THE MATERIAL CHILD by Merry White

THE MATERIAL CHILD

Coming of Age in Japan and America
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An enterprising, somewhat impressionistic overview of contemporary adolescence in the US and Japan. White (Sociology/Boston University; The Japanese Educational Challenge, 1986, etc.) contrasts teenage years in the two cultures using a variety of measures based on firsthand observation and more formal sources of data. American and Japanese teenagers may seem superficially similar, she suggests, but their outlooks and daily behavior differ along with the ways they are perceived by the larger populations. In Japan, adolescence is not seen as problematic. Teenagers have less leisure time (the school year is 240 days), focus on the ``examination imperative,'' and tend to be viewed as dependent but bound for maturity and traditional Japanese life. In the US, ``teen'' is a four-letter word, characterized by assorted forms of rebellion and burdened by the mixed messages of ``just say no'' and ``just do it.'' Both groups find solace--and self-definition--in friendships; respond readily to questions about ideals and future plans; and are heavily influenced by marketing and the media. In Japan, market choices tend to reinforce tendencies to conform; in our larger, more diverse society, consumption tends to reinforce differences. Parents of American teenagers may be surprised to learn that Japanese adolescents spend even more time shopping than American teenagers do, primarily because smaller houses as well as custom discourage socializing at home. White repeats important concepts for her American readers (the discrepancy between tatemae--official form--and honne--true reality); includes less familiar but essential aspects of Japanese culture (the prevalence of manga--comic books--and magazines as sources of information); and emphasizes significant differences between the two student populations, including the tendency of Japanese teenagers to keep their sexual activities private (``the sexual relationship is no longer a taboo; what is taboo is the public recognition of the sexual relationship''). An instructive contrast of cultures, written in an almost casual style.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-935035-2
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993