Why we fight: Media on J birth rate decrease and population decline acceleration


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Hi Blog.  What follows are two articles that show that Japan’s aging society is growing ever more so.  The population decrease is accelerating, and fewer people than ever want to have children.  Again, time for a policy towards immigration.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Either you do it now while we still have some vitality.  Or immigrants will come anyway later to fill an enfeebled and empty island instead.  Slow or quick, it’s going to happen.  It’s a mathematical certainty.

That’s why we’re fighting for our rights — to make things better for the people who will be replacing all of us. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


January 15, 2010
Population decline worsening

The population dynamics estimate of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry indicates that Japan’s population decline is accelerating. The report, based on birth and death registers submitted from January 2009 to October 2009, estimates the number of births in Japan in that year at 1,069,000, or 22,000 less than in 2008, and the number of deaths in 2009 at 1,144,000, or 2,000 more than in 2008. The death figure is the highest since 1947 and represents the ninth straight yearly increase…

Rest at:


42.8% of Japanese see no need to have children: survey
Japan Today Sunday 06th December 2009, 06:42 AM JST, Courtesy of MMT

TOKYO — A record high 42.8% of Japanese people do not feel the need to have children after marriage, with more than 60% of women in their 20s and 30s saying so, a government survey showed Saturday. The headline figure was up 6.0 percentage points from the previous poll in August 2007, the Cabinet Office said in the latest survey, which also showed 68.2% of women in their 20s and 61.4% of those in their 30s did not see having children as essential to their marriage.

According to the survey, 46.5% of women and 38.7% of men do not see having kids after marriage as essential.

For men, 56.6% of those in their 20s and 56.3% of those in their 30s gave an affirmative answer to the question ‘‘Do you think it is not always necessary to have children after you get married?’‘

The Cabinet Office also asked whether women should continue working after they have children and a record 45.9% of respondents, up 2.5 points, agreed, followed by 31.3% who said women should return to work after their children have grown up.

The results showed a growing recognition in Japan that marriage should not limit women’s work opportunities, but also revealed that government support continues to fall short because 63.3% called for government support to enable women to work even when they need to take care of their kids or elderly relatives, up 7.6 points from the previous poll.

In the survey, 70% of respondents said marriage is a personal choice, the third highest level ever, while 55.1% opposed the conventional idea that husbands should work and wives should stay home to take care of the family, up 3.0 points from the previous survey.

The government conducted the nationwide survey covering 5,000 people aged 20 or older in October.

29 comments on “Why we fight: Media on J birth rate decrease and population decline acceleration

  • It’s not a certainty if the Japanese fill the population void with robots. Actually I am being totally serious. Robotics is going to continue to explode in Japan. We ain’t seen nothin yet.

  • While I sort-of follow the argument that a low birth rate might necessitate more open immigration policies (to avoid demographic difficulties), I’m really unhappy with how you seem to be using it as a general justification for all immigrant-rights activism — to quote, when you’re saying that decreasing birthrates is “why we’re fighting for our rights.” I’ve seen this popping up several times on your blog before, so I figure it’s worth pointing out my gripe with it:

    Racism and xenophobia are bad. They are unethical. They make people miserable. That’s why we shouldn’t have them. Using a pseudo-rational economic argument (i.e. declining birthrates) only detracts from the real reason, and in fact it’s much weaker. By the same token, you wouldn’t say that you support gender equality because “our economy needs women in the work force”, right? The reasons why it’s worth fighting for such causes are much more profound than just economic necessities.

    — Thanks for the feedback. However, in my experience with policymakers, pure human-rights arguments only go so far (especially when a lot of people only see the world in terms of national growth/welfare and flows of money).

    I know that human rights and economic concerns do not mix well (hey, you can justify the continuation of anything — even the use and sale of asbestos — as long as you make an argument that somebody’s going to lose their job if you stop). The reality of the situation is that economic arguments also have to be made. Saying that it’s good for certain types of people in specific is only so convincing. Saying it’s good for the nation in general (and in quantifiable economic terms) is, believe it or not, far more convincing to major decisionmakers.

