POPULATION OF JAPAN: DECLINES, COSTS OF GRAYING SOCIETY AND EFFORTS TO INCREASE BIRTHS

POPULATION OF JAPAN

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The population of Japan reached 128,056,026---breaking 128 million for the first time---in October 2010. This was only a 0.2 rise from 2005. Japan’s population declined in 2010 by 123,000 people. An estimated 1,194,000 Japanese died, an all-time record, and 1,071,000 babies were born. There was a larger number of summer deaths in July (96,000---8,000 than 2009) and August (97,000---7,000 than 2009) than in other years and demographers said the hot weather contributed Japan’s population decline. The population declined by a record 183,000 in 2009, the population fell by 75,000 in 2009 the steepest decline since the end of World War II.

Population under 15: 13.2 percent (2010, compared to 48 percent in Kenya and 22 percent in the United States). Japan has one of the lowest percentages of young people in the world. Only Italy has a lower percentage. Up to 1955, children accounted for between 33 and 37 percent of the population in Japan. In 2005, the number of children below 15 dropped for the 26th straight year. That year there were 17.38 million children under 15.

Population over 65: 23.2 percent (2010, compared to 3 percent in Kenya and 13 percent in the United States). The average age of the Japanese population is 39.6. The population over 65 was 17.2 percent in 2000 and 14 percent in the 1995 and is expected to be 37.7 percent in 2050. Today almost 10 percent of the population is over 70.

Japan’s population is expected to fall by almost a third to 90 million within 50 years, according to government forecasts. By 2055, more than one in three Japanese will be over 65, as the working-age population falls by over a third to 52 million.

Japan's fertility rate rose 0.02 point to 1.39 in 2010, after leveling off for two years, Kyodo reported, thanks to an increase in births among women in their late 30s and a rise in the number of women with more than one child, population data released by the health ministry showed Wednesday. In 2010, birthrates among women in their late teens and early 20s dropped but rose among those between their late 20s and late 40s, it said. The total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman will bear over her lifetime -- rose after hitting a record low of 1.26 in 2005 and remaining flat at 1.37 in 2008 and 2009, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.[Source: Kyodo, June 1, 2011]

Every person in Japan belongs to a family registry that documents marriage, births and deaths. The registry system was introduced in the Meiji period as means of keeping track of its population. Censuses are taken every five years in Japan. Households are obligated to answer the questions. Even so, census takers often have a rough time. Their main problem is dealing with uncooperative respondents who are difficult to track down and reluctant to divulge personal information and apartment building managers who refuse to grant them access to some residences.

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: POPULATION OF JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BIRTH CONTROL IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE PEOPLE, RACE, AND PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Japanese Demographics Wikipedia ; Dilemma Posed by Japan’s Population Decline japanesestudies.org.uk Statistical Handbook of Japan (Japanese Government Population Statistics) stat.go.jp/english/data and stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/ nenkan ; News stat.go.jp ; Population Projections ipss.go.jp ; National Institute of Population and Social Security Research ipss.go.jp ; What Japan Thinks, a blog with info on demographics and statistics whatjapanthinks.com ;Human Mortality Database mortality.org ; About.com on Okinawan Longevity longevity.about.com ; Okinawan Centenary Study okicent.org

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Japanese People Wikipedia ; What Japan Thinks, a blog with info on demographics and statistics whatjapanthinks.com ; Social Science Japan Newsletter newslet.iss.u-tokyo.ac ; Nipponia, Quarterly Web magazine on Japanese Culture and Life nipponia/archives

Japan's Population Falls 212, 000 in 2012 and 259,000 in 2011

Japan’s population in 2012 fell by about 212,000, the highest natural decrease since World War II, a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey has revealed. The number of babies born in this country last year hit a postwar low of 1,033,000, while the number of deaths came to 1,245,000, the ministry said. The number of deaths is the highest for a single year in the postwar era if the deaths from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami are excluded from the 2011 figures. Cancer, heart failure, pneumonia and strokes remained the major causes of the deaths, according to the survey. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun . January 3, 2012]

Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The number of deaths is expected to keep rising because of the aging of society, a ministry official said. As the number of women is falling, Japan's population is expected to continue to decrease, the official added. In 2011, the number of deaths, including victims of the March 11 disaster, stood at 1,253,066, about 8,000 more than the 2012 figure. In 2012, the total fertility rate, which represents the average number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime, was estimated at a level of 1.39, similar to the preceding year, according to the ministry. [Ibid]

Japan’s population fell by 259,000 in 2011. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry's Current Population Estimates put the population at 127,799,000, down a record 0.2 percent from 2010. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The number of children aged up to 14 against the total population was a record low 13.1 percent, while the number of people aged 65 or older was the highest ever at 23.3 percent. The population estimates, which are based on national censuses carried out every five years, include foreign residents. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 19, 2012]

This is the third time Japan's population has decreased following 2005 and 2009, but the number of births was the lowest ever at 1,073,000. With deaths outnumbering births by 180,000, the population in the natural change category declined for the fifth year in a row. The decrease is widening year by year. According to the estimates, the number of children aged up to 14 totaled 16,705,000, a record low, while the elderly population rose 268,000 from a year ago to 29,752,000, an all-time high. "The figures indicate the pace of the nation's graying is accelerating," an internal affairs ministry official said. [Ibid]

In looking at the child population, working generation (15 to 64) and the elderly, the ministry said the elderly outnumbered the child population in 46 of the 47 prefectures. Okinawa Prefecture was the exception. In Hokkaido and 23 other prefectures, people aged 75 or older outnumbered children. [Ibid]

The impact of the last year's Great East Japan Earthquake and the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were seen in the population estimates, particularly in the number of people who left Japan. Fukushima Prefecture saw the largest decrease in population, with a 1.93 percent decline from a year ago. Iwate Prefecture suffered a 1.21 percent drop, followed by a 1.03 percent decline in Akita Prefecture and a 0.91 percent plunge in Miyagi Prefecture. [Ibid]

In fiscal 2011 (April 2011 to March 2011) the number of births hit a record low of 1,049,553 and the number of deaths was a record high at 1,256,125, partly due to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The natural decline in population, or deaths exceeding births, was another all-time high of 206,572, and was cited as a major factor in the year's population decline. The shrinking population was also driven by a 57,155-person decline due to social factors such as fewer people returning from overseas and fewer newly naturalized citizens. This was the first decline due to social factors in five years. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 9, 2012]

Population decline was marked in prefectures that were severely affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile, the population of Tokyo rose by 36,810 from the previous year, the largest increase among the prefectures. The total population of the nation's three largest metropolitan areas--Tokyo, Nagoya and Kansai--stood at 64,280,810, accounting for a record 50.75 percent of the overall population and showing that the concentration of the population in large urban centers is continuing. [Ibid]

Population Density in Japan

Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world along with Belgium, South Korea and the Netherlands. In Japan, an equivalent of half the population of the entire United States lives in an area the size of California.

Population density: 861 people per square mile (compared to 4 per square mile in Mongolia, 72 per square mile in the United States, and 1,188 per square mile in South Korea).

Four fifths of Japan is mountainous and most of the population is concentrated in huge urban metropolises on the coast. Density on inhabitable land in Japan is five times greater than in Germany and eight times greater than in France. Ten percent of Japan’s population lives in the Tokyo area.

Long Live Japanese

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98-year-old woman
In 2007, Japanese women were the world’s longest-living people for the 22nd year in a row with a a life expectancy of 85.83 years. Japanese men had a life expectancy of 79 years, placing them in second after dropping to forth in 2005. In 2005 the average age of both sexes declined slightly, a reflection of number of flu-related deaths that year, but rebounded back to record-breaking levels in 2006.

