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DON MORRISON Editor, TIME Asia
Japanese have long been appalled by the rising tide of youth violence in the United States, of which last week's massacre at a Colorado high school is an especially tragic example. But lately Japan has a few well-publicized reasons to worry about its own young people: a 14-year-old Kobe boy's gruesome murder of a younger child, a 13-year-old Tochigi boy's fatal knifing of a teacher, an upsurge of teenage theft and prostitution, an epidemic of teen rudeness on trains and streets, an explosion of outlandish clothing, tattooing and body-piercing. What's the matter with Japanese kids today? Quite a bit, as we describe in this week's , but it's not what their elders think. Coming of age in a stagnant, post-bubble world of shrunken possibilities, they are angry, indulgent, individualistic--and perhaps Japan's best hope for developing a more dynamic and responsive society. I kept hearing how rude and ill-mannered Japanese kids are, says Tokyo bureau chief Tim Larimer, who first suggested this report. Adults complain that they show no respect, talk loudly on their mobile phones on trains or squat on the ground in public places. It's true, kids do such things nowadays. But if this is as bad as they get, then the country really isn't in trouble. Most of the young people I met were curious, ambitious, entertaining, and--note this, older Japanese--courteous. They know there are problems in their country. They don't have all the answers. But remember how long it has taken Japan's political and business leaders just to realize something is wrong.

Chief of reporters Hannah Beech suspected young people were getting a bad rap when she interviewed an 18-year-old boy who was kicked out of school for trying to strangle his teacher. A day after we talked, he called to thank me for some travel suggestions I'd given him, she recalls of the boy, who was dressed threateningly in gangsta-rapper clothes. Then he sent me an e-mail with another thanks. He promised to bring me an omiyage [gift] from his travels. For a generation that's supposed to have forgotten how to be polite, this kid--who was so frustrated with school that he attacked his teacher--was proof that young Japan is still pretty decent. What surprised me most about these kids was not their big, bad brashness, but their shyness. All the tattoos and dyed hair and garish make-up seem to be hiding a generation unsure of who they are and what they want.

This week's report includes Larimer's on how Japan's new, uncertain generation may be a positive force for the country's renewal. There's also an article by reporter , former head of the parent-teacher association at a suburban Tokyo elementary school, on the anxieties that her daughter--and millions of Japanese schoolchildren--face in the nation's rigid education system. Larimer and reporter Sachiko Sakamaki profile a typical , discovering why marketers are in awe of her and her peers' trendsetting prowess. And East Asia correspondent Terry McCarthy describes how Japan is to the rest of Asia.

Our report coincides with Japan's Golden Week national holiday, when much of the country shuts down for several days. So readers there are getting something extra to tide them over until the next copy of TIME hits their mailboxes the week after next: our Young Japan report is a double issue in Japan, with additional stories on the subject. These include Miki Tanikawa's revealing with Japanese kids in an Internet chat room, where they poured out their fears and hopes with a frankness not possible in a face-to-face conversation. Correspondent Donald Macintyre describes how one Japanese university, departing from decades of tradition, is educating kids to . And one of Japan's leading comic-book artists, Hiroo Nakata, draws us a special manga detailing how the generation gap might someday be healed. Maybe the exuberance of all these young people wore off on us, but we too did something rash: we handed out dozens of disposable cameras to Tokyo teens and told them to send us back of what's important in their lives. The result is a remarkable photographic gallery of everyday kitsch and youthful hijinks, throbbing with hope, laughter and life.

For reporter Sachiko Sakamaki, working on the special report brought back troubling memories of her own years as a Japanese schoolgirl. I was studying long hours, following the motto, 'Endure hardship now for pleasure in the future,' which a junior-high teacher gave us. After talking to several teenage girls, I realized what surprised me: they're having fun now. So I started wondering: Have I missed something, did I make a mistake in sacrificing my teen days for the future? As we worried that Sakamaki would give up her successful career in journalism, get her tongue pierced and drop out to rediscover lost youth, she quickly added: But then, some of the youngsters made me sad. They said they don't know what their dreams are, or don't even have any. So I don't envy today's teens after all. I just hope we grown-ups can help them find their dreams. And we hope this week's special report can help them, and their disapproving elders, begin that quest for understanding.