  • Debito-san,

    I am going to have to disagree with you on this one. I think population decline is a good thing, a necessity in fact. I say this because we are now entering a world of Peak Oil, where based societies can no longer exist.

    Because of Global Climate change, the United Sates is facing agricultural collapse.


    Peak Oil means that we will soon no longer have the fuel to transport food from overseas to Japan. Well, the quick alternative is to convert merchant ships to sail. But in the US, oil is also used to make fertilizer. However the most rapid cause of American agriculture collapse is Global Climate Change induced drought.

    At the present time, Japan only produces some 40% of it’s food. We are going to have to aim for a figure of something like 100%. There are two ways to do this as I see. One, a lot of farmland is out of production in Japan. We have to get it back to being farmland. There are a lot of unemployed people in their 30’s and 40’s in the cities, some of them want to try their hand at farming.

    I have seen documentaries on this subject on TV, such young people face hard times from local agricultural cooperatives. The locals, often older folk, seem to have hostile feelings to young people farming, and do not cooperate. One high ranked Japan Agriculture Association official was on TV saying that people cannot farm unless they do so as a family. No single men from the city were welcome.

    This is going to have to stop, and I believe that future Japanese governments will tell the stoneheads to stuff it.

    The second way to cope with this is population decline. Fewer mouths to feed mean less possibility of social chaos from starvation.

    As you know, Japan is not an immigrant society. But I think that Peak Oil and Global Climate Change, and our struggle to survive them, will be the defining issues of the century.

    So unless people are highly skilled, it is better that they stay where they are. Yes I know, most of them will die where they are. But that cannot be helped, the lifestyle the First World has led has caused the planet to go into a death spiral.

    Of all the first world countries, Japan, by being an island nation with excellent infrastructure, Japan will probably maintain itself as a civilized nation. This cannot be said of continental nations, who have land borders with poorer countries. They will be flooded with hungry desperate refuges. The United Sates is in particular danger. Not from illegal immigration, no. Most of the productive agricultural areas of the US are reverting to desert. And too many Americans live in arid regions, where they totally depend on gasoline powered cars for transport. They will not survive.

    The only foreigners I would support coming into Japan would be US based climate scientists. Too many laboratories are in the American Southwest, which is the Red Zone for future survival. They will be needed to battle Climate Change so that humanity as whole can survive.

    I know that you, Debito-san, as a human rights activist, will find my view extremely cold. I think it is very harsh also. But I think that is the future no matter what any of us do. It is too late for any other option. As troubles increase, governments by nature will become more authoritarian.

    This why I am opposed to immigration into Japan in general. But Japan being Japan, no matter what rules are laid down, there will be some exceptions. In any case, this is the future, I think we have to adjust to it.

    — Well, last I’ve heard you’re no climate scientist. I’m looking forward to seeing you board the first plane out of here if you don’t think people like us ought to live here.

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    I love the robot loving crowd but hate to burst your bubble. Robots don’t pay income tax, contribute to the economy by spending money, pay into the pension and medical system, even visit the local shrine to throw money in the box, etc.

    As per the discussion about a declining population that is only one part of a bad equation. It is the grey bulge that will really drain resources while fewer working age people pay into the system. Japan is already the oldest country in the world based on the average age of the population.

    Throw in the different spending habits of the different age groups and other factors and it does not look pretty if people want to cling to the status quo.

  • Debito,

    I never said people like us should not live here. What I am saying is that I don’t think there should be government programs to encourage immigration. In fact, mass immigration should be discouraged.

    That does not mean people with marriage ties or some other reason will be banned, but regulations will become tighter.

    And Climate Change is fact, and well under way. 35 years ago, when I first came to Japan, thunderstorms were unknown in the Kanto area. Now every year we have tremendous ones, that cause flooding and kill people. Rice crops yields are down 40% to 60% in Kyushyu, while now rice is becoming a viable crop in Hokkaido.