The average life expectancy in Japan in 1900 was 44 years. By 2050, the average lifespan of Japanese women is expected to exceed 90 and women over 65 will make up 25 percent of the population. One study predicted that in the year 2300, the average Japanese will live to the age of 106.

Japan has the highest proportion of elderly and the lowest proportion of young people in the world, with people 65 and over making up 21.5 percent of the population in 2007 and people 15 and under making up 13.6 percent of the population. In contrast the proportion of people over 65 was 5.7 percent in 1960 and the proportion of people under 15 was 30.2 percent.

Oldest countries (median age in 1999): 1) Japan (41); 2) Italy (40.2); 3) Germany (39.7); 4) Sweden (39.7). [Source: United Nations Population Division]

In 2003, there were 24.3 million elderly people over 65. Of these 14.3 million were between 65 and 74 and 10 million were over 75. In 2000, the number of people over 65 outnumbered people under 15 for the first time. By the year 2025, 29 percent of the population will be over 65 and 35.7 percent in 2050.

In September 2008, the number of people 70 and over reached 20 million for the first time. By 2050, 15 percent the population is expected to be over 80.

In September 2009, the number if centenarians topped 40,000 for the first time, with 86 percent of them being women. The oldest woman at the time was a 114-year-old woman in Okinawa who did not want to be identified. The oldest man was a 112-year-old man from Kyoto Prefecture.

Boys and Girls in Japan

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The number of male births is declining in Japan as it is in the United States. More males are born than females but the ratio has been steadily declining over the past three decades. In Japan the male to female birth ratio dropped from 107.1 boys for every 100 girls in 1971 to 105.2 per 100 in 2004.

It is not clear why the drop in male births has occurred. Many think it is because many couples prefer girls because they are easier to raise. Some scientists believe the decline may be connected with declining reproductive health of the Japanese male population and this may be caused by environmental toxins such as certain pesticides, heavy metals, solvents or dioxins---a conclusion based on studies that show that men that have been exposed to high levels of toxins father fewer boys.

A preference for boys remains imbedded in the culture. One homemaker told the Asahi Shimbun: “When I became pregnant with my second child, there was the unspoken understanding that I must have a boy. When a test at the advanced stage of my pregnancy suggested that I would have another girl, my mother-in-law looked very disappointed and immediately asked if the test was really reliable...I was shocked by her reaction and started to feel that I had no value as a member of the family unless I gave birth to a boy.”

Population Growth and Decline in Japan

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Japan has one the lowest birthrates in the world even though birth rates have risen slightly in recent years. The average number of children per woman (fertility rate) was 1.34 in 2007, compared to 1.29 in 2006 and 1.26 in 2005, which in turn is compared to 1.19 in Italy and 7.0 in Ethiopia. A rate of 2.1 children per woman is necessary to maintain a population. Because of a demographic quirk, Japan has a surplus of 2.5 million single males between the ages of 30 and 59.

The population peaked in December 2004 at 127.838 million. In 2005, the Japanese population dropped for the first time with the number of deaths exceeding the number births. A census taken in October 2005 found the population totaled 127.75 million down 19,000 from the previous year. Japan’s population declined for a second straight year in 2006. It by 51,000 in 2008 and 18,516 in 2007.

The population fell by 75,000 in 2009 the steepest decline since the end of World War II.

In 2000, Japan dropped from the eighth most populous nation in the world to ninth after China, India, the United States, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 2005 it slipped to 10th place behind Nigeria.

Japan experienced small, brief baby booms from 1948 to 1949 and again from 1971 to 1974 with an average yearly rate above 2 percent until the 1970s. Since 1973 the fertility rate has been steadily declining. In 1966---the Year of the Fiery Horse---there was a dramatic drop in the number of births because girls born that were regarded as wild according to Chinese astrology. The Year of the Fiery Horse is considered to be bad luck for girls. Girls born that year were regarded as future "man eating women." The birthrate in 1966 dropped by 25 percent.

