The Japanese government recently introduced a scheme offering 10 lakh yen (approximately ₹6,35,000) per child for families who are ready to move out of Greater Tokyo. According to the Guardian, this scheme is a quest to restore the population of towns and villages. The government wants people to start living in the “unfashionable” parts of the country that have been plagued by aging, and declining population. A rise of concentration was noted in the urban population from 63% in 1960 to 92% in 2021. An estimated 35.6 million people live in the Greater Tokyo Area alone. The reason for the current disproportionate distribution of population is the economic competition. People prefer to migrate to metropolitan areas in search of a better job, income and a fast lifestyle. As a result, the aging populace remain in the villages and towns while the younger generation moves to the city.
This is not Japan’s first attempt to resolve this problem. Three years ago, Japan had launched a similar initiative but with a much lesser incentive of 3 lakh yen. However, the scheme struggled due to various reasons, the most crucial one being the lack of teleworking. According to Mint, only 71 families were supported in 2019 and 290 in 2020. Optimistically, this tally increased to 1,184 families in 2021, the year teleworking became more common. The government has predicted that 10,000 families will move out
of the city center of Tokyo by 2027. To hasten the process, the government has even offered homes as cheap as $40 with tax breaks to encourage urban residents to inhabit abandoned homes in rural “ghost villages”.
This struggle is not new. Japan has been dealing with a declining population for decades now. Currently, approximately 25% of its population is above 65, and may increase to 40% by 2060. The Asahi Shimbun (a japanese newspaper) calculated that in 2021, birth rates in Japan declined to around 805,000, a figure that was not expected until
2028. The government announced that it had fallen by 2.8% from the year before, making it the lowest recorded figure since 1899.
What is causing the population of Japan to fall despite efforts?
The factors leading to lower birth rates are multifaceted. The falling rate of marriage is generally regarded as the most imperative reason. The social culture of Japan forces women to choose between a career or a family, and women are increasingly prioritizing their career; this means that they either remain unmarried or marry much later. Japan has also been family-averse for the past 20 years. According to Takumi Fujinami, a senior chief analyst at Japan Research Institute Ltd, “The number of marriages was also sluggish compared with pre-pandemic years,” and the birth rate will continue to fall if people do not get married. The fertility rate is another reason for low birth rates. The replacement birth rate has been 2.1 and below for many years and it is predicted to remain that way.
Japanese society is also widely believed to be ‘sex-less’ by the rest of the world. However, an article by Joshua Keating adopts a different view. Keating states that the Japanese news selectively chooses statistics to support popular narratives. For example, in its reports, the Guardian doesn’t state that the Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research study, that it cites, also finds that almost 90 percent of unmarried Japanese people intend to marry; this favors a contrary perspective. Keating also highlights the fact that Americans are having increasingly less sex than the Japanese by comparing research statistics of relationships. However, this article turns a blind eye towards the differences in the marriage culture and ethics of these completely diverging societies. Since Japanese society is comparatively conservative and American society is comparatively liberal, they have different social norms regarding the appropriate age for marriage and family planning, with their own unique problems. Additionally, the Japanese population, consisting mostly of old people, is 2.6 times less than America’s. The effects faced by Japan due to the low rate of intercourse are much more alarming because of the difference in magnitude. Thus, it is not appropriate to compare the two countries, as it devalues Japan’s troubles. In the beginning of the pandemic, many predicted that lockdown would cause a baby boom as a joke. But economic insecurity caused the opposite effect in Japan, where both parents were required to work in order to sustain their families. The pandemic increased their financial stress, and thus, many around the country decided not to give birth to children. Japan’s already low population resulted in lower expenditure and a stress on GDP and lower wages. This turns into a vicious cycle which reduces the birth rate. It is also popularly believed that Anime culture may cause low mating rates. Japan’s Okatu culture offers many ways for people to meet their sexual and relationship needs by being in 3 dimensional relationships. Okatu is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests in certain activities, particularly in watching anime and reading manga. Many anime watchers form imaginary partners in the 3D world, who they call “waifus” or “husbandos”. This excessive personal connection with fantasy worlds and characters who do not have their own brain taints the perception of people and reduces their ability to connect with real humans. Women are portrayed in a hyper sexualised manner in Anime which causes people to hold real women to an unreasonably high, romanticized standard. As a result, women feel less confident and people lack the skill to form organic connections.
Thus, several reasons have caused and enabled Japan’s demographic and economic problems, and the country will need rigorous reforms to balance their age gap and stabilize their population. The key solution to the crisis is to achieve a better balance between career and family; this would require increased child-care facilities and regional child-rearing support systems, and reforming male attitudes so that they can share responsibilities in the child-nurturing process. The government even introduced ‘Womenomics’ which will allow a better work environment and allow more women to enter the work-force and increase the GDP by 15%. This will allow people to consider planning a family with more financial security. Thus, there is light at the end of the tunnel.