4 May 2014, 14:48

Birth rate in Japan reaches new low

Birth rate in Japan reaches new low

The number of children in Japan has fallen to a new low, while the amount of people over 65 has reached a record high as the population ages and shrinks, the government said Sunday.

There were an estimated 16.33 million children aged under 15 as of April 1, down 160,000 from a year earlier, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said.

It was the 33rd straight annual decline and the lowest level since records began in 1950, according to the ministry.

Children accounted for 12.8 percent of the population, the ministry said. In contrast, the ratio of people aged 65 or older was at a record high of 25.6 percent.

Of major countries with a population of at least 40 million, Japan had the lowest ratio of children to the total population compared with 19.5 percent for the United States and 16.4 percent for China, Jiji Press said.

Last month, the government said the number of people in the world's third largest economy dropped by 0.17 percent to 127,298,000 as of October 1, 2013. This figure includes long-staying foreigners.

The proportion of people aged 65 or over is forecast to reach nearly 40 percent of Japan's population in 2060, the government has warned.

Young Japanese: no time for sex

by Olga Yazhgunovich

Some 45 percent of Japanese women aged 16-24 are not interested in or despise sexual contact and more than a quarter of men feel the same way, a survey by the Japan Family Planning Association says. Japan’s media have labeled the phenomenon sekkusu shinai shokogun or "celibacy syndrome," while the govt sees it as a looming national catastrophe.

The number of single people in Japan has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of women in Japan aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, which is almost 10 percent higher than five years ago. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.

Japan already has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to drop a further one-third by 2060.

"The effects of a population decrease are already being felt," noted an editorial in the Japan Times. "Cases in which road bridges have been closed to traffic because of a lack of funds for maintenance and a drop in the number of users are increasing. Forests exist whose owners are now unknown. The number of vacant houses is increasing. Some municipalities have passed by-laws under which they will demolish vacant houses that have become dangerously dilapidated."

Official concerns don't help so far. Fewer babies were born in Japan in 2012 than any year on record. This was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up.

Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, claims the demographic crisis is so serious that Japan "might eventually perish into extinction".

The Guardian has conducted a profound survey and found a number of reasons for the problem. First, Japan is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. According to the newspaper, the country is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011's earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown.

Thus, in today’s reality, marriage is an unattractive choice, especially for Japanese women, who have become more independent and ambitious over the recent years. Japan's harsh corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work.

"Chances for promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as a woman marries. The bosses assume she will get pregnant," women say, avoiding romantic relations to focus on their career instead.

Around 70 percent of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child, while married working women are sometimes demonized as oniyome, or "devil wives". The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world's worst nations for gender equality at work, and an old proverb says, "Marriage is a woman's grave". For Japanese women today, marriage is indeed the grave of their hard-won careers, argues The Guardian.

Recently, Prime Minister Shinto Abe pledged reforms to increase female economic participation by improving conditions and daycare, but there is still a long way to go.

And so many Japanese are turning to the so-called "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, one-night stands, online porn, virtual reality or anime cartoons. Some just replace sex with active social life.

Another phenomenon is Mendokusai, which translates as somewhat "I can't be bothered". For these people romantic commitment seems to represent burden and responsibility and this scares them most. So they try to avoid it by all means. Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90percent of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like".

Ironically, Japan’s infamous salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living, The Guardian writes. Japan’s cities are just ideal places for one, having everything from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block.

Japan’s 20-somethings are the age group to care. Most are still too young to have concrete future plans, but projections for them are already laid out. According to the government's population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40percent.

A survey conducted by the Japan Association for Sex Education questioning the sexual habits and dating practices of female college students, found almost 40 percent of women admitted being virgins.
The 2011 data showed the rise in virgins had jumped to 53.2 per cent from five years earlier, while the number of single people hit a new high.

So the times when erotic art was in the mainstream in Japan have passed. Almost all the major Japanese artists of the 17th and 18th centuries depicted sexual intercourse – featuring men, women and various other creatures. These works were really popular and enjoyed by both women and men. Thousands of books were published with erotic prints. And people of all classes bought them in large numbers.

It all came from Japanese nature-worship cult of fertility and there are still Shinto shrines today, where women go to stroke wooden phalluses in the hope of getting children. However, modernization seems to have brought its concept of shame and imposed new goals in life, so people are loosing interest in sex substituting it with career or ego-pampering.

Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures, The Guardian asks. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home.

The United States is in the middle of the lowest rate of population growth since the Great Depression. At a population of about 317 million, going from the US rate of growth to Japan’s rate of recede would be the equivalent of doubling the death rate for the ten leading causes of death in America.

But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country's precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.

Which means we still have hope – if we change our attitude, of course.

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