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[Editorial] Japan’s new adults must think, act globally

Jan. 14, 2011 - 18:59 By 최남현
Today (Jan. 10) marks Coming-of-Age Day, when 1.24 million people born in 1990 start a new chapter in their life. We hope they will take a firm first step into adulthood while retaining their self-awareness and recognizing their responsibility as adults.

Nevertheless, many of them will be apprehensive about what their future holds amid the job market’s “ultra-ice age” caused by the protracted anemic economy.

State debts have snowballed as the government scrambles to pay for increased fiscal spending for pension and medical care programmes. Today’s young generations will have to pay back the money borrowed to meet these costs.

Japan’s global economic presence has been declining in the face of advances by nations such as China and South Korea. To ensure Japan can have a prosperous future, it must harness the vigor of a world that is becoming increasingly globalized.

A matter of concern in this connection is that many young people have increasingly inward-looking mind-sets. About 67,000 Japanese were studying abroad in 2008, just 80 percent of the peak 2004 figure. This drop has been particularly conspicuous in the United States, where Japanese students are now greatly outnumbered by students from China, India and South Korea.

Why are fewer Japanese opting to study overseas?

For one thing, studying abroad is expensive. In addition, some students are worried they might have to struggle to find a job after returning to Japan after completing their studies overseas.

However, talented people from all over the world are drawn to U.S. universities, where they form close personal connections and networks. The drop in Japanese students in the United States could spell trouble down the road for a Japan that relies on intellectual assets for its prosperity.

The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, which provides technological assistance in developing countries, had about 4,700 applicants in fiscal 2009, fewer than half of the more than 10,000 it received in the 1990s.

In recent years, a growing number of rookie company employees reportedly prefer to avoid overseas assignments.

Young people of today grew up after the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s. They are keenly aware of the sense of stagnation that followed. Perhaps they cherish a safe and stable path.

“Galapagos syndrome” is a buzz phrase doing the rounds in recent years that compares Japan today to the isolated Galapagos Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, which are inhabited by creatures that followed their own unique evolutionary process.

The phrase cynically describes the situation in which Japanese technologies and industrial standards tailor-made for the domestic market are incapable of surviving or thriving on global markets.

Creatures that evolved in an environment cut off from the outside world are vulnerable to attacks by alien species. Some people compare young Japanese who prefer the easy option of living comfortably in Japan ― without even bothering to glance at the severe realities of the world ― to iguanas in the Galapagos Islands.

We want young Japanese to turn their eyes to the outside world ― before it is too late ― and resist the temptation of introverted thinking.

Some businesses aggressively recruit foreign graduates from Japanese universities. There will be more chances for these people at Japanese firms in the future. Japanese students will have to compete with foreign students who are studying like mad to acquire a working knowledge of Japanese.

A lack of English proficiency has been cited as one reason for Japanese inward-looking tendencies. Some Japanese companies have adopted English as an in-house official language to ensure smooth operation of their international business.

We live in an era in which we can communicate with people around the world and obtain incredible amounts of information via the Internet. More than 500 million people have joined U.S.-based Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking service. English is used for many exchanges conducted on Facebook.

But only a relatively small number of Japanese use global social networking services. There is a language barrier even in the Net society where the world’s barriers vanish with just a click of the mouse.

Ryotaro Shiba’s novel “Saka no Ue no Kumo” (Cloud over the Hill), which portrays a youthful crowd of the Meiji era (1868-1912), has been in the public spotlight since it was made into a TV drama series in November 2009. Yoshifuru Akiyama and his younger brother Saneyuk i― the protagonists of the novel who studied abroad to expand their knowledge as they became military officers after going through the tumultuous period following the Meiji Restoration ― could be figures far beyond the imagination of many young people today.

After surviving turbulent times marked by the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars in the Meiji era and the Showa Wars, including the Pacific War, Japan achieved postwar reconstruction and high economic growth. But now Japan seems to be gasping for hope under a cloudy sky. Young people need to find a silver lining to the clouds and work hard to achieve their goals.

We want the people who have just reached the age of majority to remember they have the right to cast votes that could change the political landscape.

“Pursue a lofty dream with eternal opportunism.” This is a message to young people from Ei-ichi Negishi, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year.

We hope Japan’s new adults will build a bright future with their youthful and flexible thinking.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun)

(Asia News Network)