Special Report: Can Japan's spirited youth save their aging nation?

Tue Feb 15, 2011 7:54am EST
 
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - A graduate of the prestigious University of Tokyo's economics department, Keishiro Kurabayashi could have joined a blue-chip firm and begun climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, he interned at DeNA, then a fledgling start-up and now a successful social networking and mobile gaming firm.

"I thought it was like a rule - I would graduate from Tokyo University, enter a foreign consulting firm and after years of study might be ready to start my own firm," said the 29-year-old. "The people at DeNA were really smart, but they weren't caught up with rules, and that was fun.

"That was a big turning point for me," said Kurabayashi, who now runs his own firm.

Kurabayashi is one of Japan's "20-something" generation: many born during a heady "bubble economy" they can't recall, coming of age in an era of sliding national status and eyeing retirement when, many predict, the country's economic sun will have set.

The fracturing of the post-World War Two system that propelled Japan's economy to the No. 2 global spot -- a status now lost to China -- has pushed many of his cohorts to seek security by trying to cling to what remains. But for many others, the uncertainty itself is giving birth to a do-it-yourself mindset that could generate welcome dynamism.

"If we expect the country to take care of us, we may end up not being able to make a living," says Megumi Kawashima, 27, a website designer and one of Japan's legions of "otaku" fans of comics and video games. "We should be sensible enough to know we need to take care of ourselves," added Kawashima, who creates manga comics -- illustrated in a distinctive Japanese style and popular around the world -- under the pen name K Ayuhara.

For now, these DIY youth appear to be a minority, whose voice has been drowned out by a drumbeat of reports about Japanese youth's generally passive response to a dismal future. But experts say their ranks will grow as traditional corporate and social systems crumble further.

"On the one hand, you have young people who are taking matters into their own hands in the face of companies and a government who have little to offer them in return," said Yasuo Suwa, a professor at Hosei University's graduate school.   Continued...

 
<p>Political activist Tsunehira Furuya, 28, speaks on a podium during a rally to protest against Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Tokyo's Shibuya district December 18, 2010. The fracturing of the post-World War Two system that propelled Japan's economy to the No.2 global spot -- a status now lost to China -- has pushed many youths to seek security by trying to cling to what remains. But for others, the uncertainty itself is giving birth to a do-it-yourself mindset that could generate welcome dynamism. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>