Youth Policies and Youth Problems in Germany and Japan

Culture-specific Approaches to Social Integration

Guido Oebel, Saga University and Kurume University [About | Email]

Volume 4, Issue 1 (Book review 1 in 2004). First published in ejcjs on 6 February 2004.

Kreitz-Sandberg, Susanne (ed.) (2002) Jugendliche in Japan und Deutschland. Soziale Integration im Vergleich [Youth in Japan and Germany: Social Integration in Comparison], Opladen: Leske and Budrich, paperback, ISBN 3-8100-3096-1, viii and 314 pages.

General overview and Synopsis

This book compares the processes and problems that occur during the search for juvenile identity in Japan and Germany. Although Japanese and German adolescents grow up in similarly modern societies, the social, cultural and structural conditions of their lives differ substantially. This is the case, in particular, in terms of their social integration into family, school and peer groups and, above all, during the transition period into their working life. This book brings together Japanese and German social scientists specializing in fields such as education, sociology and psychology. The contributors’ various perspectives shed light on the differences and similarities between and within these two geographically very distant societies. In particular, the contributors pay “special attention to the situation concerning the generations, the sexes and also the changing gender cultures in respective groups of youth” (page 289).

The origins of the book lie in a symposium of the German Institute for Japanese Studies (Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien or DIJ). The symposium, entitled “Other Worlds? Comparative Perspectives on the Social Integration of Youth”, was held in Tokyo in the spring of 1999 (pages vii–viii). Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, director of the DIJ, Tokyo, contributes a foreword to this volume and explains its genesis. As Hijiya-Kirschnereit explains, the book incorporates the revised and supplemented results of the latest research on youth in Japan and Germany, including implicit as well as explicit comparisons.

The book is introduced by Susanne Kreitz-Sandberg, the editor, who outlines the key concepts and respective perspectives. Kreitz-Sandberg argues that many studies transport immanent or explicit information on distinctive patterns of social integration of Japanese adolescents into society, thus paving the way for further examination of this social phenomenon. This leads necessarily to the analysis of social disintegration as a potential cause for youth violence, which is considered an increasingly significant youth problem in today’s Germany (cf. the chapter by Heitmeyer).

International and Intra-cultural Comparisons

Atsushi Kadowaki, professor of educational sociology at Tsukuba National University, is renowned for coining the term “other worlds”, which describes an influential concept in Japan during the 1990s (Kadowaki 1992, Kadowaki and Miyadai 1995). In his paper, he describes the lives and ways of thinking of young Japanese as fundamentally different from those of older generations. Kadowaki analyses these changes in light of the triennial survey known as the “Basic Survey on Youth in Tokyo”. This survey has been entrusted to Kadowaki to carry out by the national government since 1976. The present analysis focuses particularly on the eighth survey from 1997 and its results concerning living conditions, values, perspectives and attitudes toward the societal lives of 15- to 29-year-old women and men living in Tokyo. Kadowaki and his research team drew from their findings four main youth types: the steadily achieving type, the non-confrontational type, the apathetic, malcontent type and the autonomous type. According to Kodowaki, on the one hand, both the non-confrontational type and the apathetic, malcontent type have increased, on the other hand, both the steadily achieving type and the autonomous type have decreased over the last 20 years. Such observations provide grounds for concern about present-day youth in Japan. From there, Kadowaki suggests counter-measures to halt or even reverse this alarming development in order to help young Japanese regain social competence.

Compared to western societies, adolescents in Japan appear to be highly contingent on school-centeredness. In this context, Volker Schubert sketches some of the fundamental features of the peculiar Japanese school system, looking for instance at the so-called “examination hell” (Prüfungshölle). In addition, Schubert explains the basic aspects of group-oriented communal learning, and suggests a two-fold approach in order to avoid dismissing — that is being rash to judge — Japan’s school system. In this context, one has to consider class- and gender-related differences when dealing with schooling within Japanese society. Schubert concludes that being school-centred reflects a different mode of constructing adolescence and does not automatically lead to a shortage of freedom and initiative. However, this seems not entirely accurate, as Japanese middle-school students have to participate in many extracurricular activities, for example, regular meetings, lunch breaks, cleaning days and so on. Consequently, they spend more than 1,600 hours per year at school — compared to their German peers, who spend less than 1,100 hours at school. This undoubtedly deprives Japanese students of spare time and the right to use it freely.