Population growth is shrinking faster than any other country in the world and is falling faster than originally predicted. Demographers originally predicted that the population of Japan would peak at 130 million in 2011 and then decline to 105 million in the year 2050 and drop to 67 million by 2100. Now it looks as if the 130 million mark will never be reached and the population will fall between 82 million and 99 million by 2055.

Population Rises but Number of Japanese Marks 1st Fall

The number of Japanese dropped in the five years to 2010, but Japan's population rose slightly due to an increase in the number of foreigners living here, according to the internal affairs ministry according to a Yomiuri Shimbun article. The total population stood at 128,057,352 as of Oct. 1, 2010, an increase of 289,358, or 0.2 percent, from the census conducted five years earlier. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 28, 2011]

According to the 2010 census, there were 125,358,854 Japanese, a drop of 371,294, or 0.3 percent, from 2005, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said. The number of Japanese dropped for the first time since censuses began separately counting Japanese and non-Japanese in 1970. Only nine prefectures--Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi, Shiga, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa--saw population increases between 2005 and 2010, according to the latest census.

The number of non-Japanese residents rose by 92,532, or 5.9 percent, to 1,648,037 over the five years between the surveys, and the number of people of unidentified nationality rose by 568,120, according to the ministry. Among non-Japanese, there were 460,459 Chinese, accounting for 27.9 percent and the largest proportion overall, eclipsing the 423,273 South and North Koreans for the first time.

Children Per Couple Falls below 2.0

Reflecting the falling birthrate in Japan, the average number of children a married couple has dipped below 2.0 in 2010 for the first time since the government started the survey in 1940, an article in the Asahi Shimbun reported. The average stood at 1.96, down 0.13 from the previous survey conducted in 2005, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research reported in October 2011. The government has also conducted a survey on the average number of children delivered by one woman, including an unmarried one, in her lifetime. It stood at 1.39 in 2010. [Source: Daishiro Inagaki, Asahi Shimbun, October 22, 2011]

The survey has been conducted once every five years. The latest survey was conducted in June 2010 of 9,050 married couples, whose wives were younger than 50. A total of 7,847 couples gave valid responses. Of the 9,050 married couples in the latest survey, 6.4 percent had no children, up from 5.6 percent in the previous survey. In addition, 15.9 percent had only one child, up from 11.7 percent. The total percentage of couples who had no children and who had only one child exceeded 20 percent for the first time.

In 2011, the number of people per household in Tokyo fell below 2.00 for the first time on record, the Tokyo metropolitan government said. As of January 1, 2012 the capital had a population of 12,686,067 living in approximately 6.368 million households, based on local resident registration data. This works out to 1.99 people per household. [Source: Kyodo, March 16, 2012]

Kyodo reported: “While the number of people per household in Tokyo's 23 wards already fell below 2.00 in 2005, the decreasing trend has spread to the general metropolitan area. The number of elderly Tokyoites living alone after the death of their spouses is increasing outside the 23 wards, a metropolitan government official said. [Ibid]

Reasons for Population Decline in Japan

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The main reasons for the population decline are that families are having less children and women are getting married at a later age or not getting married at all. Other factors include pessimism about the future, worries about children turning out as bad seeds, and concerns about the high cost of rearing children.

A government poll found that 90 percent of young people want to get marred and have two or more children. But many people in the 20s are not getting married and having children because of the difficulty getting regular jobs. People working part time find their income too low and unreliable and employment too insecure to think about raising a family. Young married couples are not having children because of the burden of education costs.

A survey in 2009 by the Japanese government Cabinet office found 40 percent of people didn’t feel the need for kids even after they got married.

The government provides relatively little support for families. While providing some of the most generous benefits to the elderly, it offers some of the lowest benefits to children in the industrialized world. Fiscal spending on families as a percentage of GDP is around 0.5 percent, compared to nearly 4 percent in Denmark, over 3 percent in Norway and 2.5 percent in Hungary. In these countries the government provides generous child care benefits that in some cases include assistance for housing costs.

