Japan’s long economic stagnation has seen the evolution of sharp generational differences. In particular, a new younger generation has turned away from the corporate culture that rebuilt post-war Japan, rejecting the high price it imposed on family life and its hard-edge definition of gender roles.
The under-25s – the Satori Sedai, which translates as both “the Enlightened Generation” and “the Resignation Generation” – have no living memories of a globally dominant or economically buoyant Japan. Although they are derided, especially by older Japanese, as lacking in ambition, the Satori Sedai can also be viewed as better-balanced and better-adjusted to the possibilities of the real world. From their perspective, the hyper-commercialized and hyper-materialistic lives of their elders, especially of their parents who came of age during Japan’s boom years, are neither realistic nor attractive. They want what they can realistically achieve; if they’re resigned, they’re resigned to being content with enough. Their aspirations are to live better, not for more things. Some writers have suggested that they are a model of sustainable capitalism for other countries to follow.
The Satori Sedai are important to Japan’s future because the values they’ve already embraced are the right kinds of values to steer Japan through the 21st Century. With resource scarcity increasing globally, and with crises a recurring issue, the Satori Sedai’s familiarity and comfort with living with less might be what Japan needs to drive a new wave of innovation that puts Japan back into a position of world leadership amidst the new context of resource-constraint.
The question for Japan, though, is whether its institutions can change quickly enough in response. So far, the signs are not good: the Satori Sedai are getting neither the training nor the resources to help them succeed in the less buoyant Japan. Japanese companies are also failing to provide brands that serve Japan’s youth on their terms, or that reflect their unique set of values. This represents an opportunity for companies that want to do well in contemporary Japan.
What to do
- Don’t give up on Japan. Japan is still a very affluent country. And it remains hopeful about the future, with many of those hopes centred on a successful 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
- Enable self-reliance. After the 2011 earthquake, the Japanese have learned to be more self-reliant. How can your company enable the Japanese to stand confidently on their own two feet?
- Support the Satori. Japan may have an ageing population, but don’t forget its youth. Japan’s youngest generation is redefining success. Brands that understand their aspirations stand to win the country’s future.