The experiences of young people in developed societies such as Japan and the UK have undergone considerable change in the last 30 or so years. Our starting point is that such developments are associated with the globalization of institutions and an individualization of experience, which destabilizes life-course transitions and cultural transmission between generations. However, we continue to assert the importance of the national framework, defined by national cultures and territorial jurisdictions, in mediating global processes. Adapting Connolly's (2005. Pluralism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press) differentiation between types of politics in late modernity, we argue for a distinction to be made between being citizens and becoming citizens. Being a citizen involves integration into pre-existing collective identities such as nation-states which increasingly act to restrict membership to the citizen community. With this in mind, we compare the key sites of social recognition in Japan and the UK for young people and identify some fundamental barriers to citizenship. In addition, we discuss the ways in which conventional social and educational policy responses aimed at integrating young people into work and nation perpetuate their precarious relationship to citizenship. These processes are contrasted with becoming a citizen, which is dynamic, intimately connected to cultural learning and the creation of new civic virtues and sources of recognition.