Average Age of First-Time Mothers Rises above 30

The average age at which first-time mothers gave birth was 30.1 in 2011, exceeding the age of 30 for the first time, according to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics. The average age of first-time mothers was 25.7 in 1975, and 29.1 in 2005, rising to 29.9 in 2010. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2012]

The number of births in 2011 decreased by 20,606 from the previous year to 1,050,698, a record low since the ministry started keeping the statistics in 1947. The drop is partly attributed to a downward trend in the number of women giving birth at 34 or younger. Demographically, births by women under 35 are believed to greatly influence the total number of births.However, the number of women giving birth at 35 or older has been on the rise. [Ibid]

The total fertility rate (TFR), an estimate of the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime, was 1.39, the same as the previous year. The TFR remained unchanged, even while the number of births declined, because the number of women also decreased. [Ibid]

The number of women that remain single into their 30 has more than doubled since 1980. Although many women do eventually get married (only 4 percent of women over 45 have never been married) many live their lives as if they will never get married. Demographers see this trend as perhaps the primary reason birthrates in Japan have plunged to such low levels.

According to a report Women on Strike by the securities firm CLSA because the number of children per married Japanese woman has remained about the same for three decades “the decrease in fertility is due almost entirely to an increase of women of reproductive age not getting married, and not having children.”

Hidenori Sakanaka, head of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “My view is that a low birthrate is in unavoidable as a civilization matures...Other industrially advanced countries have also turned into societies with low birthrates as they have matured. Advancements in education, increased urbanization, the empowerment of women and diversification of lifestyles also exemplify the maturity of a society.”

Effects of Population Decline in Japan

Japan is aging faster than other nation: the result of the one world's smallest birth rates combined with the world's longest living people. The rate is twice as fast as in other industrialized countries.

Japan’s aging population will be a huge burden on social services. Health, welfare and social security costs rose 45 percent between 1991 and 2000 and expected to surge 100 percent by 2025. Hospitals are already overburdened with seniors who stay for months and nursing homes are in short supply. The costs of providing care is rising all the time. In 2000, 1.2 million were bedridden, half for three years or more.

The Japanese government has designated care of the elderly as one of the country's biggest problems. It is sometimes referred to as the "1-2-4" phenomena, a reference to families with one child, two parents and four grandparents.

The government offers a wide range of social services for older people in their homes, including providing workers who will cook meals and bath people who need help. In the future there is expected to be more demand for these kinds of services and their cost will be more of a strain on the government.

Rural communities have already started to become deserted. See Rural Life.

'Super-Gray' Japan in 2060

The Japan will become a "super-gray" society in 2060, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, as people aged 65 or over will account for 39.9 percent of the population that year, according to a survey conducted by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry institution. The nation's total fertility rate---the average number of children each woman will have in her lifetime---will be 1.35 in 2060, up 0.09 points from the previous survey released in 2006, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 31, 2011]

However, the nation's total population will continue to drop, from 128.06 million in 2010 to 86.74 million in 2060. The nation's population 50 years on is estimated every five years in tandem with a national census. The estimate is used as basic data for various indexes such as public pension finances and economic growth.

This time, the institute made three types of estimates based on the census conducted in 2010: moderate, optimistic and pessimistic. In its moderate estimate, the institute revised upward the long-term outlook for the total fertility rate after it recovered to 1.39 in 2010 from the record low of 1.26 in 2005.

The institute said the recovery of the total fertility rate in recent years can be attributed to women in their mid-30s deciding to have children after previously being reluctant due to worsening economic conditions. The total fertility rate is expected to drop again in the years ahead, but eventually move upward and reach 1.35 in 2060, the institute said. However, the population will continue to shrink, as at least 2.07 children per woman are necessary to maintain the population.

