Agence France-Presse, July 22, 2004
Japan facing de-population
as social values change
TOKYO -- Confronted with a record low birth rate
and increasing numbers of elderly, Japan is
trying to revive the desire to have children
to combat the long-term threat of de-population
predicted by demographers.
Japan's 2003 fertility rate of 1.29 children
per woman, announced last month by the Ministry
of Health, Labor and Welfare is the country's
lowest ever, and demographers estimate that
by 2050 the country's population could drop
to 100 million from its present level of 127
Fifty years later, they say that figure could
fall to 64 million and warn that if unchecked,
this trend could cause Japan's population to
collapse within a few centuries.
Among the prime causes are the sharp increase
in both late marriages and in Japanese choosing
to remain single, while the year-on-year drop
in birth rate since 1990 has also contributed
to the decline, said Tetsuo Yoshioka, who heads
the health ministry unit dealing with the falling
According to Yoshioka, both Japanese men and
women are marrying for the first time two years
later on average than their counterparts in
At the same time, the numbers of Japanese remaining
unmarried have exploded. Non-married men between
the ages of 25 and 29 jumped from 48.3 percent
in 1975 to 69.3 percent in 2000.
For women, the increase is much more dramatic
-- some 54 percent of the same age group was
single in 2000, compared with only 20.9 percent
"Since the passage in 1985 of the law on
equal work opportunities for the sexes, these
women have the chance to work and earn their
living, meaning they have no incentive to marry
nor have children," said Takayo Yamamoto,
an expert on societal norms and lifestyles.
"On top of that, their parents do not push
them towards marriage at all costs, as was
the case traditionally when marriage was regarded
as the "hanamichi" (the path to glory)
Having children out of wedlock is also frowned
upon in socially conservative Japan, a health
ministry official said.
"To have children and raise them without
being married is not done, and is viewed very
negatively," the official said.
"Marriage is an essential precondition for
be integrated into society as a parent."
For Junko Sakai, a leading writer and author
of the bestseller "Howl of the Loser Dogs,"
an account of the plight of single career women,
the sharp drop in the birth rate, especially
in the last two years, is a reflection of increasing
individualization in Japanese society.
"These women have become more individualistic
and the men balk at sacrificing their freedom
on the altar of marriage and fatherhood,"
she said, while noting the "anguish"
this causes Japanese women.
"Without role models, these women are lost
and ill prepared for the role of motherhood.
Japan is one of those rare countries where
rearing children is perceived as more of a
burden than a pleasure."
According to Yamamoto, "These women rationalize
too much rather than listen to their instincts."
Faced with this looming demographic catastrophe,
in 2003 the government introduced legislation
to aid the development of future generations
and "restore the desire to have children,"
that will take effect next April.
The law includes some 30 measures to "encourage
solidarity, the education of children, and
stress the crucial role of the family and to
enable women to reconcile work and family life."
"Let us create a favorable environment --
parents should be proud to raise children,"
is the health ministry's official position.
But even then, women would have to "want
to have children with men who are more and
more effeminate," observed Sakai in a
wry comment on one of the new tendencies of
Japanese society, particularly evident in advertising.
<< Agence France Presse -- 7/22/04 >>
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