“Should I sign up for a yoga class, or instead deposit funds?”

Sū-chan, a 35-year-old single cafe manager, eventually chooses to sign up for yoga, murmuring “There is no need to always sacrifice the present just for the future.” Sū-chan is an allegorical heroine of Miri Masuda’s popular 4-installment manga「Would It Be Okay Not to Get Married?」,which was sold 540 thousand copies in Japan thanks to the wide readership from a peculiar young generation called the Satori.

The word satori(悟り), which originally translates to nirvana, now socially equates to those born in the mid and late 1980s in Japan, who are characterized by their utter lack of worldly desires. They are typically indifferent to gaining wealth, dating, politics, or even planning a trip out of their cities. A chronic fatigue towards life which befits the elderlies in other ordinary societies dominates their daily life. The energy and healthy vibe one would expect from people in their twenties are nowhere to be seen.

A more disturbing fact is that the majority of Satori believes that they are happy with their present situation. According to the life satisfaction survey conducted by the Japanese government last August, 79.1% of the twenties replied that they were content with their lives. It surely was an unexpectedly, if not alarmingly, optimistic response given the reality is darkened by part-time employees reaching 20 million, world’s highest government indebtedness, and continuing 2 decades-long deflation to which Mr. Abe seems inadequate to put a halt.

Where does such mental resignationㅡnow the better translation for satoriㅡ come from? Noritoshi Furuichi, a Japanese sociologist, diagnoses this nationwide lethargy as a psychological consequence of willfully giving up on the hopes of better tomorrow from his book「Happy Youngsters in the Country of Despair」.

A twisted, defeated ‘happiness’ is sought out in the forms of indiscreet consumption at present instead of investing in the future.

The revolutionary spirit of Ryoma Sakamoto nor dauntless will power of corporate tycoon Konosuke Matsushita has long been vanished in the ‘enlightened’ eyes of young Japanese who just do not care anymore.

Is this simply another sad story from abroad? Not quite, for the young Koreans have just begun to show similar grievous symptoms.

 

As the annual growth rate declines for 4 consecutive years, the so-called 3G generationㅡ having ‘Given up’ on three things: dating, marriage, and childrenㅡ and Jang Geu-Rae(장그래) generation emerge on media.

Named after hit television show Misaeng’s protagonist, a miserably struggling intern in the midst of merciless Korean corporate world, the Jang Geu-Rae generation represents young Koreans in their twenties and early thirties,  who find it extremely difficult to get employed for full-time jobs due to fierce competitions and retirement-age delays.

The economic opportunities for Satori generation is overshadowed by the Dankai generation, the rich baby boomers born in 1947-1960s when Japan was developing. In much the same manner, the Jang Geu-Rae feels repressed by the mights of their parents’ generationㅡ those who seized success thanks to real estate booms and high interest rates during the heydays of Korean economic miracle. In contrast to all the achievements their parents, uncles and aunts have made, the young Korean adults struggle to find jobs; afford homes after getting married; or build up any kind of financial assets to ever manage in long term.

the Jang Geu-Rae feels repressed
by the mights of their parents’ generation

These hardships drag their heads down, taking away their vigor and hopes in pursuit of better life. The number of temporary employees in South Korea is over 6 millionㅡ the gross number far less than Japan’s but the percentage of which(35.5%) is not all that different from Japan’s 38%. Unemployment rate specifically among the youths reaches nearly 8%; yet the government policies focus on pleasing the workers in their 40s-50s, from whom the politicians expect most ballots.

A rather outrageously exploitative term coated in despicable condescension called yeoljeong-pay(열정페이, literally ‘passion-pay’) floats around, whose advocates call on the young to overcome their poor work conditions and low pay with the help of laughable mental justification: that they are getting paid with the appreciation of their passion, not with money.

This fancy passion-pay is keeping the Korean minimum wage at 5580 KRW per hour($5) , which is lower than 7130 KRW of Japan where the Satori has no marginal ‘passion’ whatsoever left to get appreciated forㅡ yet they are somehow still paid better than their distressed Korean fellows.

The Korean labor market needs to change for our young adults

One may say, at least the Jang Geu-Rae retains hopes in the future unlike their Japanese counterparts. However, no one can foresee how much longer they can hold on to those hopes if the external environmentㅡthe labor market, essentiallyㅡdefies changes. Korea is aging rapidly, and the young ones are already far too burdened and outnumbered to face the socioeconomic aftermaths of this structural change.

In order for our young generation to not tumble into the Satori-style depression, the baby boomers collectively need to lay down their privileges and open up more doors. Reforming the national pension system may be an advisable starting stepㅡas a sign that they will not toss the burdens of self-serving welfare to their underemployed sons and daughters.

Byunghun

Byunghun

Founder, editor-in-chief