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Shinjinrui: who are they and why did they become who they are? Japanese in their 20s and early 20s differ so much from preceding generations that they are called - and call themselves - Shinjinrui, or "the new race". The term characterizes the children who have grown up in the Japan of the 1970s and 1980s, in .an affluent, wealthy, powerful, influential, arrogant Japan. This new generation wishes to enjoy the fruits of affluence, having grown up after the era of post-war reconstruction and sacrifice. The term was coined during 1985 when the Asahi Journal ran a series of interviews with young Japanese. "Shinjinrui no Kishutachi - standard bearers of the new breed" was the title of the series by Tetsuya. It was a double pun on shinjin-rui (new faces) and shin-jinrui (new human race) - hence the term "new breed".
Members of the new breed are actually different from their predecessors. Between 1965 and 1985, the average height for Japanese men increased over 7 centimetres (almost 3 inches) and the average weight increased by 5 kilograms (11 pounds), while the average height for Japanese women increased almost 6 centimetres (2 1/2 inches) but the average weight by only 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds). They spent their infancy during Japan's high growth era with good nutritious food, better than the previous generation, but fast food products during that same time frame gained popularity and impacted on their health. Instead of exercising during the day, they usually spent their time studying and, as a result, most have lost the muscle tone that previous generations had.
Roughly 30 per cent of Japan's 120 million people qualify for Shinjinrui status, trained for and expecting high level jobs. Japan ranks second only to the USA among the leading industrial powers in its percentage of adults with college degrees (Kotkin and Kishimoto, 1988). Politically in present day Japan, not only do most younger Japanese show no leftist leanings, they also show absolutely no interest in politics at all. They are called Shirake Sedai, the "reactionless" generation (Woronoff, 1981).
Many of the reasons that created the Shinjinrui were formed from the social distortions that the frenetic post-war economic boom imposed on the Japanese family, particularly the single-minded work orientation among Japanese men. For all practical purposes deserted by their husbands, Japanese mothers, who traditionally had shared the parental duties with men, took solitary control over their youngsters. Because education determines a child's place in society, the mother becomes an "educational mama". She gets the son in the right kindergarten since the stratification of society has the lines drawn at an early age. If the child is sick, the mother will go to school to take notes for him. She puts him in a school and pushes him to excel. The mother not only focuses all her energy, but also vents all her frustration on the children. She sticks to them day and night. Many Japanese mothers use their children as a replacement for their husbands who are always working. Because many Japanese women have given up on their husbands, they often treat their male child as a substitute for their missing husband-lover (Kotkin, 1991). The Shinjinrui are often pampered, given all they ever wanted with little effort to attain it, and overprotected throughout their lives.
The result is a generation of "mother-obsessed neurotics" ill-equipped for the stresses of corporate life in an economic superpower and yearning for escape. The younger workers do what they are told and no more; they work no more than that directly asked of them. They still work very hard during duty hours, but they are increasingly reluctant to go beyond the call of duty and turn a good-enough performance into a superb one. In the workplace, they tend to be indifferent, passive, and exhibit a lack of eagerness or interest in work. They are called "the goldfish generation" because they have to be hand-fed everything.
Many Shinjinrui cannot make decisions. They are brilliant, enormously talented and well-educated; they just cannot put it together and conduct their own lives. Says one elder: "They are so used to everything being handed to them before they ask, they cannot even dig up a source or find an alternative if the person they ask for an interview says 'no'. They just give up and don't know what to do next" (Kotkin, 1991). They are dependent on their mothers and teachers to care for them in their youth and their managers during their career to care for them and look after them at and outside work (Woronoff, 1981). This also does not spell well for a future Japan; if so many workers want only to be taken care of, where are the qualities of leadership and initiative in the future to come from? It is almost as if students, having spent many years preparing for the university entrance examination and passing it, want to regress to childhood and recapture the lost time of their youth.
Many youngsters feel they have a "right" to be looked after without a corresponding "duty" to help others. This has a negative influence on the traditional Japanese system of small groups and mentor relationships. It may no longer be possible to count on the ordinary efforts of employees and workers without making correspondingly greater efforts to gain their understanding and to motivate what little ambition they may have (Woronoff, 1981).
What do the Shinjinrui want?
In a recent study of Japanese teenagers, Dentsu (Japan's - and the world's - largest advertising agency) found that they wanted three things above all else: their own room, their own telephone (another expression of the desire for space) and their own girlfriend/boyfriend. Japan's teenagers can afford these things at a much more sophisticated level than the Western teenagers of earlier decades.
Modern students seemingly lack the "Confucian values" that underlie the legendary Japanese virtues of loyalty, hard work and respect for elders. Being lazy, having fun and enjoying life are good things; to sweat and work are not trendy. Shinjinrui tend to be practical, easy-going and disturbingly money-minded. They are inclined to work to live than live to work and are much less ready to submerge their personal ambitions and private lives to the success of the company. The attitude of youth shows an interest in working, not for the benefit to a company, but for the benefits to oneself. Japan's youth often wish to wrap the minimum amount of work around their play.
The Shinjinrui want good wages, good possessions (Kotkin and Kishimoto, 1988). With more money, young Japanese can pay for expensive diversions that compete for attention with work. The reduction of the working week from six days to five means that, instead of the day off being for resting up for the next week, they have the time to develop a variety of interests not associated with their jobs. The expression Hana no kinyobi - "Friday's the greatest" or "Thank God it's Friday" with long Friday lunch hours - has crept into the Shinjinrui vocabulary. The desire for more freedom of expression for the young is reflected in the annual surveys of jobs most desired by Japanese college students. Ranked near the top in recent surveys are jobs as architect, advertising copywriter, and other professions that call for some creativity and a degree of independence. These days, kojinshugi - individualism - is a word heard more and more, and almost always in reference to younger people.
Over half of the youth in the Dentsu study identified individual pursuits such as exercising, pursuing personal hobbies or being with friends - as their prime concern. Although an individual lifestyle is important, being different takes on a meaning distinct in Japan from that in the USA - few want to be so different as to stand out. Japanese youths create a network of friends in separate non-overlapping groups, so they can express different aspects of their personality within each group, playing tennis with some, shopping or travelling with others. Socializing is done in large mixed groups with dating relationships taking place later than in the USA.
Friends are the most important people in their lives. In fact, most consumption of services is done in the context of …