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Dystopian Japan doomed to impotent stagnation if not ultimate extinction, says magazine

20 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

Japan: aging, shrinking, weakening. Is there a foothold on this slippery slope down? No, says journalist Masashi Kawai, writing in Shukan Shincho (Jan 19).

The magazine’s headline is “Dystopian Japan.” “Dystopian:” a bleak word for a harsh world. It suggests technology rampant, rule totalitarian, humanity submerged. The dystopia presented here is less extreme. Democracy survives, technology has not yet mastered us, humanity remains human. But the nation, if Kawai sees true, is doomed – to impotent stagnation if not ultimate extinction.

The demography, he says, is inescapable. It’s not only soaring life spans versus plunging birth rates. It’s the precipitous decline in the number of women of child-bearing age. They are the source – barring mass immigration, which he does not discuss – of potential renewal. The numbers themselves tell against it. 85.5 percent of births in 2021 were to women aged 25-39, of whom there are 9.43 million. In 25 years their number will be down to 7.1 million – the number of girls now aged 0-14. Suppose, optimistically, that the currently rising disinclination to marry and have children – owing to economic constraints, social acceptance of alternative lifestyles and psychological adaptation to both – reverses itself. Even so, a baby boom would hardly follow. Children, it seems, are an endangered species.

Japan’s depopulation is outpacing projections. Annual births had routinely been measured in millions – 2.09 million in 1973. Then came the “million shock” of 2016: 972,424. By 2030 it would dip below 800,000, the government-affiliated National Institute of Population and Social Security Research forecast in 2017. That was alarming. Not alarming enough: 2022’s births were an estimated 773,000.

The millions born in the 1970s are aging, their parents dying. Their houses? Empty, many of them, abandoned and falling into ruin. 13.6 percent of Japanese houses – 8.489 million – are vacant, government figures show.

 Irreversible depopulation demands two-pronged action, Kawai writes – short-term and long. Short-term measures include financial aid to families with or planning children, subsidized fertility treatment, subsidized daycare, subsidized education, workplace reform to accommodate working mothers, and so on. They are important but must not dominate the agenda, as Kawai says they do under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, charged here with neglecting the long-term necessity of preparing adaptation to the social disruptions inevitable in a nation aging more rapidly than any nation ever has.

What disruptions? They have long been visible in outline: the dying countryside, the waning economy, the draining of youthful energy from innovation, production, consumption and fun as the nursing care and medical needs of the elderly grow overwhelming. Covid-19 highlighted a related issue: the rising political influence of the numerically surging elderly.

Electoral calculus was not the only factor involved in measures that disrupted young lives to protect old. Vulnerability to viral rampage rises with age. Elderly lives were at stake. The fact remains, the restrictions on movement that helped protect the old stifled young lives for three crucial years. Jobs were lost, careers stalled, social life quashed. Marriages that might have occurred didn’t – 110,000 of them during Covid’s first two years, it has been calculated. How many children would those marriages have produced?

 A modern nation sinks or swims on its economy. What are shrinking Japan’s economic prospects? Shrinking, says Kawai. The domestic market is contracting. The elderly consume less. Houses, cars, furniture and electronics are things we buy when young – hoping they will last us into old age, as they sometimes actually do, and when they don’t we often find we can live without them. The medicines and social services consumed by the elderly do not add up to a thriving domestic market. There are exports, of course, but Japan, Kawai notes, is more dependent on domestic sales than other developed nations. Japan’s exports in 2022 accounted for 12.7 percent of its gross domestic product – versus Germany’s 35.9 percent and Italy’s 26.3 percent.

A resource-poor country like Japan must innovate. Its postwar economic surge depended on it, encouraged it, throve on it. Innovation en masse demands youthful vigor. This is perhaps the most critical casualty of the longevity revolution. It’s not only youth’s declining numbers. It’s also the increasing precariousness of such jobs as there are in an economy turning ever more decisively away from secure full-time employment to part-time workers who know they may be dismissed at a moment’s notice for the slightest failure – or without it, for that matter. Constant fear of losing your livelihood does not feed innovative fire. 

Rounding out the bleak picture are the closing down of local train lines grown uneconomical; crumbling roads, bridges, water pipes and sewage systems that local governments no longer have the tax base to maintain; aging and recruit-starved police forces; and the premature aging of such youth as there is as incentive and opportunity wither in an environment that no longer provides essential nourishment. Throughout history, Japanese and world, youth has been the rare precious natural resource that is naturally self-renewing. In Japan, it no longer is.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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There are so many options to revert that process, but of course I’m not asked or entitied to bring ideas up and a few others with ideas or concepts the same. So like for the big rest also for me it’s easier to complain, criticize or shed tears and to give in to that worst option for ‘destiny’ or remaining timespan. If no turnaround is wanted or accepted then there’s nothing to do on it.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

J-Gov needs to Strongly Recommend having 4 children at least.

