Japanese Youth Step Up In Earthquake Aftermath While their parents found their identities in their work, this generation of 20-somethings has been criticized as self-absorbed and materialistic by social commentators and older Japanese. Then along came the events of March 11 — Japan's greatest calamity since World War II.
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Japanese Youth Step Up In Earthquake Aftermath

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Japanese Youth Step Up In Earthquake Aftermath

Japanese Youth Step Up In Earthquake Aftermath

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR's John Burnett has their story.

JOHN BURNETT: Kenta Umeda arrived in the town of Ishinomaki over the weekend from Tokyo to help haul garbage out of neighborhoods destroyed by the tsunami. For the trip, he loaded some new music into his iPod, hung an alarm whistle around his neck and tucked some drumsticks into his backpack. Drumsticks?

KENTA UMEDA: (Speaking foreign language).

BURNETT: I thought it would be cool, the 25-year-old art student said with a smile, wearing a raincoat and work boots.

UMEDA: (Speaking foreign language).

BURNETT: Then, along came the events of March 11th, Japan's greatest calamity since World War II. Kyle Cleveland is a sociologist at Temple University's Japan campus. He studies Japanese youth culture.

KYLE CLEVELAND: Instead of having this kind of derisive discourse in which the young people are negatively judged for choices they make, they may be lauded for the volunteer activity that they're contributing at this time of need.

BURNETT: Unidentified Man #1: (Through translation) The job situation was already serious. After this disaster, some graduates like myself, who are planning on working for a company, have been told: Now we can't hire you.

SIEGEL: (Through translation) For me, I have a lot of time on my hands. I've been looking for work in the health industry. I don't have money to money to donate, but if I can come up here and donate my time, then I can help people more.

BURNETT: Futoshi Sato, who works at Betty Tattoo Parlor in Sendai, says his friends have been using a social media website called Mixi, the Japanese equivalent of Facebook, to coordinate aid.

FUTOSHI SATO: (Through translation) Here in Miyagi Prefecture, people used Mixi to ask the victims who live in the tsunami-hit cities of Ishinomaki and Kessennuma how people could help them and what they needed. And they told us how they wanted us to help.

BURNETT: Kawamura Koji is a 20-year-old economics student at the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo. He's spending his spring break in an orange work coat pushing a wheelbarrow.

KAWAMURA KOJI: I'm going to work as a volunteer for about two weeks or three weeks.

BURNETT: Koji is asked what he thinks about the characterization that Japanese youth are apathetic. He disagrees adamantly.

KOJI: Ah no, no, no, no, no. That's a lie. Many people are really concerned about the Fukushima. So they really want to work as volunteer. However, the (Speaking foreign language).

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Sendai.

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