Wow, wow wow youth, there are so many types. When two or three get together, it’s noisy, noisy

Morning Musume, Joshi kashimashi monogatari

These past couple of weeks have been a time of deep reflection for me. As the time of my youth slips away, I’m forced to look back at many things in my life from a different lens.

The truth is, I never really got a childhood. And I never really got to be young. I was always old beyond my years, and by the time I realized the value of youthfulness, it had slipped away. I think this is true for many folks, hence the saying, “youth is wasted on the young”. Once you are old and mature enough to realize what is lost, it’s already lost. Maybe it’s the very fact that one is mature enough to realize what is lost that causes it to be lost in the first place.

I think it is true for many media,but for Japanese media particularly that youth is very much overrepresented. Manga and anime are almost always about students of some kind. Nearly all of the idol groups are made up of teenage girls – so much so that groups with adults are seen more as a novelty than something to be taken seriously. Even Japanese adult products seem to fetishize schoolgirls and other aspects of youth. I maintain that you can tell much about what a culture values by its adult media, and Japanese adult media is very, very telling.

I realized that while I know far more about Japanese school culture than I did before I started learning, that really is pretty much what I know. I don’t know what it means to be an adult in Japan.

And maybe that is by design. The few things I have heard about that indicate that it is in some ways a kind of hell on earth. Overworked, no time for fun or happiness or even sex much of the time, drinking as a ritual escape, even to the point of premature death. Maybe the Japanese folks fetishize youth because being an adult is… so awful. I could easily see why adults would become Otaku – beautiful (or at least cute) teenage girls who are required to at least maintain an outward appearance of innocence must be such an escape from the drudgery of life as a Japanese adult. I know some adults have a pretty decent life, but my impression is that it’s the minority. Even my former sensei told me that Japan is a very depressed country.

I think I fell into this trap too, myself. I don’t like my culture because it fetishizes youth, but a much more gritty, worldly, sexualized version. And of course you can find that in Japan too if you want – and unfortunately too easily. But they seem to, more than anything, just want to live youth vicariously through and with their favorite idol, manga, or anime characters. And as much as I’d like to say I don’t understand that, I do. All too well, frankly.

If you pull the youth fetishization out of Japanese culture, what do you have left to explore? A lot, I suppose. But you kind of have to dig for it. And try not to be depressed by the gritty reality of the culture that lies underneath the school uniforms and cute faces. I think this might be the primary reason I lost interest.

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