Chisaki Toyama-Bialke explores adult cultural conceptions of adolescence prevailing in Japan and Germany. She argues that these conceptions manifest themselves through various educational attitudes on the part of adults, such as the child-rearing practices of parents, the teaching styles of teachers, or current public debate on youth policy. Toyama-Bialke then presents data collected through interviews with 95 parents of middle-school students in Japan and 76 in Germany. The questions of her interviews concern: how the parents perceive their children’s and their children’s peers’ attitudes, and how they think their children and their peers should be treated. She takes into consideration parental expectations toward institutions such as schools, cram schools, sports clubs, and so on, as well as issues concerning youth culture as a whole. From her findings, Toyama-Bialke discusses possible implications for educational issues in post-modern Japanese and German societies.

In the next chapter, Makoto Kobayashi identifies the culture and gender differences of Japanese and German students concerning their moral judgments on critical issues. According to Kobayashi, when carrying out the study, she favoured and thus applied a more relativist approach of moral development as opposed to Kohlberg’s universalist view (1969, 347–480, 1984). In the study, 49 female and 39 male students (46 Japanese and 42 Germans) read six stories from Japanese daily newspapers featuring different moral topics, such as euthanasia (medical ethics), tax evasion (political ethics), mother-child-suicide (social ethics), the preservation of ruins versus the construction of new school buildings (cultural ethics), extramarital relations (sexual ethics), and industrial espionage (business ethics). The respondents were asked to choose, from among the options given, the essential criteria for moral decisions depending upon their respective position, that is, as an observer or as the person involved in the story.

Concerning sexual ethics and business ethics, the results showed remarkable disparities, thus reflecting cultural differences. In terms of moral judgment, Japanese respondents tended to change their attitude according to their involvement within the story. On the issue of sexual ethics, female respondents replied more in a family-oriented sense, emphasizing moral values more than the male respondents. Besides this specific phenomenon of trans-cultural gender difference, additional results obtained from this study implied “a domain-specific pattern of moral judgment” and a certain causality of “cultural and gender factors in moral-decision making” interacting with and mutually depending upon each other (page 292). Kobayashi’s findings suggest that, depending on the respective topics the test subjects encountered, there might be a gender-specific tendency irrespective of cultural affiliation.

Perspectives on Gender

Helga Krüger’s article discusses the contradictions between male and female youth and how these differences mainly affect girls’ and young women’s self-interpretations and optimism towards equality,. The implementation of equality often turns out to be an arduous process, particularly during the transition from school life to working life. Despite official proclamations of equal opportunity, the traditional understanding of gender roles tends to shatter personal options.

The theoretical issue, in discussion, concentrates on the twofold emergence of gender blindness, by overemphasizing cultural patterns in social change, and by ignoring the specific institutional/organizational mechanisms in the reproduction of gender inequality in international comparison. (page 293)

Yuko Nakanishi’s contribution is based upon a questionnaire survey carried out at three girls’ high schools and six women’s universities in Japan. Although at almost the same academic level, one group of educational institutions propagated and transmitted conservative gender roles, whereas the other group propagated and transmitted progressive roles. Students belonging to the first group internalised conservative gender roles, while those attending progressive schools and universities internalised progressive ones. Thus, students attending conservative institutions planned to quit their future jobs for the benefit of their children, whereas those graduating from progressive institutions planned to continue their working life until retirement age.

