A few months ago, New York Times rightly posed a question: What is it about 20-somethings? Although the article discussed a recent trend about the lethargic work-ethic of 20-something recent college-graduate Americans, many youngsters in Asia seem to be taking a while to grow up too. But is this latest trend in young Asian men living off their parents' money another entry in the increasingly popular genre of Japan decline-watch stories in the US media?
Here's one: Take many Japanese men, for example. Washington Post's trend piece on Japan's "herbivores" -- young men who prefer shopping and hanging out with friends who like shopping to working 40-hour weeks -- is the latest of Japanese decline-watch stories.
Washington Post writes:
"To hear the analysts who study them tell it, Japanese men ages 20 to 34 are staging the most curious of rebellions, rejecting the 70-hour workweeks and purchase-for-status ethos that typified the 1980s economic boom. As the latest class of college graduates struggles to find jobs, a growing number of experts are detecting a problem even broader than unemployment: They see a generation of men who don't know what they want.
Japan earned its fortune a generation ago through the power of office warriors, the so-called salarymen who devoted their careers to one company. They wore dark suits; they joined for rowdy after-hours booze fests with co-workers; they often saw little of their families. These are the fathers of Japan's young men.
But among business leaders and officials, there is a growing understanding that the earlier work-for-fulfillment pattern has broken down. The economy's roar turned into a yawn. Concern about Japan's future replaced giddy national pride. As a result, this generation has lost "the willingness to sacrifice for the company," said Jeff Kingston, author of the recently published book "Contemporary Japan."
Kingston added: "And now as Japan begins to unravel in a sense, young people realize that the previous paradigm doesn't work. But they aren't sure what comes next. They've seen what amounts to a betrayal in Japan."
But, in Washington Post's story, there are a number of holes in the Japan as society-in-decline narrative.
First of all, Japan is still a very, very wealthy country, and until months ago, was second only to the US in told economic output, with the level of production and wealth per person still nearly ten times greater than China's. Could the Post's piece be a response to Japan's economy unraveling? That may be questionable, as the "lazy-boy" trend seems to be carrying over neighboring China too. Another recent New York Times trends piece informs that rising economic power China also has lackadaisical kids with tight pants.
Secondly, the fact that these young Japanese men "now fantasize about balanced lives and time for their families and quaint hobbies" strikes me as an indicator that the country is doing relatively well.