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Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO

National service stint for youths could help Japan out of malaise


By RICK D. MARSH JR.
Yokohama

To members of the ruling coalition,

By the time you read this, ¥12,600 should have appeared in my bank account. While I am pleased to have received this money, I would like you to know that I have used it to pay my residential tax. Considering the myriad social problems currently facing Japan, this was a poor use of taxpayer money, not unlike some of the other ideas — like unchecked subsidizing of education or waived fees — being tossed around by the various parties as they try to appeal to the public.

Instead of throwing taxpayer money around haphazardly, I would like the government to consider implementing a two-year compulsory national service plan. The plan I propose would require individuals — both male and female, between the ages of 18 and 25 — to perform service-orientated jobs in fields including agriculture, child care, disaster relief, education, environmental preservation and health care. The two years of service would have to be carried out prior to entering the workforce, but could be done prior, during or following enrollment in higher education.

These service programs would provide a living stipend, plus room and board, in exchange for labor. The societal benefits would be manifold.

In terms of employment, from its implementation this plan would enable members of the "lost generation" and younger to get a two-year window in which to compete for jobs minus the fear of being rejected in favor of recent university graduates, without putting those in the service programs at a disadvantage. With enough planning, the programs would actually help individuals become more motivated, focused and prepared for the rigors of academic and work life. Additionally, it would reduce the ranks of NEETS by providing them with skills and opportunities transferable to the real world — not to mention the networking and resume-building potential for all involved.

With respect to Japan's social problems, removing youths from their homes would greatly encourage young adults to mature into self-reliant, productive citizens. This plan would foster greater social and personal awareness, community cohesion, and improve overall civility, especially as Japan's youth becomes more and more self-absorbed. In addition, increasing trained workers in such sectors as child care may alleviate the mounting concerns of working parents and could potentially be a boon for Japan's anemic birthrate. Rural communities would reap the benefits of young blood to help boost Japan's food self-sufficiency. Areas of Japan affected by natural disasters would have more manpower. Schools could use the extra workforce to set up peer-monitoring and mentoring programs to possibly reduce bullying and its consequences, all the while providing guidance and support.

Finally, like the postwar generation, today's young adults would be given an opportunity to be more than just laboring taxpayers. No longer would they be looked down upon as the products of affluence living in the shadows of respected generations before them. There is even great potential for members of the generation that brought about Japan's breakneck economic ascent to provide direction and assistance to these programs, especially as many of them are retiring and want to maintain a sense of purpose in life.

Some would argue that compulsory service could stymie volunteerism in Japan, but a majority of Japanese feel that local and central governments should fix Japan's social problems. Potential abuses of the system, such as improper working conditions, would also have to be monitored by independent groups to quell any worries on the part of parents.

In conclusion, taking all the drawbacks into consideration, I believe implementing a two-year compulsory national service plan would not only help alleviate the various social problems preventing Japan from breaking out of its malaise — and a great deal more effectively than the various stimulus packages being floated about in the Diet — but it would also provide younger adults with the strength and leadership they will need to pull Japan forward into the future with their heads held high.

Submissions to Hotline to Nagatacho should address issues that affect your life in Japan or be in response to government policies. Please imagine you are actually writing to a government official — be it a local school board head or the prime minister himself — to bring attention to an important matter. Send submissions for Hotline to Nagatacho of between 500 and 600 words to community@japantimes.co.jp



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