From these findings, Nakanishi concludes that Japanese high schools and universities work as an allocation system based on non-meritocratic factors, such as gender roles, which are transmitted to the students irrespective of whether the roles are conservative or progressive. Thus, these educational institutions and providers of highest academic achievement organize gendered tracking systems allocating their students to different paths in life. Eventually, this gender tracking system splits women into two different lifestyles: one being elite wives or mothers, the other constituting elite status themselves by becoming doctors, lawyers and professors.

While similar studies on gender formation in Japan so far have not focused on gender formation in the context of multiple-changing gender relations, Futoshi Taga claims to examine gender and male gender formation processes in his analysis of young men’s life histories. According to Taga, his study aims to investigate the subjective world of young men through semi-structured interviews, thus clarifying the conflicts they undergo and how they deal with them. In my opinion, the most prominent result of Taga’s analysis is that some men undergo gender conflicts caused by the contradictory ideologies of sexism and anti-sexism, whereas for others experiencing romantic love has a crucial impact on confronting a crisis or being committed to an ideology. Taga’s findings suggest that the various processes of male gender formation account for a rather different image from those proposed by previous gender role studies.

Social Integration under Difficult Conditions

Wilhelm Heitmeyer attempts to explain the statistical rise of violence both among adolescents and also within the population at large in previous decades. Heitmeyer argues that those incapable of competing with their peers in a legitimate way resort to violence due to their negative experiences and fear of social disintegration. Heitmeyer assumes that this phenomenon is mainly caused by today’s increasingly capitalist world, which produces a system that leads to people’s suffering from a lack of recognition for which they then try to compensate through violent activities.

Hideo Tokuoka examines the causes and development of youth problems, particularly youth violence, in Japan since the end of World War II. According to Tokuoka, Japan’s adult society exercises an overall control on young people and implements countermeasures against violence that can easily turn into causes for delinquency. By analyzing official statistics, Tokuoka discerns three peaks of significantly different violence during the investigation period. In the general post-war confusion, particularly during the 1950s, youth problems came to the public attention for the first time. In the 1960s Japan experienced a rise mainly in traffic offences. In the 1980s the rise of delinquency was principally due, for example, to shoplifting and the unauthorized use of bicycles. Tokuoka concludes that, in the course of the post-war era, youth problems turned into school problems and, more recently, into social opposition trends outside educational institutions. He suggests that forms of social control need to be carefully reviewed and that Japan needs to deal with the role of moral and general socialization rather than merely fighting symptoms or calling for stricter laws.

Foljanty-Jost compares Japanese and German studies of juvenile deviance, delinquency and violence at schools. In Japan, the discussion of juvenile deviancy is based on the perception of equal opportunities for all young people: failure to adapt to school culture is regarded as the cause for deviancy. By contrast, in Germany, understandings of juvenile delinquency are based “on the concept of a pluralistic society where individuals are free to choose between competing sets of values” (page 297). Thus, the different concepts of equality of opportunity in Japan and Germany result in different types of studies. In Japan, the discussion centres on the restrictive conditions of institutional education as the main cause of non-conformism, that is, problematic behaviour among children. However, in Germany the discussion concentrates on the social, economic and cultural inequality of youth as a crucial cause for deviancy. With regard to the prevention of juvenile deviancy, almost diametrically opposed strategies can be observed: whereas in Japan a reduction in the number of school functions is regarded a solution, in Germany an increase in such functions is considered a means for compensating for different living conditions among young people.

Reiko Kosugi examines Japanese recruitment practices, paying attention particularly to the job situation of high school graduates. Until recently, graduates from high schools have been allocated job vacancies through the co-ordination of school, public employment services and potential employers, and have thus been provided with a stable and long-term working life. This system, which has proved successful in the post-war era, is now subject to change as the contemporary Japanese labour market is contracting rapidly. Thus, positions of high social status with large companies or in white-collar occupations are available only to a decreasing number of graduates. Alternatively, many high school graduates turn to part-time work in low-skilled jobs, thus becoming furiitā (“freeters”, freelance casual workers). Kosugi concludes that the system of transition from school to work in Japan has failed to adapt to the changing environment, and she strongly suggests that a fundamental reassessment of the current situation is necessary. That is, it is necessary to provide today’s school-leavers with occupational skills to enable them to make their own occupational choices.