    These are all Climate Change caused activities. So the question of survival is not only putting idle land into production, it is finding crops that can grow in new conditions. And the population of Japan may well have to adjust to new varieties of rice.

    — As you said, whatever rule Japan makes, there will be exceptions. As long as you’re one of them, peachy.

  • @ Max von Schuler-Kobayashi

    Well Max, should a certain, neighbouring superpower decide to resettle its millions of desert-dwelling climate-threatened citizens forcibly in Japan and expel the current residents at gunpoint, I hope you’ll be equally philosophical about the situation. Harsh, cold but what else can that particular superpower be expected to do?

  • Um…these comments seem a bit surreal, so maybe to bring things back to reality I would like to sort-of echo the second comment and suggest that if Debito had said something like “this is one more reason why the Immigration policy vacuum (and more generally discrimination) is bad and hurts Japan” he would have made essentially the same point but given no reason to complain.

    IMO a modest population decline in the long term is no bad thing at all, but it would be better managed gracefully. Currently it is a car-crash in the making.

  • Singapore used to be mostly Malay, but massive Chinese immigration enabled them to dominate the politics and culture of the island.

    Today, the immigration trend is threatening the Chinese ethnic majority. Take a look at this article:


    “Some economists say the most damaging effect of the immigration is that the influx appears to be putting a lid on productivity gains, as manufacturers rely on cheap imported labor instead of making their businesses more efficient. Labor productivity, or output per employee, fell 7.8% in 2008 and 0.8% in 207—a phenomenon that could eventually translate into lower standards of living.”

    Managing immigration is going to be very important. Limiting immigration via nation of origin, education levels, specific skills, or investor status has worked for other developed nations. Switzerland’s immigration system may be what Japan looks to for the future.

    Immigration alone may not be the answer to Japan’s problems. The statist income redistribution scheme that sucks up so much income into the ineffective “Fukushi” non-welfare system is one big reason why the demographic problem is so severe. Stop the spending and reduce the social welfare taxation, and people may have a bit more breathing room so they can consider having children.

    — I don’t think taxes are the main reason why Japanese aren’t having children.

  • Shiro Ishii says:

    Having read the previous article about Amy Chavez’ Japan Times feature and then the comments on this one by Max von Schuler-Kobayashi, perhaps a neat solution would be to have the latter replace the former. The one was indeed without humor value, whereas I find myself still chuckling at the latter as I type.

    — Touche.

  • Dear Debito, I also agree that children are not essential for a MARRIAGE- you can have children even if you’re not married, if you love your partner and want to have children. We don’t marry to have children, but to establish long-lasting and steady relationship with someone whom you consider to be worth of spending your life with, sharing happy and bad moments.Children are something different, they are the quintessence of already established relationship,love…They aren’t economic plans.If Japanese don’t think that they need children after marriage, this is kind of a responce to the society in general, to the companies who want the employees to dedicate their lives to the company, to the appearance-crazy media, the legal child pornography…
    As a mother in Japan, I’m certain this tendency will not only continue, but will deepen as well. Why?
    I guess you have heard that many women are forced to quit after they marry and especially after they get pregnant, women with little kids are refused work (you know, I have an e-mail from a company in Japan where they advised me against visiting their job fair while pregnant, because I don’t have chances to get any offer!if you want, I can send it to you).The priority seats in the trains and buses are taken by middle aged salarymen and high school students and often moms and moms-to-be stand,and noone says anything.When you go out you can hardly find a palce to have a cup of coffee without exposing your child to second hand smoking from poorly isolated smoker seats, so the only place you can hang out is in the nearest park.Giving birth costs 400,000 yen without any extras like anaestesia(I gave birth in my country for free!And in my country the government pays my child’s insurance).Shops and goods for babies and toddlers are hard to find and expensive(in my home town in my country I have 10 shops within 30 min walking distance!)Let me stop here. Of course Japanese won’t want to have children.
    But you know, the government will find a way- they will import cheap caregivers and will milk foreigners with taxes and nenkin for 5-6 years, them will kick them out and import others.And Japan won’t disappear in the near future, at least not during their mandate.

