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Japan’s Population Crisis

 6 min read / 

Everyone knows that Japan is one of the richest countries in the world, with the most healthiest diets on offer and therefore keeping its older generations fit and healthy, for longer. With the average life expectancy rising to 83 years old in 2012 and the birth rate remaining stagnant at a low average of 1.4 babies per mother; it’s an undeniable fact that Japan has an aging population. Alongside this, Japan’s strict work ethics have lead to shockingly high suicide rates, which makes the decline of the population an even more worrying issue.

japan-population-pyramid-2014

Why is the population declining?

There are 2 main reasons for this.

Firstly, the Japanese are workaholics. They love to work and unlike the Western world – they hate taking days off work. This is probably down to the ‘Salaryman’ culture across Japan. A salaryman is the equivalent to a ‘White Collar Businessman’ – it’s what all the young professional men straight out of university aspire to be. However, with a great title, comes great responsibility. The typical salaryman will work 9am-5pm plus regular overtime until 7pm with another 2 hours of casual meetings/socialising which means the typical day will actually end around 9-10pm. So, we can see that the work-life balance for a large proportion of the population is relatively poor. There simply is no time to start a family. As for the female population, they too have become career focused ‘Office Ladies’ and have fear that if they do start family planning, they will not go back into full time work after. In addition to this, they worry that they won’t be able to maintain a high standard of living due to the lack of maternity support and benefits available to them. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recognised this and is currently working towards a more supportive re-employment scheme for women.

Secondly, there is an increasing ‘Otaku’ culture in modern Japan. Otaku is the word which literally translates to ‘geek’ but it used to describe the increasing popularity of manga and anime enthusiasts. What does this have to do with the decline in Japan’s population? Well, young Japanese males prefer to have virtual/cartoon girlfriends over real girlfriends. That’s the problem. In Tokyo, there are only 250,000 babies born every year in a city with a population of 35 million. If this trend continues, the Japanese population is set to decline by over 30% by 2050. It’s becoming more and more popular (and normal) for men from the age group 18-45 years old to have a virtual girlfriend on their mini computer which they can simply turn on/off or even delete and start over when it suits them.

Why is this bad for the Japanese economy?

As the population is rapidly decreasing, it means the working population is also falling. This is bad news for an already over-working economy. Japan’s biggest companies such as Sony, Toyota and Nissan will struggle when the global demand increases and their labour productivity declines.

Japan is currently in the top 10 countries in the world with the highest suicide rates due to long working hours on a regular basis. Struggling to keep on top of deadlines and make ends meet between clients and salarymen will cause stress levels to surge and there will be an increased danger for the suicide rates to rise even further. It’s seems that unless any changes take place in regulating working hours, offering employment benefits (especially for women to encourage starting a family) and of course the encouragement for men to find a real girlfriend; the Japanese economy will lose its place in the global economy.

Japan’s GDP may slow down as a result and this will only be presented as an opportunity for the Asian giants China and India to take over. Now that both of these economies have comfortably began to grow on a global scale, with the help of their growing populations, they will be able to take advantage of the foundations that the Japanese have already set.

What happens now?

The nation needs to be warned about the consequences of a declining population and rapid changes need to take place – some of which can be enforced through the government. Japan is a country with extremely rich and respectful traditions so naturally, it becomes hard to change the values that the older generation have lived with for decades. For example, only 2% of babies are born outside of wedlock and interracial marriages are just not common. Combining these facts with the decline in marriages in the country does not present a good outcome. It’s just not part of the Japanese culture and its unlikely to change any time soon.

Bringing the population back up – or at least aiming to maintain it for the short term should definitely be considered a priority for the country. This can be done by making small changes to the culture where the Japanese spend most of their time – at the workplace. Promotions tend to be given to those who work longer rather than to those who have been more productive or excelled in their tasks the most. Why not switch this up? By simply rewarding those who reach more targets is not only more productively efficient, but it can  ease the pressure off workers and help reduce stress levels in the long run.

Another major point is providing mothers with more financial support and guidance so that they are able to manage a better work-life balance like we can in the western world. Many women put off marriage and family due to the financial pressures it comes with. Having a child is expensive, but by offering benefits during and post-maternity leave, it can ensure that mothers feel comfortable with coming back to work (even if it’s part time) and can lead to a better balanced lifestyle. This benefits everyone – stress levels decrease, productivity and population increases.

However, the most challenging intervention will be to tackle the dominance of the ‘Otaku Culture’. This all began by the overly marketed craze of Anime and Manga which made it seem ‘cool’ across all age groups. So surely, it’s as simple as making ‘dating’ the next cool thing to transform Japan’s population crisis?

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