In 2048, the population is expected to fall below 100 million, two years earlier than the previous estimate. The average longevity of Japanese men is expected to increase to 84.19 years in 2060 from 79.64 in 2010, and women's lifespans will also rise, to 90.93 from 86.39. The number of people aged 65 or older will peak in 2042 with 38.78 million, and then drop to 34.64 million in 2060. The number of juveniles aged under 15 was 16.84 million, or 13.1 percent of the total population, in 2010. The figure will drop to 7.91 million, or 9.1 percent, in 2060, according to the institute. The working-age population--those aged from 15 to 64--will drop from 81.73 million, or 63.8 percent of the total population, in 2010 to 44.18 million, or 50.9 percent, in 2060.

Rate of Japan's Aging Unparalleled in World

Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The aging of society is accelerating at an unprecedented pace in Japan---faster than any other country in history. The percentage of Japan's population aged 65 or older, or population aging rate, reached 20.1 percent in 2005, the world's highest figure, due mainly to advances in medical technologies. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 1, 2012]

According to U.N. statistics, a population aging rate of 7 percent indicates the significant aging of a society. The number of years it took for Japan's 7 percent population aging rate to double to 14 percent, the international benchmark for identifying an "aged society," was 24. This figure is peculiarly short when compared with corresponding figures for France (115 years), Sweden (85) and Britain (47).

It is said the total fertility rate, the expected number of children born per woman during her childbearing years, should be no less than 2.07 to keep a country's population from declining Japan fell below this rate in 1974 at 2.05. The nation's population began dwindling in 2005, with no end to the overall downtrend in sight, although total fertility rates have fluctuated slightly in subsequent years.

Despite its rapidly expanding economy, China will also enter an era of population shrinkage in the not-too-distant future. China's population is projected to peak at about 1.395 billion in 2025, from then on heading downward to about 941 million in 2100.Some countries, however, have had success in raising their total fertility rates. In France, the figure shrank to 1.66 in 1993, but increased to 2.01 in 2008. It is said a primary key to France's success is government policies centering around child-rearing allowances, which have been coupled with employment assistance for women since the 1990s, as well as other measures to help reduce the burdens of delivery and child rearing.

Economic Costs of a Graying Population in Japan

null Health care and nursing home costs in 2025 are expected to be almost $1 trillion, about 12 percent of GDP

A declining birthrate and an older population means that as time goes on there will more retired people and relatively less working people, which means that working people are increasingly called upon to support the retirees with their labor. Over time there will also be too few people to care for the elderly, fill the manufacturing jobs that drive the economy and even grow food to feed people. In November 2011, the Economist magazine ran a special report on Japan. The subject was Japan's declining population due to the aging of society combined with low birth rates. The fact that the British magazine discussed this subject meant that the world was interested in how Japan, the leader in the field, will deal with its problem.

Between 1985 and 2005 the number old elderly doubled while the number of children fell by a third. By one count the Japanese workforce will shrink by 6.1 million by 2025. This will put a lot pressure on younger people to take care of older people. Japan will have allow large numbers of immigrants in if it wants to maintain economic growth.

The work force is expected to fall 15 percent over the next 20 years and halve in the next 50 years. Currently, about 70 percent of the population in Japan is of working age. By 2025, if current trends continue, the figure will drop to 60 percent. That means that in 2025 three working people will not only have to support themselves they also have to support two people who aren't working. If the trend continues, Japan's working population, which was 87 million in 1995, will have shrunk to 52 million by 2050. Japan's population pyramid, or age structure diagram, will then resemble a wide-mouth urn. The nation's power will wane, and its pension and social security systems will go bankrupt, the report warned.

A shrinking, graying population is likely to cause the economy will shrink. There will be fewer skilled people entering the job market. There will be less savings. This means there will be less money for loans and investment and this will make it harder for companies to grow and create new jobs for young people. Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Some of the consequences have been long foreseen, like deflation: as more Japanese retire and live off their savings, they spend less, further depressing Japan’s anemic levels of domestic consumption. But a less anticipated outcome has been the appearance of generational inequalities.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, October 16, 2010]

Japan’s aging population is also widely seen as an obstacle to innovation and economic competitiveness. As the population gets older and fewer young people are born there are less young people around to come up with fresh new ideas and more cranky old people around to pooh pooh the fresh ideas that appear.

