The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2007
Arguing about generational differences can result in misunderstandings for all concerned. Everyone differs in terms of time and place of birth and upbringing, as well as ways of thinking and beliefs. To be sure, people may take offense if they are categorized simply by generational criteria.
Therefore, when you to read the following, understand that any discussion about generational characteristics is nothing more than a sketchy generalization, as people are people and you are you.
Also, as is usual with me, I have no intention of insisting on the intellectual property rights of what I write, so feel free to make use of my views as a basis for further fact-finding.
Even in the process of preparing a draft for this article, I learned many things that were new to me whenever I discussed my view with friends.
Previously, for instance, I vaguely believed that education before World War II influenced by leftist ideological prejudices might have returned to normal in stages from around the time of the protests in 1970 over the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
Later, I was informed that many of the youths who protested in 1970 against the renewal of the Japan-U.S. pact subsequently were hard put to find employment, having little option other than to become schoolteachers. In the 1980s–when they had become accustomed to teaching and a new strain of history education on the basis of a self-tormenting view of the nation’s wartime past began to be prevalent–I learned that education at primary and middle schools had slanted further to the left than before.
Leftist slant in the ’80s
Classifying generations in 2007, the 19th year of the Heisei era, can roughly be done as follows:
The first is the generation born in the Meiji (1868-1912) era, those aged 95 or older.
Many of that generation who are still alive were 20 years old in 1932, the year following the Manchurian Incident, meaning that they were educated before the advent of the age of militarism.
In their youth, noted figures of the Meiji era had already died, and they were brought up immersed in the surge of the liberal atmosphere of the Taisho Democracy, the good old days.
At the time of the outbreak of war in the Pacific Theater of World War II, they were 30 or older, or the generation to which midlevel war leaders belonged. Those at the top echelons who led the war effort have already died.
The next is the generation born in the Taisho (1912-1926) era, who are now between 81 and 95.
Although they have been brought up blessed with the nation’s wholesome educational and cultural traditions, they later constituted the generation of military servicemen, since the youngest of those conscripted were people born in 1926, the 15th year of the Taisho era.
Their experiences in the service varied depending on whether they were members of the military elite. Their views of the war also vary, as the younger people in that age bracket had experiences that were more bitter because of their low ranks in the closing days of the war.
The Taisho-era generation is followed by those born during the first to ninth years of the Showa era, and are now 73 to 81 years old. They are known as the single-digit Showa generation.
They were educated in the prewar period, before the end of their high school days or at least until the end of primary school.
Many figures from this generation are still active in the political and business world as well as in journalism and other fields, since many highly talented people of the generation who preceded them were killed in the war.
Among the older half of the 73-81 age group are some who yearn for their high school days during the prewar education system, as was the case with those born in the Meiji and Taisho eras.
The classification up to this point is quite familiar.
People who were born during the following 15-year period, and now aged 57 to 72, can be lumped by my classification as the first postwar education generation, because their childhood and youth coincided with the launch of the postwar education system.
This generation was strongly influenced not only by the postwar education regimen, but also by the postwar mass media, under the sway of Marxism and antiwar, pacifist tenets.
I think it adequate to define 57-year-olds as the youngest in this age bracket, since the subsequent generation saw the cessation of campus turmoil when they entered university, and their college life was more or less lethargic.
My classification is based on the assumption that people who were at university during the period spanning the two rounds of student turmoil over the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960 and 1970 can be grouped as the generation of Zengakuren (national federation of students’ self-government associations) and Zenkyoto (all-campus joint struggle committees). Some may well object, however, that the 1960 student protests against the security pact should be considered one thing and those in 1970 another.
The view that those who spent their university days at the time of the 1970 anti-security treaty movements be considered a separate generation may also be reasonable, since they comprise the postwar baby boomers.
On the heels of the baby-boom generation is the age group from about 40 to 56, which in my classification should be called juniors of the prewar education generation.
When they enrolled at universities, university life was in the political doldrums, a vacuum in terms of student interest in politics.
However, it does not mean this group was bereft of any thought: They must have been influenced by parents and schoolteachers, among others.
Characteristic of this generation is that their parents, or at least one of them, were of the generation that was the last among those who were educated in the prewar days. This is why I opt for distinguishing the juniors of the prewar education generation from the ensuing generation, or people, both who and whose parents had their school days entirely under the postwar education system.
In this generation are many who have just begun to steer today’s Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Incidentally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, born in 1954, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, born in 1956, belong to the same generation and attended university after the movements against the Vietnam War and Charles De Gaulle. All three of these leaders are characterized as more conservative and pro-American compared with the preceding generation.
Coming next is the category comprising the age group from about 25 to 40.
This bracket includes what in Japan is demographically called the second baby-boom generation.
People in this generation and their parents have no links at all to prewar education, and they, by my generational definition, may tentatively be called the second postwar education generation.
Notably, they were raised when the ideologically prejudiced postwar education system was being phased out. As a result, there were considerable differences in the quality of education received, depending on schools and classes, which resulted in this generation’s relatively wide diversification of personal characteristics.
People in this generation were born in the period from the latter half of the 1960s to the 1970s. ===
Age of Horiemon
Those who were born in and after 1970 attended middle and high schools from the period from around 1985 to 2000, when the self-torturing way of viewing the nation’s wartime past was at its height. That period was also at the zenith of the bubble economy, the time all generations were able to experience of material affluence, under which anybody, irrespective of income levels, was said to be optimistic enough to enjoy such pleasures as family trips every weekend.
People in the 25-40 generation, as well as their parents, are completely removed from the prewar education system, brought up in an age of material affluence. This generation’s education reportedly tended to place priority on individual skills and agility rather than cultivating personality, thus paving the way for nurturing figures keen on outright moneymaking, such as Livedoor founder Takafumi Horie, popularly known as Horiemon.
Noteworthy in this connection is that while the first postwar education generation has been molded into that era’s mode of thinking, many belonging to the second postwar education generation are said to have attained a certain degree of flexibility and readiness to change their minds and consider conflicting opinions.
Those of this generation born in and after 1970 are split into two groups, depending on whether the time they graduated from school and found employment was during or subsequent to the bubble era.
The remaining chunk in this exercise of generational distinctions consists of those in their mid-20s or younger.
They can be said to be a generation new to and different from the rest of the population, in that they were educated when the leftist, self-torturing views of the nation’s wartime past were on the wane and graduated from university at the time the national economy began to pick up. They now live in a time when the virtues of the Japanese state are embraced as a subject of discussion. Such current topics as the “dignity of the state” and “Japan, a beautiful country” can be understood as manifestations of motivation for restoring national pride.
Hopes should be placed on the future roles of those in their mid-20s or younger, a new generation not self-absorbed with such things as high economic growth or bubbles but instead motivated by confidence in the nation-state. ===
Postwar remnants die hard
People aged 20 or younger, however, have been brought up under the so-called cram-free education. The content of school textbooks for them was substantially watered down, which is said to have resulted in problematic knowledge and competence.
Cram-free education, too, is a product influenced by postwar, left-wing thinking.
As there is no telling about how long the remnants of this mind-set will linger, I cannot help but be keen to see these negative postwar vestiges ended as early as possible.
What I have discussed here is nothing more than a preliminary attempt that, if a bit more elaborately explored, might prove useful for the purpose of analyzing national political trends.
For example, analyses based on opinion polls today–distinguishing age brackets not by generational categories but at 10-year intervals–seem to indicate a conservative voting pattern of those I have classified as juniors of the prewar education generation, compared with prior and posterior generations.