  • @peter,
    it is a fallacy that you can have higher birth rates without immigration.
    reason why certain western countries are having higher birth rates now is because of the immigrants
    higher birth rate.

    to all those who say we should aim for a smaller japan
    when standards of living start dropping drastically because theres no one to work then i think people will think again about this

  • “– I don’t think taxes are the main reason why Japanese aren’t having children.”

    I hear your viewpoint, but taxes are a very large cause of the family budget hardships that cause many to delay or forgo having children.


    Lower taxes would give people more economic breathing room. Taxes punish hard-working families too much, especially the regressive consumption tax.

  • Also, high taxation rates will discourage immigration. Lower the taxes, and Japan becomes more attractive for educated, skilled immigrants.

    — You really are hung up on this tax thing. Narrowing all things down to one factor (“Whoever controls zinc controls the universe!”) misses out oh so much of the world’s grand pageant of variety.

    Plenty of other countries that have immigration also have “high” (or at least comparable) tax rates a la Japan. I doubt most people who have come here to work in the past were all that concerned about tax rates. They were more concerned about wage rates. Duh.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Random thoughts:
    I like James Annan’s (above) comparison with a car crash. Why not allow some immgration if it can be shown that it will smooth the transition to a smaller population.

    While I usually think that money rules almost all human behavior, in the case of Japan, using economic arguments for immigration may not work. The myth of Japaneseness being somehow diluted may win the day and prevent any meaningful movement on this issue.

    Japanese women will not consent to more babies until laws free / force men to go home at a reasonable hour to help raise them. Japanese women are not stupid – they know that working outside and doing almost all domestic work is just too much. When roles change, so will attitudes to having babies. The government of Japan has the power to enact such laws, but lacks the will to change the male-dominant culture which says women exist for men. As I said, Japanese women are not stupid.

  • Immigration not on the agenda. It seems that dogs rank higher up the totem pole in Japan than non-J do.


    犬に「住民票」発行 東京・板橋区
    2010年1月21日15時11分配信 産経新聞




  • I have been informally following the birth rate dilemma for the last 3 or 4 years. The following are just my non-scientific results.

    1. low birth rate is a result of more people NOT getting married. In my experience it is rather rare to meet a married couple without children. Fewer marriages–fewer children.

    2. No amount of government wishing or programs or supplements is going to help change the fact of the above.

    3. There is pretty much no way you can make people get married and have children.

    I could go on, but you get the drift. Nothing the GOJ of japan can do is going to make any increase in the birth rate. Perhaps the mass media could show marital bliss programs to try to brainwash people but–good luck. The only way the birth rate is going to go up is if people want to get married and have kids. And the answer to that is trending to the negative. And why? That is a whole different discussion.

    So without immigration, this country shrinks more and more each year. IMHO–I have a feeling that in the next few years japan is going to have a death rate spike where all the really really old people all exit near the same time. That will put a shock to the system for sure.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Peter’s very informative link is excellent. Debito, it’s not a matter of being “hung up” on taxes — the government (not just Japan; Obamacare will do this to the US too) is taking money that younger generations worked to earn and is using it to fund the lives of the older ones more than ever before. People of childbearing age are significantly poorer than they should be, because their money is supporting other people’s grandparents rather than their own kids!

    National pension premiums are paid in by the young as a precentage of income (it’s not related to age), and these payers are forced to pray that the government can keep the scheme solvent long enough for them to get something. Their present standard of living is decreased so that the elderly can live better.

    There’s a mandatory national health insurance plan that everyone must pay into, and it depends not on age or propensity to require care, but only on income. It’s a massive net loss for the average worker aged under about 40.

    The consumption tax adds 5% to everything you buy; anyone who got married and had children before 1989, when the income tax began, was able to build their personal finances without this extra expenditure — and today, after already breaking the initial promise to keep it at 3%, various officials are already talking about raising it even more… and earmarking it for retirees!