Japan will probably have allow large numbers of immigrants in if it wants to maintain economic growth.

Efforts to Increase the Population in Japan

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In 1994 the government began taking measures to increase the number of children. The emphasis was on increasing the amount of day care and expanding child allowance. In the early and mid 2000s attention began shifting to “work-life balance” and reducing the amount of time that couples spent working so they could have more time to raise children. The "New Angel Plan," launched in 2000, intended to make child-bearing more appealing by improving working conditions for mothers and providing better day care for children.

Many companies provide maternity leave for the first child but are less favorable to offering time off for additional children. One woman, who was told by her boss she resign if she took leave to have a second child, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "Although people talk about the need to improve working conditions and make it easier for women to have children, that’s just not the reality."

According to Japanese law mothers can take an eight-week maternity leave and receive 60 percent of their salary from the national health insurance plan. The law requires companies to give parents time off until a child reaches the age of one. The parent who takes time off gets 40 percent of his or her salary in the form on unemployment

Doing its part to boost the birth rate, the Bandai Corp has offered each employee around $10,000 for every baby they had after their first child.

Still not much is done to guarantee women enough maternity leave or give them their jobs back after they have a child and provide adequate day care. As it stands 70 percent of women quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child.

Cheaper education, improved day car for toddlers, financial assistance for higher education for families with more than one child. and free regular heath check ups for women have been suggested as ways to address Japan’s declining birth rate. Experts say that an effort has to be made to create more full time jobs. One survey in 2003 found that birthrates are highest among couples in which both member are managers.

French demographic expert Jacques Attali told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Demographics is...a long term policy which should be very stable, and it’s based on a lot of different factors: housing, kindergarten, revenue from women, the image of children as a good image for society. All that is important...Housing, giving incentives to women to have children by giving them time with their children, to be compensated without working, family subsides, have to be implemented. You need 10 years of action for it to work...But when women do not receive any incentive to stay at home, to raise their children, and they are not covered by the cost of pregnancy, there are no incentives for them to have children.”

Child Birth and Efforts to Increase the Population in Japan

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In the early 2000s, families received about $50 a month for their first and second child and $100 for each subsequent child. As part of an effort to boost fertility rates the government later raised the payment to $100 a month for their first and second child up to age 2. Parents with three children will still receive $100 for the third child in accordance with previous rules.

Childbirth until recently was not covered by medical insurance because it was not regarded as an illness. In November 2008, the Japanese central government announced that it would cover the cost of childbirth with a payment of $3,500 to help boost Japan’s sagging birth rate with the policy going into affect in 2009. Before that many municipalities and local government bodies covered the cost. The payment for childbirth will be raised to $3,800 in January 2009 and to $4,200 in October 2009. As part of the plan the government will make prenatal check-ups free.

In 2008, the fertility rate increased for the third year in a row to 1.37, a 0.03 increase. The increase was attributed to increase n the number of women giving birth in their 30s while decreasing number giving birth in their 20s leveled off.

Fertility Treatments and Surrogate Mothers in Japan

Women who have trouble getting pregnant can visit one of nearly 500 medical institutions that offer in vitro fertilization (compared to only 20 that offer the same service in Britain), or resort to home remedies and superstitions such as bathing in hot springs, undergoing acupuncture, taking dietary supplements, buying special amulets, sleeping facing south or northwest, eat special sweet bean-past buns, and surrounding themselves with pictures, cushions and stuffed Winnie the Poohs.

The laws on fertility treatments and surrogate births are far behind the technology. In 2003 the government tried to pave the way for the donation of eggs and embryos and banning of surrogacy but the legalization get bogged in debate over different issues and was not passed. As a result the laws on many issues are unclear.

