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People and Society, Social Issues

Japanese constitution, safest countries, Japanese law, strong force, social rights

For the most part, Japan is a stable country with a high degree of domestic tranquility. Yet the country faces a number of social problems, some of them new and worsening, others long-term and slowly improving. Some of the most difficult recent troubles arose from the economic recession that began in Japan in the 1990s. Until recently, unemployment was virtually unknown in Japan to all but the oldest citizens who lived through the economic chaos of the years immediately after World War II. However, during the 1990s unemployment rose as companies and financial institutions that were once thought to be financially solid cut back on their workforces or closed altogether. Lifetime job security, once a hallmark of Japanís economy, no longer exists in many companies, and experienced workers now find themselves competing for inferior jobs with younger people looking for entry-level positions. The younger generation in turn is finding it hard to enter the economy because jobs that were once plentiful for high school and college graduates are now in short supply.

The prolonged recession is one of the chief causes of an increase in homelessness in Japan. Tokyo and other cities have thousands of homeless people, mostly middle-aged and older men. Quite a few of them were brought to these circumstances by alcoholism or mental illness, but the number of people who are homeless because of unemployment has risen. Sometimes people who lose their jobs or suffer the failure of a business feel too ashamed to face their families in Japanís tradition-bound society. These people exile themselves to one of the many communities of newly homeless people.

Crime is another growing problem. Although Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, Japanese are greatly concerned about recent increases in violent crime and crimes against property. Some fault the growing number of foreigners in Japan for rising crime, but most attribute the problem to the combination of economic recession and the high desirability of consumer goods among the younger generation. A particularly disturbing aspect of the problem reported widely in the Japanese media has been the large increase in prostitution among high school girls. These girls are seeking money for the latest clothing fashions, expensive concert tickets, and other desired items. Organized crime by mobsters known as yakuza continues to be a strong force in Japan, controlling prostitution, pornography, and gambling.

An important long-term social problem in Japan concerns the status of women. The Japanese constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, and Japanese law affords women the same economic and social rights as men. Nevertheless, fewer women than men attend four-year universities, and in general women do not have equal access to employment opportunities and advancement within the ranks of a company or along a career path. Efforts to increase womenís opportunities have enabled more women to succeed in business or professions. However, the attitude that women should stay home to be wives and mothers remains more pervasive in Japan than in many other industrialized countries and is a roadblock to many women who opt for other challenges.

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