Japan Studies

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2000


by William Hall

Are today's Japanese children -- the next Internet generation -- going to hell in a hand-basket?

According to the media, adults in Japan -- like the adults of any era in most countries -- regularly decry the attitudes, behavior, and manners of the younger generation; pundits despair for the future of the country in such hands. But what is the reality? To answer this question, the Tokyo Metropolitan Govern-ment conducts a study every three years among students in the third and fifth year of elementary school and the second year of middle school, as well as among mothers and fathers of students in these grades.

The study series began in 1977, and the results of the eighth and most recent round, conducted in November and December 1998, were published last November. The study -- a hefty 433 pages in length -- provides a wealth of data and analysis on Japanese children's activities at and after school; children's attitudes toward school, friends, teachers, parents, and various life situations; parent-child relationships and parental attitudes toward child raising; the influence of parents' educational levels, financial well-being, and lifestyle on a child's development; and so on.

Late to Bed
Only 48% of boys and 56% of girls in third-year elementary school were in bed by 9:30 p.m., with 37% of boys and 27% of girls going to bed at 10:30 p.m. or later. In contrast, in 1986 (when this question was first asked), only 16% of third-year elementary boys and 11% of girls went to bed at 10:30 p.m. or later, well under half the 1998 figure. Further, among second-year middle school students, 52% of boys and 44% of girls were in bed by 11:30 p.m., with 28% of boys and 32% of girls going to bed at 12:30 a.m. or later. In a different section of the questionnaire, students were asked whether they dozed off and yawned during class, and, unsurprisingly, there is a close correlation between responses to this question and the reported late bedtimes. Among all students in the sample, three in four students who went to bed at 11:00 p.m. or later admitted to frequently or sometimes dozing off in class (see Chart 1). The late-to-bed syndrome is also closely correlated with irritable outbursts toward teachers, parents, and fellow students.

After School
Students were given a list showing 12 activities, and were asked to fill in which ones they did yesterday and how long was spent on each (the yesterday was a weekday). Activities listed were studying at home, studying at juku (private cram school), playing with friends, playing alone, watching television, playing video games, reading manga (comics), reading books, helping out around the house, talking with mother, talking with father, and talking with friends on the phone. Elementary school students spent around 30 minutes on homework at home, while one-quarter of the middle-school students spent two or more hours per day at a juku. Sixty percent of boys versus only 25% of girls played video games, including a hardcore group of boys who played video games for three or more hours per day; 53% of students read comics for 30 minutes or more, and 75% watched TV for one hour or more.

Twenty percent of students did not spend time speaking with their mother on the previous day versus 46% who did not with their father, with both figures remaining virtually unchanged since the first survey in 1977. Since the students were asked to fill in the grid in 30-minute units, it is possible that some of the students may have spoken briefly with their parents for at least a few minutes, but this was not recorded. In any event, the data does demonstrate the continued impact of the long commute and long working hours on the father's ability to be involved with the children during the workweek.

Nine out of ten students attended some form of juku or okeiko (training in the arts, music, or sports) after school, a practice that is now so widespread that it is considered part of a standard day. The main classes attended are in mathematics (30%), English (26%), musical instruments (26%), Japanese (22%), and calligraphy or abacus (22%). Swimming lessons (17% -- primarily for elementary school students), baseball (8%), and soccer (7%) are the leading sports activities, with the percentage for soccer down from the last survey.

As the age of the student increases, the emphasis shifts increasingly towards academically focused classes at juku, attendance at which appears to have a positive impact on a child's grades in school. Sixty two percent of those students in middle school who considered themselves good students regularly attended academic juku classes.

Education expenses (both regular school and juku/okeiko combined) made up some 11% of total family expenses, and the cost of attendance at juku averaged about ¥170,000 per year per family. The 1998 study confirms a trend that has been emerging in the past few survey waves: Children from wealthier families and from families where parents are more highly educated were more likely to attend juku than those from poorer families and those whose parents were less highly educated. Thus we are beginning to see the emergence of an educationally advantaged class in Japan, a trend that could have significant long-term implications.

From a business perspective, the market seems ripe for an Internet-based-learning type of juku, that utilizes videogame machines (which are present in almost all households) as the medium of instruction.

To assess their degree of self-reliance, students were asked whether they themselves normally did each of the following: get up in the morning by oneself, clean one's room, prepare and eat a meal when a parent is not there, sew on a button that has come off, and do one's homework without being told to do so.

Comparative data for the last four studies have been set out in Chart 2. Overall, the data shows a decline in the level of self-reliance for most tasks, with the most dramatic decline being in sewing on a button, dropping from 42% in 1989 to 20% in 1998. When analyzed by gender, girls showed significantly higher self-reliance than boys for "cleaning one's room" (61% vs. 46%), "sewing on a button" (26% vs. 14%), and "doing homework without being told" (71% vs. 55%). Are there future executives among these girls?

Aberrant Behavior
A new series of questions about aberrant behavior was asked for the first time of middle school students. Twenty-seven percent had stayed up late at night in the streets or in entertainment areas, 17% had secretly taken their parents' money, 13% had smoked cigarettes, 12% had shop-lifted something, and 8% had called a terekura (telephone dating club). In two-thirds of the above cases, the experience was confined to one or two occasions, which can probably be considered as normal youthful experimentation. Overall, therefore, probably some 5% of middle-school students can be considered to be sometimes or regularly indulging in aberrant behavior -- hardly an omen of the imminent collapse of youthful morality.

Role Models
When asked if there was anyone they'd like to turn out like in the future, 46% mentioned a TV/music/sports personality, 7% an historical figure, 6% a figure who appears in manga (comics) or TV dramas, 6% one's father, 5% one's mother, and 4% one's teacher. Politi-cians received negligible mention, which, considering the standard of political leadership in Japan, is hardly surprising.

Typologies of Children
Several new questions were included in the most recent survey in an attempt to build up typologies of children. A series of 10 situations were provided, and students had to make a forced choice between one of two responses for each situation. For example, "You are about to cross the road and the light turns red, but there are no cars coming. Do you cross the road quickly anyway or do you wait for the light to turn green?"

Using multivariate analysis techniques, four typologies of children were identified. A brief description of each and its relative weight within the population are given below.

1. Iiko (Solid/dependable) 26% Follows the rules and is somewhat extroverted in nature.
2. Chakkari (Shrewd operator) 23% Reasonably extroverted, and, while basically follows the rules, has a somewhat rebellious streak and knows how to bend the rules to advantage.
3. Ijike (Perverse) 24% Introverted character with rebellious streak who attempts to silently rebel while trying not to be caught in the act.
4. Ottori (Calm) 27% Introverted and follows the rules, but with clear understanding of why it's necessary to do so and at one's own pace.

Given the significant changes occurring in the Japanese economy and work practices, the impact of an aging population and a scarcity of young people, and the increasing role that the Internet is expected to play in society, the generally accepted rules of Japanese society are likely to undergo some changes. It will be interesting to track how these typologies hold up in the next survey in three years' time. In any event, Japan could probably do with some more chakkari types at this point.

William Hall (williamh@isisresearch.com) is president of the ISIS/RBC/CORAL Group, which provides market research and consulting services in Tokyo.

Report on the Lives and Values of Young Children and Students in Major Cities, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs, November 1999. Survey based on interviews of students conducted at school; Parents completed self-administered questionnaire at home. Schools chosen from wards and cities of Tokyo (systematic random sampling basis), covering a mix of state and private schools. Completed interviews obtained from 1,916 students, 1,772 mothers, and 1,582 fathers.

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