Satori sounds like a good thing – it’s the enlightened state, a state beyond desire, that Zen Buddhists aspire to and train arduously to achieve. But in the popular catch-phrase “satori generation,” it’s pejorative. The meaning here is lethargy. Young people nowadays, their elders note with some dismay, don’t seem to want anything – not wealth or its symbols, not love and its emotional turbulence, not career advancement with its struggles and rewards. What becomes of society and civilization without the restless striving for more, greater, better? Wait a few years until the “satori generation” comes fully of age, and we may know.
Linked to “satori” in this sense is “yutori” (relaxation) – specifically “yutori education,” which the education ministry devised in 2002 as a supposed solution to various problems arising from school curricula seen by many at the time as too demanding, competitive to the point of warping children’s’ character. Yutori education’s “relaxed” curriculum became a problem in its own right – it was accused of dumbing education down. It lasted nine years and was scrapped in 2011. Now we’re back to intensive education.
Next term: college. Traditionally the struggle was always to get into the very best universities as a pathway to the very best careers. Yutori and satori have changed that, says Shukan Asahi (Jan 31). Move over, Todai, Waseda and other elite citadels of learning that are prestigious but hard to get into. Step forward, regional, lesser-known universities whose names may not impress but whose entrance gates are wider and whose academic degrees are accessible with minimum fuss and bother.
It’s the economy, stupid. The yutori-satori generation grew up in a tepid economy characterized by layoffs and a hiring “ice age.” It didn’t matter how impressive your academic credentials were. Companies were not hiring. They couldn’t afford to. They automated, or relocated their operations abroad where wages were low, or made smaller staffs work harder. This is the world this young generation knows and has adapted to. Ambition with no encouragement to feed on withers.
This year brings a special problem, Shukan Asahi finds. Many students in the past who couldn’t get into the top flight universities of their dreams didn’t simply settle for what they could get; they stayed out for a year, sometimes more, studying on their own, or attending prep schools whose courses were geared toward the requirements of university entrance exams. These students were called “ronin,” which originally meant masterless samurai. Sakuji Yoshimura, the eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist, was a ronin for three years, holding out for admission to Todai – but that was back in the 1960s. A high school senior today – the last of the yutori generation – who takes a year off for private study will be in competition next year with a new generation of college aspirants whose education was more rigorous.
Some parents the magazine speaks to shake their heads over their children’s lackadaisical “any university will do” attitude, but Yoshimura, 70, understands it and sympathizes. “Dreams are all very well,” he says – but facts are facts.
The magazine quotes a proverb: “There’s no satori for those who don’t lose their way.” But the last of the yutori generation has no time for that. They feel they’ve grown up in a country that has lost its way. Broadly speaking, their main goal as they enter adult life is the security of a full-time job. They can’t afford to take it for granted, and they know it.