How Can the Public Service Improve the Uncertain Transition of Youth into Adulthood? a Case Study of Educational Support Centers in Japan

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: F204
Distributed Paper
Kumiko HIGUCHI , Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan
In Japan, the uncertain transition into adulthood for some young people is recognized as the problem of futoko: a term that refers to youths who have been absent from their school for over 30 days in a single year. A person with experience of futoko tends to have difficulty in advancing to a higher education or obtaining a job, and may become isolated from society. Futoko shares similarity with hikikomori, as both refer to a youth’s withdrawal from the public sphere. In contrast to hikikomori, however, futoko youths are formally registered in school, and the educational administration agency therefore attempts to become involved with them.

This paper examines the governmental service for futoko adolescents, with the aim to clarify the factors constricting the transition of this age group to school or work. We focus on the Educational Support Centers (ESC) program, which is the most extensive and longest-running policy of Japanese Ministry of Education for futoko juveniles. Futoko has been a topic of interest for many Japanese sociologists, however ESCs have received little attention to date. Using interview data from instructors of ESCs in four cities, we examine how the staffs approach futoko youths.

The major findings are summarized below. First, although instructors find young people lack basic social skills, such as taking a bus or train, they have difficulty stepping into these youths’ private lives because of limited authority. Second, as the background of lacking social skills, young people are often plagued by familial problems or economic difficulties that make it harder for instructors to improve their situations.

This study demonstrates that governmental support makes the phenomenon of uncertain transition into adulthood more visible, but it confronts the dilemma of how (and to what extent) the public service can intervene in the private problems that underlie futoko.