.5% between the ages of 20 and 24. The current home ownership ratio for this generation, using the Tokyo area as an example, first exceeds 50% for those residing 20km - 30km from the centre of Tokyo, and only reaches 70% for household heads living 40km - 50km from the centre of Tokyo. (See Figure I-4-13)

They do not believe that "Welfare provision in Japan is comprehensive", and they express the lowest support of any generation for the idea that, "It is better to take any opportunity to enjoy life rather than think about things seriously."

This generation were born and grew up under the post-war democracy and the new educational system, and watched television through shop windows perched on their fathers’ backs. In the early 1960s, groups of middle-school and high-school leavers from this generation came to the cities in large groups to work in factories, and in the late 1960s, others from this generation played a central role in student political movements. (See Figure I-4-18.) When the Japanese economy entered its stable growth period, their wages continued to rise regardless, but now the white-collar workers amongst them are the object of corporate restructuring. They feel uneasy about their future pension income.

(The Lifestyle and Values of the New Japanese Generation - Shinjinrui)

Almost one half of Japan’s Shinjinrui generation (born between 1960 and 1964, and currently 31-35 years old) were born in the three major urban agglomerations; 44.6% of this generation lived there between the ages of 0 and 4.
The home ownership ratio in the three urban agglomerations at any distance from their centres is far below that for either the pre-war or "baby-boomer" generation. (See Figure I-4-13.)

Like the "baby-boomer" generation, the Shinjinrui generation do not believe that "Welfare provision in Japan is comprehensive." A relatively small proportion of this generation compared to others express support for the statement that, "I sometimes feel that the only person you can trust in this world is yourself."

This generation were born together with the "Income Doubling Plan", and grew up in an ever more affluent society. Although the education process they went through sent a higher proportion of this generation on to high school and university, it also brought the issue of slow-learners into the open. They began work amidst debate over the greater participation of women in the workforce, in particular the enactment of the "Law Respecting the Improvement of the Welfare of Women Workers, including the Guarantee of Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employmet" ("Equal Opportunities Law"). Unmarried men from this generation will find it more and more difficult to find marriage partners.

Section 3: The Values of the Young Generation

(The Lifestyle and Attitudes of the "Junior Baby-Boomer" Generation)

Roughly one half of Japan’s "junior baby-boomer" generation (born between 1970 and 1974, and currently 21-25 years old) lived in the three major urban agglomerations between the age of 0 and 4. Also, 17.9% of this generation had been abroad by the age of 20-24, roughly 2.7 times the figure (6.7%) for Japan’s Shinjinrui generation at the same age.

This generation believes that Japan has "Great economic power," that "Individual freedom is not respected," and they feel a certain "Sense of community." Regarding their individual lives, a large proportion agree with the statement that, "Whenever I think of doing something, I tend to worry what people around me will think." At the same time, a high proportion also approved the statement that, "I want to lead a lifestyle slightly different from those around me."

This generation of Japanese were born after the high-growth period, and into an era of firmly established material affluence. They grew up amidst the rapid diffusion of television games, and also feel a need to express their individuality in Japan’s affluent society.

(The Special Characteristics of a Generation Born and Raised in an Affluent Society)

In recent years the sense of satisfaction that this young generation feels towards society has increased. In international comparison also, Japan comes fourth out of eleven countries in this respect, and therefore falls into the group of countries where the young generation is satisfied with society. On occasions when they are dissatisfied with society, over half concurred with the statement, "I would not take any positive action." If one adds to this the proportion who responded, "I wouldn’t be concerened," then we reach a response rate of almost 70% for people who would either take no action or be unconcerned. (See Figure I-4-23.) As an explanation for this attitude 67.5% of Japanese respondents chose the statement, "As an individual I can’t do anything about it," the highest proportion for all eleven countries.

Although the current young generation of Japanese grew up in an affluent society and derive some satisfaction from that affluence, they feel that, "The individual is not respected" in Japanese society, and can see no way to eliminate this dissatisfaction. Finally, let us look at one recent social phenomenon in order to see what sort of relationship does exist between the younger generations and society at large in Japan.

(The Spread of Volunteer Activity)

he Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 17, 1995 was Japan’s first post-war earthquake with an epicentre directly beneath a major city. It caused massive destruction, killing over 5,500 people, and totally or partially destroying over 200,000 buildings. In the month following the disaster a daily average of 20,000 people took part in volunteer work related, whilst the total for the three months following the earthquake was 1.17 million individuals.

All generations of Japanese were represented in the volunteer force, but the largest contribution came from people in their 20s (50% of total volunteers), followed by those between 10 and 20 (23% of the total). Thus, Japanese between the ages of 10 and 30 constituted an impressive 73% of the total volunteer force. (See Figure I-4-30.) Furthermore, 61% of the volunteer force stated a wish to continue volunteer activity in the future, strongly suggesting that these people were not acting on a passing whim.

Fifty post-war years have brought major changes to Japan. Affluence has spread to every corner of society. Affluence has certainly not provided a solution to all Japan’s problems, but the ills that affluence can bring with it, have, for the time being at least, been kept within acceptable limits. Also, whilst Japan’s young generation are often charged with secessionary attitudes and behaviour, the proper interpretation is probably that they are still searching for their place in Japan’s changing society. Moreover, their social elders, the adults in Japanese society, must take the blame for not offering them their own place in Japanese society.

Economic circumstances change and affect their host society, and when society undergoes change, so do people’s attitudes. The dissatisfaction which emerges when one generation cedes to another is probably as old as civilization itself, but generations do change, and, when all is said and done, the future belongs to the young.
Certainly young people who have been born and raised in affluence must work to maintain prosperity and order in their society, to distribute that prosperity fairly, and to pass both on to future generations. However, these are the responsibilities of adults, and young people can only begin to bear them once they have found their place, as adults, in their own society.

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