    All these leaks from young people’s incomes are holding them back and creating insecurity where there should be stability. The retirees and baby boomers are selling the next generation into servitude!

    Thought experiment: let’s say we hand back to each married couple of childbearing age, in cash, all national pension contributions, plus all national health insurance contributions minus the cost of health care actually used and paid by the state, up to now, under the condition that the couple bear a child within one year. Basically take all the social contributions made, and give them back. Everyone gets the rock-solid financial footing that they would have had had these social schemes not existed, on which to raise children.

    How many people would take the government up on this offer?

    All of them?

    People begging for government subsidies for childbirth and child raising are missing the bigger picture. Rather than take money from people who don’t have kids and hand it to people who do, the government should instead be fostering an environment in which young working people can become financially secure enough to raise children as quickly as possible.

    And their policies today do the exact opposite of this.

    — Thanks. This is a much more cogent argument incorporating a lot more factors than just an apparent allergy to tax rates.

  • Here’s a link to add to what I wrote above:

    Excerpt: My daughters are now of child-rearing age. I have never complained to them, but in view of how I struggled in Japan — where the work of mothers receives no praise — I can’t imagine them giving up their careers and staying home.

    Isn’t that where the real problem is — respect for women who stay at home? Society as a whole should be more supportive of young mothers and give them praise and respect for the important work they do.

  • From Max to Joe,

    I really would not worry about some neighboring power forcibly settling people in Japan. I assume you are referring to China. Some of us are working very hard to expand the Japanese submarine fleet, so I would not worry about that.

    In fact, we have plans for an aircraft carrier or two, but that will take a little more time. For the time being, I am for stricter immigration controls, and more submarines.

    And to tell you the truth, I am not really worried about the number of Chinese coming into Japan. Japan and China have history, we will work it out.

    — Each blog comment from you just gets weirder and weirder. Gonna pop some popcorn.

  • @Max Wait, are you saying its OK for as many Chinese to come into japan because of their history? What about Commodore Parry or the Portuguese traders? They have a “history” as well. So, if I am following your logic correctly, then it should be OK for them to join because they have a historical value. I could be misinterpreting it, but that’s what it sounds like to me.

  • @Max –

    I`m sorry, but I was not aware that you ran the Self-Defence Forces and had direct input into the purchasing process of the Japanese Navy. `some of us are working very hard to expand the Japanese submarine fleet..`?
    `we have plans for an aircraft carrier or two`? – wow. Just. Wow.

    Anyway – I would love to actually see laws passed in Japan that do not discriminate against working moms or more accesible day care options. If you have a child under youchien age – good like finding child care. It does exist – apparently. Some fellow moms have lamented that to enter the `good` hoikuen you must have a FULL time job, and a letter from your employer stating that fact for you to be even considered for a spot. Add that to the fact that you can`t even look for a job without having child care secured and you see the catch-22.

    I remember being pregnant in 2008 and I was up for a full time position at the school I taught at and then they found out I was preggers and it was all `oh, I don`t think the mothers` would be comfortable with a pregnant teacher` WTF? So, yeah. Jobs just dry up like the prairies, and in this day and age you pretty much need two incomes to raise kids.

    I second Norik`s sentiment – where is the respect for mothers? Oh, right we`re just `baby-making machines`.

  • Mark in Yayoi,

    I don’t think there is much support for your views. Some of the highest-taxing countries in the developed world have relatively high birth rates (think Scandinavia). What they have alongside the taxes is support for families and greater equality between the sexes. If the woman loses her career as a result of motherhood, this is a vastly greater cost than the marginal effect of changing her husband’s tax rate a little. Job insecurity more generally may also be a discouragement.

    Having said that, my institute appears to be a bastion of enlightenment in this respect, with at least two full-time working mothers that I know of personally.

  • There is a one-word solution to the problem of Japan’s aging society and collapsing pension scheme: Obasuteyama!

