Japanese Vernacular: I-Turn, U-Turn, We all Turn!
I’m sure most of you have heard of a u-turn: that thing drivers do when they want to go back the way they came fromーsometimes on a road where such actions are both illegal and dangerous and pedestrians almost pay for this misdemeanor with their lives. Ahem. Forgive the dramatic explanationーit’s the direct result of almost getting run over by a u-turning taxi driver in Osaka, twice. Not only did he run a red light and swoop by me as I was crossing the crosswalk, but he came back for me a second time when I was almost on the other side thanks to his u-turn! Adventurous for sure, recommendable? Not quite.
Anyway, today’s u-turns, related “i-turns” and “j-turns” have nothing to do with literal traffic. Instead they describe a rising trend among young Japanese people who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything in their lives for their jobs.
I-Turn? U-Turn? Why Turn?
Before sink our teeth into this topic, here’s some handy vocabulary to get us started:
脱サラ The Datsu-Sara
A combination of the kanji character 脱 (だつ/datsu), which means to remove, reverse, undress or free oneself from, and shortened form of the katakana word サラリーマン (salaryman), which a basic term for any kind of office worker. The datsu-sara is, as it describes, a salaryman who’s escaped from the rat race and has moved onto doing something different. Lots of ramen shop owners/workers are datsu-sara, and you can find them on farms, in shops, running their own businessesーanything that frees them from what they didn’t like in their old life. These guys (and girls!) are the most typical u-turners, i-turners and j-turners.
Uターン: The U-Turn
Those who were raised in the countryside go to Tokyo or other larger cities for uni and work, only to return back home later on are u-turners. This is becoming increasingly common among mid-career professionals, who are looking for a safer and more familiar environment to get married in and/or have and raise children. The main reason for their return is a change in priorities and a higher quality of life outside of the rat race.
Iターン: The I-Turn
I-turners are those who have been raised in urban and city areas and move out to the countryside for the first timeーeither because of a job transfer, or more recently, as a lifestyle choice. (For example: YJ, being a Tokyo boy, would be an i-turner if we ever moved to Okinawa. <- I can dream, can’t I?)
Jターン: The J-Turn
People who have moved to the city and then moved back out to the countryーbut somewhere else other than where they are originally from.
Oターン: The O-Turn
Describes those that tried to do a u/i/j-turn, but were unsuccessful, and returned back to city life and the life of a salaryman or office lady.
What This Means for Japan
With a low birthrate and even lower immigration, Japan is expected to feel the effects of a decrease in population. This is already an issue in rural areasーas in many other countriesーyoung people head out of the big city and don’t come back, leaving villages and small towns to slowly die out. The u-turners, i-turners and j-turners may be a welcome injection of fresh faces into the countryside, as more people decide that the traditional corporate life isn’t for them. While it’s probably too early to say if this is a lastingーor even statistically significantーtrend, it’s been in the news enough recently to gain nationwide attention.
Ama in Shimane Prefecture started its own revitalization campaign, leading to a surge in tourism to the remote island area. Also, in the last 10 years, Ama has invited, encouraged and supported about 437 i-turners (in their 20s, 30s and 40s both with and without accompanying families) who have moved thereーthe majority of whom have stayed. With a fresh perspective on Ama’s wealth in resources and potential appeal to tourists, i-turners and native residents have worked together to stimulate the economy themselves.
Several areas in Hokkaido have been dealing with their own rapidly changing demographics by inviting longterm visitors and promoting conferences and other events in the area in the summerーHokkaido’s cool summers are a welcome respite for Honshu’s muggy and hot sweatfests.
Koichi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku is also taking advantage of these trends and launched a cheesy (but in a good way!) campaign to encourage i-turners and j-turners alike to consider the area for their escape from the daily grind. Check out their funky video featuring governmental employees in sunglasses, singing, dancing and more!
As mentioned, it’s hard to say if this trend will continue, but I can’t see it being a bad thing if it does. Tokyo is overpopulated anyway, and there is so much more to Japan than its capital city. I’m a great supporter of rural areas getting more attention and being able to stimulate the local economy themselves. I hope this will continue, and hopefully lead to a shift in priorities for both companies and the population in general.
What do you think about this trend? Would you rather live in the city or the countryside?