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By DON MORRISON Editor, TIME Asia
Japanese have long been appalled by the rising tide of youth violence in the United States, of which last week's massacre at a Colorado high school is an especially tragic example. But lately Japan has a few well-publicized reasons to worry about its own young people: a 14-year-old Kobe boy's gruesome murder of a younger child, a 13-year-old Tochigi boy's fatal knifing of a teacher, an upsurge of teenage theft and prostitution, an epidemic of teen rudeness on trains and streets, an explosion of outlandish clothing, tattooing and body-piercing. What's the matter with Japanese kids today?

Quite a bit, as we describe in this week's , but it's not what their elders think. Coming of age in a stagnant, post-bubble world of shrunken possibilities, they are angry, indulgent, individualistic--and perhaps Japan's best hope for developing a more dynamic and responsive society. I kept hearing how rude and ill-mannered Japanese kids are, says Tokyo bureau chief Tim Larimer, who first suggested this report. Adults complain that they show no respect, talk loudly on their mobile phones on trains or squat on the ground in public places. It's true, kids do such things nowadays. But if this is as bad as they get, then the country really isn't in trouble. Most of the young people I met were curious, ambitious, entertaining, and--note this, older Japanese--courteous. They know there are problems in their country. They don't have all the answers. But remember how long it has taken Japan's political and business leaders just to realize something is wrong.

Chief of reporters Hannah Beech suspected young people were getting a bad rap when she interviewed an 18-year-old boy who was kicked out of school for trying to strangle his teacher. A day after we talked, he called to thank me for some travel suggestions I'd given him, she recalls of the boy, who was dressed threateningly in gangsta-rapper clothes. Then he sent me an e-mail with another thanks. He promised to bring me an omiyage [gift] from his travels. For a generation that's supposed to have forgotten how to be polite, this kid--who was so frustrated with school that he attacked his teacher--was proof that young Japan is still pretty decent. What surprised me most about these kids was not their big, bad brashness, but their shyness. All the tattoos and dyed hair and garish make-up seem to be hiding a generation unsure of who they are and what they want.

This week's report includes Larimer's on how Japan's new, uncertain generation may be a positive force for the country's renewal. There's also an article by reporter , former head of the parent-teacher association at a suburban Tokyo elementary school, on the anxieties that her daughter--and millions of Japanese schoolchildren--face in the nation's rigid education system. Larimer and reporter Sachiko Sakamaki profile a typical , discovering why marketers are in awe of her and her peers' trendsetting prowess. And East Asia correspondent Terry McCarthy describes how Japan is to the rest of Asia.

Our report coincides with Japan's Golden Week national holiday, when much of the country shuts down for several days. So readers there are getting something extra to tide them over until the next copy of TIME hits their mailboxes the week after next: our Young Japan report is a double issue in Japan, with additional stories on the subject. These include Miki Tanikawa's revealing with Japanese kids in an Internet chat room, where they poured out their fears and hopes with a frankness not possible in a face-to-face conversation. Correspondent Donald Macintyre describes how one Japanese university, departing from decades of tradition, is educating kids to . And one of Japan's leading comic-book artists, Hiroo Nakata, draws us a special manga detailing how the generation gap might someday be healed. Maybe the exuberance of all these young people wore off on us, but we too did something rash: we handed out dozens of disposable cameras to Tokyo teens and told them to send us back of what's important in their lives. The result is a remarkable photographic gallery of everyday kitsch and youthful hijinks, throbbing with hope, laughter and life.

For reporter Sachiko Sakamaki, working on the special report brought back troubling memories of her own years as a Japanese schoolgirl. I was studying long hours, following the motto, 'Endure hardship now for pleasure in the future,' which a junior-high teacher gave us. After talking to several teenage girls, I realized what surprised me: they're having fun now. So I started wondering: Have I missed something, did I make a mistake in sacrificing my teen days for the future? As we worried that Sakamaki would give up her successful career in journalism, get her tongue pierced and drop out to rediscover lost youth, she quickly added: But then, some of the youngsters made me sad. They said they don't know what their dreams are, or don't even have any. So I don't envy today's teens after all. I just hope we grown-ups can help them find their dreams. And we hope this week's special report can help them, and their disapproving elders, begin that quest for understanding.