According to the fabulous BBC Radio programme A History of the World in 100 Objects, it’s because an uncovered mirror attracts bad luck
July 14, 2010 at 2:40 am (Japanese education)
“Only one student from Japan entered Harvard University’s freshman class last year, bringing the total number of full-time Japanese undergraduates to five, compared to a total of 36 from China and 42 from South Korea”
South Korea being a country with a much smaller population and substantially lower per capita income.
“While 33 percent of men and 23.9 percent of women in their 60s and older said they would have some aversion to either themselves or their spouses going to work overseas, the share of people with that sentiment reached 42.9 percent and 38.9 percent respectively for people in their 20s”
both quotes from “Too Tall for Japan?”, the Meanwhile column in the International Herald Tribune by the always excellent Kumiko Makihara
The first idea that popped into my head was a lack of ambition, common in most countries that have reached a certain level of prosperity. No lack of effort at getting into Todai (Tokyo University) though!
It’s certainly true that Japanese get a lot of suspicion and general shit if they’ve been living or working abroad and then work in a Japanese company in Japan, with “We don’t do that here in Japan” being used as a sure-fire way of shooting down all their ideas, but not sure if that’s the biggest influence or not. With the younger generation, I think it’s just a general hatred of anything that could be difficult or uncomfortable, as if the rest and relaxation that starts after entrance exams should last for life rather than just the 4 years of university. I remember so many newspaper stories that saw the rejection of the hard work of their parents’ generation as a new hope for Japan, but seems to me that they want all the rewards that their parents got (something that is happening to nobody in any developed nation) with none of the sacrifices, and are far less free-thinking than their parents were. Same is true of Spain, though.
My mother in law tells me that Japanese dramas used to be that melodramatic too, so it both fills a hole in the market and has that vital element of natsukashii (nostalgia).