HIROMI Satoh, high-school student and part-time waitress, is purring over her new, tiny silver mobile phone. "I can now connect to the Internet anytime, anywhere," she says. "Can't wait to see what I buy on it with my new credit card."
Hiromi's seeming abandonment to the seductive pleasures of consumerism, and her self-confessed infatuation with money, is not, according to a new survey, an isolated case in Japan.
Three-quarters of high-school respondents said yes when asked if they would choose a "carefree existence if they had money". This compares with 68 per cent in the United States and 23 per cent in China. The survey, carried out
by the government-sponsored Japan Youth Research Institute, received answers from more than 2,000 high-school students in each country.
Another survey, published by the Dentsu Institute for Human Studies, appears to confirm a love affair between Japanese youth and materialism. In the survey the institute asked American teens and Japanese teens to take a photograph of the thing of most value to thm. Americans chose friends or family or familiar things such as a favoured toy. Japanese youth opted for designer goods.
All such reports are gleefully snapped up by the Japanese media as proof that Japanese children are turning into aliens before their horrified parents' eyes. Fake tanned hides, white mascara, bleached hair and a penchant for 15cm-high platform boots have editorials up and down the country crying out for an explanation from the nation's teachers and sociologists. Some, such as Masaya Minei, professor of education at Tokyo's Senshu University, blame the disintegration of the Japanese family.
"The family has lost its original canons, so it is unable to pass them on to children," he said.
Other commentators point out that Japan's children are rapidly becoming the scapegoats for a failing society and economy. Japan expert Professor Merry White, of Boston University, sees the latest surveys as just another attempt to demonise Japan's youth. "Carefree is not the same thing as easygoing, lazy or irresponsible," she said.