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Why young Japanese are averse to the fleetingness of beauty

A recent survey reveals a growing disconnect with traditions and changing priorities among the country’s youth
A woman walks past blooming cherry blossoms at Inokashira Park in Tokyo.

A woman walks past blooming cherry blossoms at Inokashira Park in Tokyo. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 03, 2024 04:09 AM GMT
Updated: April 03, 2024 04:38 AM GMT

In the heart of Japan's cherry blossom season, a period marked by fleeting beauty and communal celebration, a glaring contrast emerges, highlighting a growing rift between traditional practices and the contemporary sentiments of the country's youth.

A recent survey found that 60 percent of individuals in Japan are averse to participating in cherry blossom viewing with colleagues, dismissing these gatherings as mere extensions of their work obligations.

This reveals more than just a preference for solitude. It signals a concerning trend of estrangement and loneliness among young Japanese, challenging the fabric of a society long celebrated for its collective spirit and communal harmony.

Hanami, the age-old tradition of cherry blossom viewing, has historically been a time for people to pause, reflect, and connect with one another against the backdrop of nature's transient beauty. It beautifully embodies the Buddhist concept of mujō or impermanence.

This practice, deeply rooted in Japanese culture, serves as a reminder of life's fleeting nature, mirroring the transient beauty of cherry blossoms that bloom brilliantly only to fall away shortly after.

Through hanami, participants engage in a moment of reflection on the ephemeral nature of existence. This alignment with mujō teaches the value of savoring the present and the acceptance of change as an inherent part of life's continuum, encouraging a deeper connection with the natural world and its cyclical patterns.

"Shifting attitudes of the younger generation towards this cultural practice underscore a broader narrative of disconnection"

However, in practice, hanami often translates into picnics with work colleagues where women and new recruits find themselves navigating a web of inflexible expectations to adhere to subservient roles towards their senior colleagues.

The shifting attitudes of the younger generation towards this cultural practice underscore a broader narrative of disconnection and changing priorities.

When over half of the respondents cite a desire to prioritize their private life as the main reason for their reluctance to engage in work-related social activities, it's indicative of a deeper societal malaise.

This inclination to distance oneself from traditional group activities, opting instead for individual pursuits or rest, is further compounded by the reasons participants provided. The reluctance to use a day off for work-related socializing, coupled with the fatigue of constantly having to pay attention to others, paints a picture of a generation burdened by social obligations and seeking refuge in personal space.

The implications of these attitudes extend beyond missed opportunities for cherry blossom viewing. They reflect a critical juncture in Japanese social dynamics, where the blurring lines between work and personal life, coupled with the intense pressures of corporate culture, have led to a palpable sense of disillusionment among the youth.

This disillusionment not only impacts traditional social practices but also contributes to a pervasive sense of isolation and detachment within the community.

The survey's findings underscore the importance of nurturing spaces where individuals can connect on their terms"

Moreover, this trend raises questions about the sustainability of Japan's corporate and social structures, which have historically relied on a high degree of conformity and collective participation. The apparent decline in enthusiasm for such communal activities suggests a need for a reassessment of these cultural norms, especially in light of the increasing emphasis on work-life balance and mental well-being.

The findings of the survey also hint at a potential generational divide, with younger individuals increasingly valuing their autonomy and personal time over traditional expectations, and are also reflective of global trends towards individualism.

But mainly the survey's findings underscore the importance of nurturing spaces where individuals can connect on their terms, free from the pressures of hierarchical social structures.

In an increasingly hyper-connected world, the realization is dawning that traditional rigid hierarchical structures may not hold the key to happiness or fulfillment. This shift is especially pertinent among the youth, who, amidst a digital age that offers boundless ways to connect, are seeking meaningful interactions that diverge from the constraints of conventional social frameworks.

The survey's results highlight Japan's urgent need to promote environments where the youth are freed from the constraints of these artificial rituals, no longer required to feign a guise of humility and respect towards senior colleagues, merely conforming to corporate societal norms that mandate displaying formal respect to someone over minor age differences.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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