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CNN Today

Japanese Youth Calling for Greater Acceptance of Change

Aired April 11, 2000 - 2:48 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Respect for tradition and continuity has long defined Japanese society, but these traditional values are being challenged today by Japan's younger generation as too restrictive and stifling.

CNN's Maria Ressa has the story from Tokyo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cherry blossoms, Japan's symbol of spring. In a few days, they will fall: quick change in a land where change often takes centuries, creating a rigid structure its people now question.

"There's no freedom," says this man. "Too many traditions to follow."

Another Japanese saying: "The nail that's sticking out gets hammered down" -- no longer true with this generation of rebels. "If people want to follow tradition, let them," says this teenager. "We choose not to."

The struggle between continuity and change is being played out socially, economically and politically.

When Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori took office last week, he promised more of the same, calming financial markets and ensuring a smooth transition. But that very stability is the ruling party's greatest weakness as it struggles to satisfy growing calls for change.

"We're a developed country like America," says this man. "If we don't change politically, we'll be left behind."

Economically, Japan says it will continue pump-priming economic recovery through government spending. Critics say that must change because the next generation will pay for the country's growing debt.

(on camera): Socially, the signs of change are all around. A recent survey by a Tokyo-based think tank says Japanese teenagers are more likely to dye their hair than their Chinese or American counterparts.

(voice-over): Still, an annual tradition all welcome is O- Hanami, to celebrate the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms. Japanese watch closely: It's a time for young and old to relax, narrowing the gap between generations.

Saadollah Ghaussy has lived and taught in Japan for 25 years. He says some traditions still have meaning for Japan's younger generation.

SAADOLLAH GHAUSSY, UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Just in cherry blossom days, they behave exactly as the older generation. Maybe in future, it will be a continuity, but with the change.

RESSA: Finding new meaning, redefining old traditions while maintaining the stability that is the bedrock of Japanese culture: That is the challenge in the days and years ahead.

Maria Ressa, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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