Collective effort is needed to safeguard Japan’s national ethos and nurture a responsible future generation
Japanese actress Noriko Sakai who was convicted of illegal drug use in 2009, bows as she leaves a press conference in Tokyo on Nov. 24, 2012. The entertainment industry of the country has had its fair share of drug-related scandals and the trend is also reflected among the general population, particularly young people. (Photo/ AFP)
The Japanese entertainment industry has had its fair share of drug-related scandals involving prominent actors and comedians, and this trend is also reflected in the increase in drug-related incidents among the general population, particularly young people.
According to the latest data released by the National Police Agency (NPA) for 2022, out of the 5,342 individuals arrested last year, 17.1 percent were under the age of 20. Those in their 20s represented the majority, accounting for 53.4 percent of the total arrests.
Most alarmingly, a staggering 79.5 percent believed that marijuana had little to no adverse effects, indicating a critical misconception among young users.
While it is hard to pinpoint the origin of the rise in drug-related crimes among the youth, the shifting ethos within the Japanese culture can be analyzed by adopting a broader perspective.
The transition to a more materialistic culture in Japan is a reality, and it can be attributed to a combination of historical, social and cultural factors.
It goes without saying that the cultural landscape is diverse and complex, and not all individuals or segments of society necessarily subscribe to a materialistic worldview. However, there have been shifts in societal values and beliefs that have contributed to the emergence of these trends.
"We cannot ignore that Japan has also been heavily influenced by Western cultures"
With the rapid urbanization of Japan, traditional religious practices have declined, and fewer people actively engage in organized religious activities. Elderly Shinto priests often face challenges in finding a suitable individual, typically a family member, to entrust with the management of a sanctuary.
This shift has created a vacuum where traditional spiritual beliefs are being replaced by secular ideologies, including nihilism and agnosticism.
But we cannot ignore that Japan has also been heavily influenced by Western cultures, particularly from the United States.
Many young people today know very well where to find a few grams of the most common light or heavy drugs. And it is curious that these “smokers” of all sorts, love to call themselves hippies, using the very same English term.
The enormous influence that the Anglo-Saxon world and above all America exerts on young Japanese is not surprising.
The exposure to Western media, including movies, television shows and music, has introduced different perspectives and lifestyles, some of which overtly or metaphorically emphasize materialism and individualism.
Facilitated by the widespread availability of platforms like Netflix and similar streaming services, Western series often portray marijuana and cocaine use among protagonists, which is a departure from the norms seen in traditional Japanese television series.
This exposure to Western media does very well to contribute to curiosity and acceptance of drug use among young viewers.
"The consequences of drug-related scandals extend beyond individual lives and careers"
Media, including television and other forms of entertainment, can influence cultural norms and behavior. When influential figures, such as TV personalities, engage in behaviors that were previously considered taboo or unconventional, it can contribute to a shift in societal acceptance of those behaviors.
This phenomenon is often referred to as the "normalization" of certain behaviors.
When TV personalities are caught addicted to their borderline lifestyles this automatically promotes those lifestyles and behaviors. It influences the most vulnerable youth and creates a perception that those behaviors are more acceptable or even desirable.
This can be seen in various aspects of popular culture, where previously taboo topics or behaviors have now become more openly discussed and accepted over time.
But the consequences of drug-related scandals extend beyond individual lives and careers.
The erosion of the national ethos, deeply rooted in traditional values and a strong sense of community, is a cause for due concern.
We have previously written about the concern among the Self-Defense Forces regarding the difficulty in attracting young recruits, as the disciplined lifestyle associated with military service is becoming less appealing to today's youth.
To combat the rising drug-related incidents, a multi-faceted approach is necessary.
Education and awareness programs must be introduced to provide accurate information about the harmful effects of drugs, dispelling misconceptions prevalent among the youth.
Engaging with communities, schools, and families can promote a more desirable “cool” image of local recreational activities.
A collective effort is badly needed to restore traditional values, safeguard Japan’s national ethos and nurture a responsible and mature future generation.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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