Critical Evaluation

Susanne Kreitzberg-Sandberg succeeds in bringing together twelve renowned scholars from Japan and Germany and convincing them to contribute their multifaceted expertise as educationalists, sociologists, psychologists and political scientists. Kreitz-Sandberg’s informative lead-in contains inter alia the essential features of and differences between Japanese and German research traditions. It also includes all the necessary definitions for readers to understand the field. It should also be mentioned that, following the twelve chapters, the volume also includes an excellent appendix (pages 287–314), valuable English-language chapter summaries (pages 289–98), an index (pages 299–309) as well as a further index of authors (pages 311–14).

Overall, it is this interdisciplinary approach with its diverse methodologies which makes this volume an excellent addition to the existing literature on Japan’s social structure. In this respect, I agree without reservations with Sigrid Willibald’s (2003: 35) positive evaluation in her review published in Minikomi. While Toyama-Bialke and Taga support their findings through data obtained from semi-structured interviews, questionnaire surveys proved equally useful to Nakanishi’s paper. On the other hand, Kadowaki uses for his purpose the outcome of the triennial “Basic Survey on Youth in Tokyo” which the city of Tokyo has been carrying out since 1976. Nakanishi gains representative data through a contrastive Japanese-German survey that follows Kohlberg’s “moral dilemmata”.

However, some problems do occasionally appear. Even though the expectations of readers of part two are heightened by the subtitle “Perspectives on Gender”, these expectations regrettably prove unmet. But the authors compensate for this minor deficiency by analyzing the integration and disintegration of adolescents into society. Unfortunately, in the third part, the German translation of Hideo Tokuoka’s article is occasionally awkward and confusing.

In sum, despite such small problems, the present volume is definitely worth reading. It constitutes a multifaceted compilation of different approaches to the contrastive topic of “Youth in Japan and Germany”. Readers interested in this topic, whether experts in the field or otherwise, will find the book stimulating. The contributions combine sound scientific expertise with lucid prose, and the relatively inexpensive price of 24.80 euro makes the book a bargain.

List of Contributions


Kreitz-Sanberg, Susanne, “Other Worlds? Comparative Perspectives on the Social Integration of Youth” [Andere Welten? Soziale Integration von Jugendlichen in Japan und Deutschland im Vergleich], pp.1-49.

Part One

Kadowaki, Atsushi, “The ‘Other World’ as the Life Space of Young People: Youth and Social Change in the Japanese Metropolis” [Die ‘andere Welt’ als Lebensraum Jugendlicher. Jugend und sozialer Wandel in der japanischen Metropole], pp.53-70.

Schubert, Volker, “Japanese Youth and School: Towards the Cultural Construction of Adolescence” [Jugend und Schule in Japan. Zur kulturellen Konstruktion des Jugendalters], pp.71-90.

Toyama-Bialke, Chisaki, “Educational Perspectives of Parents in Japan and Germany: A Comparative Study on the Conceptions of Adolescence” [Elterliche Erziehungsvorstellungen in Japan und Deutschland. Jugendbilder im Vergleich], pp.91-115.

Kobayashi, Makoto, “Moral Values of Students in Critical Issues: An Empirical Study in Germany and Japan” [“Werte von Studenten in kritischen Moralfragen. Eine empirische Studie in Deutschland und Japan”], pp.118-31.

Part Two

Krüger, Helga, “New Self-Concepts — Old Transitions into Professions: Stagnation in Gender Relations in Germany” [Neue Selbstbilder junger Frauen — alte übergangswege in den Beruf. Zu Stagnation und Wandel im Geschlechterverhältnis in Deutschland], pp.135-51.

