Since this is the last week that I will be staying in Japan before I leave for the United States, I would like to dedicate this article to social issues that Japan is facing now.
I have lived here for 21 and a half years so far. It is not unusual that I grew up with my family in a small town of Saitama Prefecture and go to school, as others do. My hometown is surrounded by a lot of rice fields, some trees or forests, parks, and schools instead of buildings or shops like Tokyo. The town is quiet and a good place to live; not many cars pass by, and the local community works well since they have a good relationship with their neighbors.
When I was a naïve little child, I had learned about the word “social issue“ in school, and I thought the place I live did not have any social issues. As far as I was concerned, the social issues happened outside of the area. I was too young to notice the problems that the small town has.
My first visit to Tokyo was when I was in high school and around 16 years old. I hadn’t often been outside of Kawagoe, my hometown, as I was really getting used to being where I grew up. I went shopping in Tokyo a couple times with friends, since Tokyo is a monster city with millions of shops and stores.
The experience of going outside of my hometown widened my knowledge and inspired my curiosity so much. Everything was new to me, and I remembered I had fun just wandering around. I found myself attracted by Tokyo so badly. I thought, “Tokyo is cool and better than my town. My town is boring because there is nowhere to go and nothing to do.“
In that moment, the negative points of my town became clearer to me and I could see them objectively, especially in comparison with another city. I realized that my town is geographically small and inconvenient in many ways. There are not as many restaurants or shops as Tokyo, and the train system in Tokyo is much better than my town.
What I would like to say in this article is not about Tokyo or my life experiences. This article is about how I have noticed bad things about what I had never doubted, and how I came to recognize them. In my opinion, to be aware of both good things and bad things is the best way to approach social issues. I would like to describe and discuss social issues in Japan from my point of view — not all of them, but some that I think should be rethought in this time.
1. Japan Is A Fast Food Nation
Tokyo is no longer the only city that is highly Westernized. You can find skyscrapers, houses, shops, buildings, malls, streets that look like Western ones almost everywhere in Japan.
The same architecture is lined with one area, and it seems to lose its identity and distinguishing characteristics. Wherever you go in that area, you will see the same view made by buildings with many rooms and floors. Perhaps it helps people work effectively, but it ruins the landscape and generates heat air. This kind of tower has been designed by Japanese architects, and to build it requires cutting down many trees or forests. It has become popular and spread around Japan, just as McDonald’s has. Sadly, it seems to me that Japanese people also are very Westernized because they accept this movement as a trend or part of Japanese culture. This is one of the social issues I believe Japan should reconsider. Japan is experiencing a great era, but problems are still ongoing. They cannot ignore it as they hold their own culture.
2. The Job-Hunting Process Is Terrible, And Job Hunters Often Hate Their Jobs
Having black hair and wearing black suits, every job-seeker looks similar. This is the Japanese way of job hunting. The company usually judges contestants by requiring those who pass through CV to do interviews over and over. In the CV process recruiters very carefully examine who you are, what you can do, and why they should hire you, among other things. In the interview they ask you further what they didn’t get from CV.
It is said that companies look for a well-educated person, and whether you can get a job more or less depends on your educational history. This means that the better education you have, the more companies will want to hire you. However, it doesn’t seem to matter what you have learned in college, but which college you went to.
It’s so sad to hear that what you have worked on for four years might not help you to get a job in the future. You might find yourself asking, “What, then, is the point of studying so hard?”
It is common for freshmen to leave their company within two years because of the difference between their expectations and reality. They would say that “This is not the job that I was hoping for. I can’t take this anymore.” It is true that they should be more patient, but it seems the problem is that during job seeking season, they hadn’t figured out what they really wanted to do.
3. Universities Don't Let Students Find Their Passions
This issue is linked to job-hunting, which we’ve talked about above. In Japan, you must decide which department you are interested in before you go to college. Making such a decision seems to be especially hard for high school kids, because what you would study at college is very specific and detailed compared to class of high school. Once you get into your department it’s not easy to switch out of it, and you may have to continue studying it despite your lack of interest.
I have many friends who are in departments they don’t like. They have often said that “I thought it would help me get a job, but I don’t like studying it.” Or “When I had to choose my department, I didn’t understand what I would be learning and now I’m so bored with it.” They start to get so lazy that they hang out with friends or work part-time instead of attending their classes.
As a result, college students in Japan tend to say they study hard just for credit, even though they pay a bunch of money for college. To make it worse, what you’ve studied in college does not matter in job-hunting. How can this be good for students?
In the United States of America, liberal arts programs are popular and seem to work well, because students are allowed the opportunity to find their passion. Because of this, some universities in Japan now have a liberal arts program. I believe that students should have enough time to think about what they want to do in college, so that they can get as much out of their college experience as possible.
4. Japan Has An Aged Society
Japan is now facing a serious problem with its population — it is decreasing because of its aged society. This problem causes many troubles such as a lack of workers, damaged economy, less care for elderly people, less childbirth, local areas becoming abandoned, and so on.
There are many reasons to be an aged society, and many people have analyzed it. For instance, the relationship has been changed by SNS and media, Japanese people are getting too busy to have children and family, having less sex, lacking of community, economic recession and so on. Mentally and physically, it seems to be getting difficult to increase the number of young people and the population.
One thing we can do about this issue is focus on sex education. Eventually, the birthrate is depending on sexual action between couples. (Of course there are exceptions.) In my experience being with people from outside of Japan, it’s clear that consciousness about sex is varied around the world. What I’ve found out through experience is that Japanese couples don’t often have sex. I’ve heard about statistics about when the first time to have sex is, and they say that more than 50% of people aged over 20 are still virgins.
That said, I do not think being a virgin is wrong or shameful in any way. However, seeing this statistic is the reason I’m convinced that there are few sexual actions between Japanese couples. One reason why may be that they fear the possibility of pregnancy. For those who haven’t done it yet, having sex seems risky for both parties involved. But what if they are knowledgeable about sex and how to do it safely?
It is often said that sex education in Japan is late compared to that of Western countries. Well, it is very understandable to know that the birthrate of US, UK or other Western countries isn’t that problem, whereas it is in Japan. Thus, recently Japan is working on getting over its aged society by improving sex education through the role model from Europe and U.S.Author's Note: This article is not meant to propose a solution of these issues, but rather to call your attention to these problems and help you take off your rose-colored glasses when thinking about these social problems. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that this is not an exhaustive list of social issues in Japan — the four issues I have covered are just a few examples of them. I will be writing about these social issues in more detail in my next article.