We'll see all Japanese woman pregnant, abiding their national duty.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

is more dependent on domestic sales than other developed nations. Japan’s exports in 2022 accounted for 12.7 percent of its gross domestic product – versus Germany’s 35.9 percent and Italy’s 26.3 percent.

I'm not sure that is a useful statistic. Generally, smaller countries and those with smaller populations have a larger export-to-GDP ratio. Netherlands is 83% while the USA is 10%.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

What is completely left out and its being left out is part of the problem, is that this has been known and foreseen for quite a long while now but there was and still is little or no political will to seriously address the problems as that will require change to the existing order, a thing that is anathema to not only the ruling elite but to be fair the Japanese population themselves.

Read an interesting article by the BBC Japan correspondent, inter alia he recounted looking to move to a lovely rural village with his family, the village was ageing and dying with only one teenager and no children, they were concerned but when he asked about moving there at a village meeting he was met with a silence then one person said they would have to learn “their”way of life. Highlighting the fear of change trumped any concern of the village dying.

11 ( +15 / -4 )

This sort of rhetoric can demonise women who do not have kids and place undue pressure on them to get pregnant as an act of patriotism. It can legitimise prejudice against them, in a society where women already get a raw deal.

Japan has a population of 125m, about twice that of the UK. It is not going to run out of people any time soon. Most developed countries are going to have to pay more tax to support older people in the next few decades.

One solution is to make better use of the Japanese workforce by increasing flexibility in employment. Japan has more wiggle room here than almost any other nation.

Avoid politically overexploiting specific issues (beating deflation, birth rates) and concentrate more on actually fixing things that obviously need fixing, even if you have to go against vested interests to do it. That is what governments are there for. Not to lazily farm their citizens for profit.

quote: hoping they will last us into old age.

Rubbish. Cars, furniture and electronics are not once in a lifetime purchases.

quote: Innovation en masse demands youthful vigour.

Many young people in Japan are innovative and creative. Instead of suppressing them, listen to them and fund them. GAFA was built on connecting young people with creative ideas to capital. It's not rocket science.

The focus on jobs for life as good, and part time work as bad, is wrong. The job-for-life, promotion-as-a-birthday-gift is a lousy way to run a company and a waste of human resources. Properly fund part time and gig work and it will improve the economy, offering opportunities to people that a full time job for life does not suit. Most tech careers at start ups last for short periods. They would laugh at the concept of a job for life and avoid it like the plague.

quote: closing down of local train lines.

That is a bad thing. It kills an area. The solution is to innovate lower cost light rail options with minimal staff, supported by local government and volunteers to keep them going.

For all the problems Japan faces, there are solutions. Worry less, implement innovative and creative fixes and thrive.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

When the majority of girls are hooked on host clubs by the time they are 18, it will get even worse as they will be entering their 20s with tens of millions in host club debt.

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

When the majority of girls are hooked on host clubs by the time they are 18

Because that would ever happen in the real world, right?

 

...right?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Democracy survives, technology has not yet mastered us,

The one party LDP gerontocracy and social network addictions and manipulation would seem to contradict this.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

The numbers themselves tell against it. 85.5 percent of births in 2021 were to women aged 25-39, of whom there are 9.43 million. In 25 years their number will be down to 7.1 million – the number of girls now aged 0-14.

I'll highlight this quote because it shows that you do not need a "falling birthrate" to have far fewer children being born. All you need is a low but not falling birthrate. This will mean fewer potential mothers in each generation.

Though we see it all over, it is lazy and incorrect journalism to describe Japan's situation as a "falling birthrate", it hasn't been significantly falling for years. It was down to 1.5 by 1992. So thirty year olds who'll have 1.36 or whatever kids aren't doing anything particularly different to their mothers. Incorrectly talking of "falling birthrates" just encourages people to blame the current crop of young women.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Is it just me, or are there two large elephants hanging around both the article and the comments? Women are not here to just do their duty and have children. There is a rather huge problem here in relation to how women are thought about and treated. Women, like men, want to have options in how they live their lives. A lot of women want a fulfilling career, where they can contribute and further develop themselves as people. Society in Japan, in general, expects women who have children to focus their lives on the children from that point on.

There are many pressures, subtle and not so subtle, which are placed upon women that can essentially destroy or severely limit the ability of women to advance in their careers if they have children. As a result, many women are chosing not to have children because it becomes a situation of having one or the other. Further, as there is a lot of pressure brought to bear on women who get married to have children, women may even eschew getting married in their pursuit of a meaningful career.

