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The 20 Somethings in Japan

Japanese gen Y smallThe Gen-Yers in Japan didn't grow up in the tough post war decades of their seniors over 50 who dedicated themselves to rebuilding the country. Nor did they grow up during the boom years of the 80's. They grew up in the so-called lost decades of torpid recession, when many companies broke their implicit promise to avoid layoffs at all costs, leaving the Y generation's family finances precariously unstable. Still they hold a fresh perspective that smart companies will tap.

"I think the younger generation is sharper, more results oriented, and more willing to try a new approach. They want more autonomy," says Stephen Benfey, Japan veteran who crafts branding slogans for major corporations. "Nevertheless, when a kid joins a big Japanese company he is told that everything he did before is irrelevant. His life starts anew. They try to remake people in the corporate mold. Lots of kids just quit these days rather than tough it out."

Most major Japanese corporations are still run by the old guard that believes in undying loyalty and dedication to the system, so this tempers the ability of junior staff to really make changes.

When we look at the surveys and statistics of this young generation, we find some interesting differences from generations before them.

For one, they're not big consumers. They're not interested in cars, motorcycles, and other former status symbols. "Young people's interest is shifting from cars to communication tools like personal computers, mobile phones and services," said Yoichiro Ichimaru, who oversees domestic sales at Toyota.

They are often seen as self-focused, insular, less ambitious than previous generations and, well, a little bland, often spurning zesty tastes like wasabi for beer. They also appear to lack a sense of adventure: only 14% of 1000 respondents in a Hays Gen Y Report said they were interested in working in another country. Some go so far as to downplay their ability in English to avoid being assigned abroad. Many don't even want to travel abroad.

They are understandably cautious and risk averse, having grown up in uncertain times. In spite of being more individualistic and wanting more autonomy, an overwhelming majority of respondents had no interest in being their own boss, and half identified job security as an indicator of job success.

They are, however, not a homogeneous group. Half said they wanted a decisive boss while the other half said they wanted a supportive boss, although, for many, the prestige of the company was a critical factor.

Uniquely, a pleasant philanthropic streak runs through this generation. They seem to have a greater desire than other generations to help society at large, rather just their own group.

In summary, the 20 somethings are more independent, more insular, and less interested in striving for expensive status symbols. But don't expect them to have become risk-takers or divorced themselves from the societal importance placed on hierarchy. If anything, they are cautious and conservative but know they cannot depend on their company to protect them.

by Diana Rowland

Author of Japanese Business: Rules of Engagement

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Rowland & Associates is a premier cross-cultural consulting firm, providing essential international business skills since 1985. Our passion is bringing intercultural business success through heightened insight and agility. We believe that bold steps with exceptional preparation can create dynamic solutions.


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