    — Or the control of zinc.

  • Wow

    Between this thread and the article about gazelles there is some eccentric stuff going down. Max those are some interesting points that I have never considered.

    I think the Japanese government is probably reluctantly waking up to the fact that foreign folks are necessary otherwise the fiscal house of cards in Japan will collapse.

    I agree with Debito-san that it is a critical time to stand up for rights and find ways to get the foreign voice heard (if it is possible) in the upcoming debates that will shape Japan’s immigration policy over the next couple of decades.

    I think the tax issues are irrelevant here. Japan’s birth rate will not change quickly and if the DPJ can maintain a significant voice I predict some major immigration reform within the next couple of years.

    Enjoy the weekend!

  • As someone who has two children, would LOVE to have three or four but probably WONT, I can honestly say that at least for our family, taxes are not the issue. The issue is that my husband’s salary hasn’t gone up in three years and we have no idea when and if it ever will. I have at least one somewhat marketable skill as a native English teacher with experience teaching kids and childcare experience, but no one will hire me unless I already have a daycare in mind. No daycare will take my kids unless I already have a job. No English school will follow the LAW which requires them to enroll anyone who works 3/4 the hours of a seishain or more in shakai hoken, because there are plenty of people willing to work for the money and the visa and foot the bill for national health insurance themselves. The situation would probably be different if I were an equally bilingual, equally experienced teacher with a Japanese name and face. But LABOR LAW, that’s really what it comes down to. Having it’s not enough, they need to enforce it. Let the fathers come home at night, pay them overtime when they work overtime, build more daycares so moms can LOOK for work, and give the moms decent contracts and work conditions as well. Eliminate ageism as a part of the hiring process, etc etc etc… Only one point of view I know, but thefact that people can’t AFFORD more kids and/or the women who would like to have a family AND a career…. it’s not only our family that’s affected I’m sure.

    — Thanks for taking the time to let us know how it is on the ground out there. Those offering us one-size-fits-all solutions to a complicated issue (such as saying you tweak the tax rate, hey presto!) really ought to read this.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Hey Kimberly, like I said above, you, and Japanese women are not stupid. The gov’t really needs to get off its ass. Thanks for explaining how it really is.

  • Amen Kimberly! You said it much more succinctly than I tried to. I`d love to work FT as well. Not just for the monetary benefits but for ME. I know, how horribly selfish. Once you`re in the house day after day after day with just you and the wee ones, some alone or outside time becomes essential. As does adult converstaion. A happy and well-adjusted mom makes a happy and well-adjusted family. Seems Japan could use a lot more of happy and well-adjusted!

  • My wife and I both have jobs. We couldn’t find a daycare to take our new daughter for when my wife went back to work after her maternity leave. Every place we looked was fully booked, even though I was looking around over 1 year before we would actually need to put our daughter in day care! Apparently, government regulations of daycare centers make them so hard to get your kids into, that Japanese couples reserve spots for kids they MIGHT have IF the wife gets pregnant in the coming year!

    And because Japan makes it hard to let people into the country to do nanny/maid type work, there was no way to hire someone to take care of our daughter in our house, like people do in Hong Kong. We got lucky at the last minute when a new daycare center opened up and I made sure to call the management before it even opened. But otherwise we would have been SOL. I guess then either my wife or I would have had to quit our job to stay home and raise kids. Way to stimulate the economy, GOJ.

  • Natalia Pritt says:

    Japan has always been creative in problem solving, of course they have their own creative plan to counter this problem as well:

    — Did you actually watch this? Pretty hacky “Japan is unique” journalism in places. An “Alan Whicker thinks he’s covering his home country positively” (contrast with how he covers America very negatively) sort of thing.

    In any case, it’s hardly evidential of a concrete “plan”. More of a bedazzled reporter having trouble staying on point, dressing up as a Host etc. and treating Japan like it’s Disneyland.

    (And it’s pretty clear he got some of his information courtesy of Debito.org. Would have been nice to have had an acknowledgment.)


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