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Just like they do in many other countries, adults in Japan like to periodically grumble about “kids today” and the simple things they can’t do that previous generations could. Sometimes we can sympathize with the exasperated grown-ups. After all, who doesn’t get frustrated when faced with one of these modern kids who can’t put in a full day’s work without whining, show his elders the respect they deserve, or start a fire by himself?

Wait, what was that last one again?

Zojirushi, the Osaka-based manufacturer of thermoses and kitchen appliances such as rice cookers and hot water dispensers, has released the results of a recent survey it conducted regarding the lifestyle and skills of elementary school students, which in Japan would be composed of children between the ages of six and 12. In May, the company polled 330 mothers of elementary school-age kids from in and around Tokyo, then compared their answers to those from a nearly identical study Zojirushi performed exactly 20 years earlier, in May of 1995.

Seeing as how Zojirushi is in the business of making machines and other items that perform kitchen tasks for their users, the questions were primarily focused on whether or not children could take care of such things themselves. The ostensible logic would be that anything the kids can’t do on their own is something their moms have to do for them, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could hand that chore off to a Zojirushi-manufactured product instead?

Overall, the mothers’ answers point to the kids of 2015 being quite a bit less handy in the kitchen than their 1995 contemporaries. While in 1995 50.7 percent of kids could open a can with a manual can opener, that number has since dropped to 20.7. Likewise, 36.3 percent of the mothers in the original study said their kids had the necessary coordination to peel an apple using a knife (since eating the skin of an apple is almost as unheard of in Japan as eating that of a grape), but a mere 10.1 percent of mothers today believe their children are up to the task.

But the biggest drop was seen when Zojirushi asked the mothers if their offspring could light a fire using a match. In 1995, this was apparently considered a fairly necessary ability for young kids, perhaps due to lower-tech cooking ranges requiring the flame to be manually lit, and 58.9 percent of kids could handle such low-level pyrotechnics.

In the latest survey, though, that figure plummeted to just 18.1 percent. Moreover, 68.8 percent of mothers said they’ve never asked their young children to perform the task for them. A bit of simple arithmetic tells us that a contrasting 31.2 percent of mothers have asked their kids to get a fire going, a figure much higher than the 18.1 percent of kids who could successfully do so.

▼ Zojirushi doesn’t specify whether that means 13.1 percent of kids couldn’t get the match to flare up or simply torched something other than what their moms wanted them to.

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The easy scapegoat for this is kids’ increased contact with technology. After all, the more time they spend more time playing video games, talking on their cellphones, and wasting time/soaking up vital knowledge on the Internet, the less time they have for peeling apples, opening up delicious canned goods, and setting junk on fire like kids did in the good old days, right?

Except, comparing Zojirushi’s two surveys suggest that kids of today spend more time outdoors than they did 20 years ago. 79.7 of the 2015 mothers said their children often play outside, a noticeable increase from the 67.9 percent who said the same in 1995. And it’s not like the kids of 2015 are only stepping outside to look for free Wi-Fi hotspots or hunt augmented reality Pokémon either. 75.6 percent of 2015 mothers said their kids have “gotten covered with mud while playing,” while in 1995 only 72 percent did.

Hmm…an uptick in kids getting covered with mud because they played outside, and a drop in the number that can strike a match and light a fire. Maybe Japanese kids aren’t becoming less self-sufficient, but just clumsier.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Jin
Top image: Wikipedia/Heidas
Insert images: Pakutaso, Gatag/Jason Pero