While for some finances may be an issue when it comes to deciding about having children, this is definitely not the only consideration. Throwing money at people will not solve a problem when there are other factors at play. You may get some people to have one more child, but this will not solve a shrinking population problem.

The other elephant? Immigration. Policies can be targetted to not only bring in the type of people you are seeking, but also to make it possible for those people to live, thrive and have families here.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

The problem is love.

Seriously, there's not enough heartfelt love in Japan.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

Some rural towns in the US are also disappearing. People who cannot commute to where the jobs are have to move.

With a population of almost 125 million, Japan will not go extinct in the foreseeable future, at least not due to under population.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Whoever wrote this… good job(!); thank you for this, JT; we need to say it how it is; the future ain’t pretty for Japan.

Trillions of ¥ were wasted / money’s still in the wrong hands today… and the LDP is to blame…; Japan (and when I say Japan I mean the dinosaurs that are in charge of this country) needs to stop giving priority to oyajis, CEOs, managers, teachers, politicians and old people that vote LDP; accept that young people (and women) are the future. It’s not too late, of course, but we need a completely new leadership in Japan; it needs to start there.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

Another elephant in the room- today's Japan is largely a product of what occurred in the postwar era, i.e. the funding and founding of the LDP by another country...facts that are too hard to swallow for many.

Well yes just turn away and watch another Hollywood superhero movie.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Things will be much worse when the Taiwan crisis is going to happen. A supply chain crisis combined with the weak Yen and falling purchasing power will turn Japan into a poor country.

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

Women, like men, want to have options in how they live their lives. A lot of women want a fulfilling career, where they can contribute and further develop themselves as people.

I understand the sentiment here, but few men actually have "options in how they live their lives". Many of those most likely to marry and have a family are company employees who are unable to leave due to the huge drop in income and status they would suffer as a result. They are stuck to that company for life.

The lack of career flexiblity in Japan affects both men and women. A man who leaves a career job for a few years for personal development or to become a 24hr carer for an elderly parent will fare little better than a woman who does the same for childbirth. Starting again often means starting near the bottom. The system as is benefits men, but only certain types of men who are happy to put their company before everything. Women who want that kind of husband also benefit. Everyone else suffers.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

If there is a shortage of young people now, imagine what it will be after a once again militarily fulminant Japan, pushed by an implacable U.S., tangles with China. This is not the China of the brutal and corrupt rightwing nationalists that Japan attacked in 1931. War requires a large reserve of a country's most precious resource, its youth. But the ruling parasites spend them profligately to increase their power and wealth. Japan can no longer afford such squandering of its reproductive future and the debt increasing militarization without the requisite potential sacrifice of a crippling number of pre-reproductives serving such increase that would GUARANTEE the results suggested in this article is just Japan's historical feudal fascism leaking out of its restraints and the drooling fantasies of its ruling parasites showing themselves in the government's priorities.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Says it all right here:

Innovation en masse demands youthful vigor. This is perhaps the most critical casualty of the longevity revolution. It’s not only youth’s declining numbers. It’s also the increasing precariousness of such jobs as there are in an economy turning ever more decisively away from secure full-time employment to part-time workers who know they may be dismissed at a moment’s notice for the slightest failure – or without it, for that matter. Constant fear of losing your livelihood does not feed innovative fire.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan’s depopulation is outpacing projections. Annual births had routinely been measured in millions – 2.09 million in 1973. Then came the “million shock” of 2016: 972,424. By 2030 it would dip below 800,000, the government-affiliated National Institute of Population and Social Security Research forecast in 2017. That was alarming. Not alarming enough: 2022’s births were an estimated 773,000.

I've been saying this for years. The projections for the population decline were WAY TOO optimistic. We are now starting to see for real the level of the problem.

Electoral calculus was not the only factor involved in measures that disrupted young lives to protect old.

But it was the main reason for the speed of the population crash. The policies implemented by the LDP were designed to benefit the elderly resulting in a vicious cycle that prevented the young from having an optimistic future.

Democracy survives, technology has not yet mastered us,

The one party LDP gerontocracy and social network addictions and manipulation would seem to contradict this.

THIS!!!

Another elephant in the room- today's Japan is largely a product of what occurred in the postwar era, i.e. the funding and founding of the LDP by another country...facts that are too hard to swallow for many.

excellent point

Says it all right here:

Innovation en masse demands youthful vigor. This is perhaps the most critical casualty of the longevity revolution. It’s not only youth’s declining numbers. It’s also the increasing precariousness of such jobs as there are in an economy turning ever more decisively away from secure full-time employment to part-time workers who know they may be dismissed at a moment’s notice for the slightest failure – or without it, for that matter. Constant fear of losing your livelihood does not feed innovative fire.

spot on

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Japan go extinct?

To borrow from the late, great, Lewis Carroll, "What stuff and nonsense that is."

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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