Currently Japan has no laws on surrogate birth. A Japanese academic panel has recommended that surrogate births be banned but it was divided on whether women involved should punished. Drafting legislation looks like it will take some time.

As of early 2008 there hade been eight surrogate pregnancies in Japan with four of them involving mothers giving birth to children with their daughters’s eggs. Others were using sisters as surrogates

In October 2006, a 52-year-old Japanese woman gave birth to a child developed from an egg from her daughter and sperm from the daughter’s husband. The daughter had her womb removed and was unable to have children. It was the first time such a surrogate birth took place in Japan. In February 2008, a mother in her late 50s gave birth to a surrogate baby for her daughter who was in her late 20s. The surrogate mother gave birth through a C-section after a 36 week pregnancy In August 2008, a 61-year-old Japanese woman gave birth. She became pregnant with a fertilized egg donated from her daughter at a clinic in Nagano.

Some couples with problems having children have sought surrogate mothers abroad, particularly the United States. A famous Japanese television personality had twins using an American surrogate mother. In October 2007, a 60-year-old Japanese woman became pregnant with a fertilized egg donated from the United States.

More Immigrants to Deal with Japan’s Population Woes

Many believe the solution to Japan’s population problem is letting in more immigrants. Hidenori Sakanaka, director general of the private think tank Japan Immigration Policy Institute, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “We believe that to effectively cope with a crisis that threatens the nation’s existence, Japan must become an “immigration powerhouse; by letting manpower from around the world enter the country...By allowing people from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds too mingle together, a new breed of culture, creativity and energy will arise, which will surely renew and revitalize Japan.

Sakanaka proposes that Japan accept about 10 million immigrants over the next 50 years in order to make up for the labor shortage and lighten the economic burdens caused by its shrinking population. Sakanaka wrote. “If this proposal is employed, the 10 million immigrants, most of who will be young workers, will lessen the burden to young Japanese in funding social welfare programs for the elderly. The new immigrants will be “comrades” not competition in tackling the challenges of a graying society and a declining population....The immigrants will also serve as a driving force in converting ths homogenous and uniform society into one with diversity, where a galaxy of talents people will interact to create a vigorous multiethnic society...The world will surely welcome the opening of this country’s doors to immigrants as a “revolution of Japan”...This is the making of a new nation--- that could develop into a change as radical as the Meiji restoration.”

Sakanaka said his proposal would mean increasing the number of foreign residents fivefold to about 10 percent of Japan’s population. As of the end of 2009, the 2.19 million registered foreign residents made up about 1.7 percent of the population, according to the Justice Ministry.” “Japan has long been a rather homogenous country. I believe by gathering a diversity of ethnicities we can become an even better society with a new sense of values and inspirations,” the ex-bureaucrat told Kyodo. “Immigration-related businesses can also help stimulate the economy.” [Source: Kyodo, November 22, 2010]

Kyodo reported: “But while Sakanaka’s proposal was adopted in an immigration plan drafted in 2008 by lawmakers of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party, actual implementation is expected to face high hurdles. Public opinion, such as stereotypical fears that immigration leads to more crime, is unlikely to change overnight. Sakanaka suggests that immigrants be given Japanese language and vocational training at local schools that are under-enrolled, and that they be provided with job search assistance.” “I do not intend to say they should come and work as cheap labor. Unlike foreign workers who are to return eventually to their own countries, immigrants come with the expectation to settle permanently,” Sakanaka said. “’so as long as we treat them properly, they will contribute to society.” [Ibid]

Sakanaka also admitted that more has to be done to eradicate discrimination against foreigners, such as educating Japanese children from a young age on how to get along with people of different races. “Conflicts between the majority and the minority will remain,” he said. “Japanese people too must change and prepare themselves toward coexisting with multiculturalism.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: Japan Zone, Ray Kinnane

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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