Nakanishi, Yuko, “Gendered Tracking System: School Culture Effects on Young Japanese Women’s Life Choices“ [Gender Tracking. Schulkultur und Bildungsgänge junger Frauen in Japan], pp.153-77.

Taga, Futoshi, “The Change of Gender and Male Conflicts: Through the Life Histories of Young Men“ [Der Wandel von Geschlechterrollen und männliche Konflikte. Eine Biographiestudie mit jungen Männern in Japan], pp.179-205.

Part Three

Heitmeyer, Wilhelm, “Social Disintegration, the Gap of Recognition and Youth Violence in Germany“ [Soziale Desintegration, Anerkennungszerfall und Jugendgewalt in Deutschland], pp.209-26.

Tokuoka, Hideo, “Youth Policies and Youth Problems in Japan: Changing Measures and Results” [Jugendpolitik und Jugendprobleme in Japan. Maßnahmen und ihre Auswirkungen im Wandel], pp.227-46.

Foljanty-Jost, Gesine, “School and Violence in Germany and Japan: Problems, Analysis and Prevention in Comparison“ [Schule und Gewalt in Deutschland und Japan. Problemstand, Analysen und Prävention im Vergleich], pp.247-64.

Kosugi, Reiko, “Rising Youth Unemployment in Japan: Problems of Transition from School to Work“ [Steigende Jugendarbeitslosigkeit in Japan. Die Herausforderung des übergangs von der Schule ins Erwerbsleben], pp.265-85.


Kadowaki, Atsushi (1992), Kodomo to wakamono no ‘ikai’ [The ‘Other World’ of Children and Adolescents], Tokyo: Toyokan Shuppansha.

Kadowaki, Atsushi and Miyadi, Shinji (eds), (1995), ‘Ikai’ o ikiru shonen shojo [Boys and Girls Living in ‘Other Worlds], Tokyo: Toyokan Shuppansha.

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1969), “Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive Development Approach to Socialization”, in David A. Goslin (ed) Handbook of Socialization: Theory and Research, Chicago: Rand McNally, pp.347-480.

——— (1984), “The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages”, vol.2, Essays on Moral Development, New York: Harper and Row.

Willibald, Sigrid (2003), Review of Jugendliche in Japan und Deutschland. Soziale Integration im Vergleich by Susanne Kreitz-Sandberg. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, 2002. Minikomi, 66, Informationen des Akademischen Arbeitskreises Japan. Vienna: AAJ, pp.35-7.

Further Reading

For those interested in the topic of ‘Youth in Japan’, I am taking the liberty of suggesting the following books by the editor of this book, Susanne Kreitz-Sandberg.

Kreitz-Sandberg, Susanne (1992), “Adoleszenzkultur in Japan”, in Veröffentlichungen des Japanisch-Deutschen Zentrums Berlin (ed), Wissenschaftliche Jahrestagung der Vereinigung für Sozialwissenschaftliche Japanforschung e.V.: Individualisierung der japanischen Gesellschaft, Berlin: JDZB, pp.69–87.

——— (1994), Jugend in Japan. Eine empirische Untersuchung zur Adoleszenz in einer ‘anderen Moderne’, Rheinfelden and Berlin: Schäuble Verlag.

——— (1996), “Jugendforschung in Japan. Die Bedeutung der Familie für die Entwicklung von Lebensentwürfen Jugendlicher”, Tokyo: Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien (DIJ Arbeitspapier 1996/1).

About the Author

Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching German as a Foreign Language (DaF) and Foreign Languages and Linguistics at Saga and Kurume Universities. His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, adult education and autonomous teaching and learning approaches, particularly “Learning by Teaching” (LdL). LdL was invented by Professor Jean-Pol Martin of the Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (Germany), which is where he plans to analyse why Japanese students are likely to achieve the best possible learning success when applying LdL.

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