Opportunity, Collaboration & Discovery

The Satori Generation

SMW, February 3, 2014 9:18 PM


Update May 3, 2014:  The Satori Generation was published here a few days ago and today The New York Times publishes America the Shrunken by Frank Bruni.  An excerpt:

"At the core of Americans' anger and alienation is the belief that the American dream is no longer attainable," Sosnik wrote. "For the first time in our country's history, there is more social mobility in Europe than in the United States."

"We're laggards, slackers, and everywhere you turn, the evidence mounts.

American schoolchildren aren't anywhere near the head of the international pack, and American adults, according to one recent study, lack the technical skills that peers in many other developed countries have."

Here's the beginning of The Satori Generation, published a few days ago:

(Editor's Note: When we talk about U.S. students as unmotivated or lacking "grit", guess what, maybe we should look at context, what's happening elsewhere, in our world of educational absolutes. This article made me think about our youth living at home with parents a bit differently than my usual way yet "accomplishing a lot in a little room" gave me pause.  As always, we hope to publish stories that make us think differently about education.
-C.J. Westerberg)

Here's one that exemplifies this thinking - from the recent issue of Adbusters:

An "Enlightened Generation"
"Generation Resignation"?

They don't want cars or brand name handbags or luxury boots.  To many of them, travel beyond the known and local is expensive and potentially dangerous.  They work part-time jobs - because that is what they've been offered - and live at home long after they graduate.  They're not getting married or having kids.  They're not even sure if they want to be in a romantic relationships.  Why?  Too much hassle.  Oh, and too expensive.

In Japan, they've come to be known as satori sedai - the "enlightened generation." In Buddhist terms: free from material desires, focused on self-awareness, finding essential truths.  But another translation is grimmer: "generation resignation," or those without ideals, ambition or hope.

They were born in the late 1980s on up, when their nation's economic juggernaut, with its promises of lifetime employment and conspicuous celebrations of consumption, was already a spent historical force.  They don't believe the future will get better - so they make do with what they have.  In one respect they're arch-realists.  And they're freaking their elders out.

"Don't you want to get a nice German car one day?" - asked one flustered 50-something guest of his 20-something counterpart on a nationally broadcasted talk show.  The aired on the eve of Coming of Age Day, a national holiday in Japan that celebrates the latest crop of youth turning 20, the threshold of adulthood.  An animated graphic of a smiling man wearing sunglasses driving a blonde around in a a convertible flashed across the screen, the man's scarf fluttering in the wind.  "Don't you want a pretty young woman to take on a Sunday drive?"

There was some polite giggling from the guests.  After a pause, the younger man said,
 "I'm really not interested, no."

Critics of the satori youths level the kinds of inter-generational accusations time-honored worldwide: they're lazy, lacking in willpower, potency and drive.

Having lectured to a number of them at several universities in Tokyo, I was able to query students directly.  "We're risk-averse," was the most common response.  We were raised in relative comfort. We're just trying to keep it that way.

Is this enlightened, or resigned? Or both?

Novelist Genichiro Takahashi, 63, addressed the matter in an essay 10 years ago. 
He called the new wave of youth a "generation of loss," but he defined them as "the world's most advanced phenomenon" -- in his view, a generation whose only desires are those that are actually achievable.

The satori generation are known for keeping things small, preferring an evening
 at home with a small gathering of friends, for example, to an upscale restaurant. 
They create ensemble outfits from so-called "fast fashion" discount stores like Uniqlo or H&M, instead of purchasing top-shelf at Louis Vuitton or Prada. 
They don't even booze.

"They drink much less alcohol than the kids of my generation, for sure," says social critic and researcher Mariko Fujiwara of Hakuhodo.  "And even when they go to places where they are free to drink, drinking too much was never 'cool' for them the way it was for us." 

The new reality is affecting a new generation around the world.  Young Americans and Europeans are increasingly living at home, saving, money , and living prudently.  Technology, as it did in Japan, abets their shrinking circles.   If you have internet access, you can accomplish a lot in a little room.  And revolution in the 21st century, as most young people know, is not about consumption - it's about sustainability. . . . . (snip)

In America and Europe, the new generation is teaching us how to live with less -
but also how to live with one another.   Mainstream media decry the number of young people living at home - a record 26.1 million in the US, according to recent statistics - yet living at home and caring for one's elders has long been a mainstay of Japanese culture.

 In the context of shrinking resources and global crisis, satori "enlightenment" might mean what the young everywhere are telling us: shrink your goals to the realistic, help your family and community and resign yourself to peace.   

What Takahashi called "the worlds' most advanced phenomenon" may well be coming our way from Japan.  But this time it's not automotive or robotic or electronic. It's human enlightenment.

Roland Kelts is a half-Japanese writer based in Tokyo and New york.  He is the author the best-selling JAPANAMERICA: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US, and a contributor to enlightened media worldwide.
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