It's all unknown, because the way Japanese college kids started life has shifted underneath them like one of Tokyo's earthquakes. This is how it used to work: a year before you were to graduate, the companies would come recruiting. They assigned you to a department. You had a job. Forty years later, you retired.
No more. "I'm a freeta," Hattori explains. That's a new word, referring to people who float from job to job, dabbling in one dead-end, low-skill position after another. It's putting a nice spin on what used to be called loser. That's O.K. with Hattori. It's even cool. Hattori graduated a year ago—March 2000—from Yokohama National University, a prestigious public school. "I never really looked seriously for a job," he says. His parents, both government bureaucrats, pay his rent. "I'm optimistic about my future," he says. "It isn't like I am going to starve."