The Asahi Shimbun recently produced a ranking of first-year primary school children’s future aspirations. The article came out on April 24th, and it ranked the top ten answers for boys and girls. Oddly enough, the survey was conducted by the chemical company Kuraray, but it is just the latest in a long line of annual surveys that they have conducted. What exactly can these rankings tell us about Japanese youth, or the future of Japan?
The rankings all have last year’s rank in parentheses. The average age of these students is six. There were about 2000 children surveyed.
- (1) Professional athlete
- (2) Policeman
- (3) Professional driver, chauffeur
- (10) Television or anime character
- (4) Firefighter
- (7) Employee
- (5) Cook, chef, sushi-restaurant owner
- (6) Baker; cake or candy maker
- *(8) Academic, scientist, professor
- (15) Work for the family business/private business
*numbers 8 and 9 are actually tied at eight.
The article also mentions that one of the biggest jumps for boys was for being an astronaut, from 17 last year to 12 this year. It wasn’t even ranked in the top 20 in 2002, so media attention from things like the Hayabusa spacecraft and famous Japanese astronauts are probably responsible for this trend in popularity.
I’m always confused with such vague descriptions as “employee” (#6), but an answer to such a question is common in Japan. The word “salary-man” is indeed a description many people in the workforce use; I always hated that word, because it doesn’t tell me anything about their job except that they get a salary. But at least it’s not totally useless information, because we can see that it contrasts to the girls’ rankings.
- (1) Baker; cake or candy maker
- (3) Singer, tarento (talent), celebrity
- (2) Florist, owning a flower shop
- (6) Nursery (or kindergarten) worker
- (5) Nurse
- (10) Barber, beautician
- *(13) Pet shop owner
- (9) Ice-cream shop owner
- (7) Doctor
- (4) Teacher
*numbers 6 and 7 are actually tied at six.
Girls had reported wanting to work at a flower shop for 13 consecutive years at #2, but recent spikes in the popularity of some local stars has caused the celebrity lifestyle to be the new second-most desired job. In fact, 14% of the students who wanted to be a singer, tarento, or otherwise celebrity, brought up the name AKB 48. No other names had any significant change in being reported.
You might have noticed that – aside from the more “serious” professions such as being a doctor, nurse, or teacher – the girls say little about doing business. This makes perfect sense when you think of the fact that there are so few women in business in Japan, and therefore barely any role models.
It won’t be long before many of those students change their answers to what I have often observed when asking this question casually to high-school girls: a housewife. Indeed, to be left at home with the children while the husband goes off to work for the money is a highly reported answer. There are probably people who desire this in every culture, but I was surprised to see so many such answers from girls at the age of 16.
The Bottom Line
In the end, these rankings don’t tell us too much on their own, because they’re not compared to any other culture. It would be nice if several other countries had such data. But for now, we have to settle for the knowledge that not only people’s names, but also their futures, can be influenced by what is seen on TV.