TOKYO: With Japan’s GDP contracting in the third quarter of 2014, the world’s third largest economy is in the midst of a recession. Its lethargic economy has caused the yen to slide to its lowest level against the major international currencies since 2007.
The biggest problem facing Japan, however, is not the economy or its plummeting currency but the arctic weather in the bedrooms of its citizens. For almost a generation now, Japan appears to have to have put a brake on baby-making.
Last year, Japan’s negative population growth rate reached its highest level, with deaths outnumbering births by the widest margin on record. This means there are more Japanese dying every year than are being born – an alarming trend for the past four years.
According to data published by the government, the estimated number of Japanese newborns slumped by 2.8 percent to a low of around 1 million compared to 1.269 million registered deaths. In other words, Japan’s population was reduced by 268,000 people in 2014.
It’s no surprise then that Japan’s working age population, defined as those between 15 and 64 year old, dipped to less than 80 million for the first time in 32 years.
If Japan’s current fertility rate of 1.39 children per woman continues, a government task force has warned that its population would drop by almost one-third by 2050, with nearly 40 percent of the population aged 65 or older – a condition referred to by some as the “graying tsunami.”
Today, only 12.9 percent of Japan’s population is composed of children 14 years old or younger. In contrast, one in every four Japanese is age 65 or older, the highest ever percentage and the highest of any country in the world.
There are number of factors cited by experts for the depopulation of Japan. Among them is the increasing cost of raising children and childbirth. And with more women in the workforce, more and more of them are choosing to delay marriage, further contributing to the decline in reproductive-age women.
In 2014, the number of couples that got married was 649,000, or a drop of 12,000 from the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of single women in their 30s has doubled from a decade ago. A Japanese sociologist predicted that by 2030, almost one in three Japanese males will be unmarried by age 50.
In a country where the average lifespan of 83 years is among the longest in the world, the dwindling population is a cause for great concern to the Japanese government.
The shrinking working-age population has slowly dragged down Japan’s economic output. To aggravate matters, Japan’s government debt is now more than twice the country’s GDP, partly due to the increasing medical and pension costs for its elderly population.
The government is trying to arrest the skidding population numbers by providing cash payments to families and expanding health care in an attempt to ease the burden of child-rearing. But that has not been too effective, especially with Japan’s high housing costs and deteriorating family ties. As a Japanese researcher candidly said, “the cost of a child outweighs the child’s usefulness.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now encouraging more women to enter the workforce. Although Japanese women are better educated than those in other countries, female participation in the labor force is much lower than in other developed countries.
One of the beneficiaries of the “graying tsumani” phenomenon is the “Japinos” or Japanese-Filipino children. Half-Japanese by blood, many Japinos were abandoned by their Japanese fathers who were either already married or for one reason or another, unwilling to recognize and support them.
With the help of the social welfare foundation KOHOKUSHINKOUKAI – a Japanese non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Nagahama City, Shiga prefecture – several Japinos have rediscovered their Japanese heritage and are now studying or working in Japan.
Founded more than a decade ago in 2004, Kohokushinkoukai has been providing consultation and support services to Japinos and their mothers for free so that they can learn Nihongo while still in the Philippines and then leave for Japan where they can study or find work. Through the assistance of Kohokushinkoukai, a number of Japinos were even able to acquire Japanese citizenship.
According to Kohokushinkoukai’s President Teruyuki Satake, Japinos and their mothers need these kinds of support if they are to successfully assimilate into Japanese society and have a stable, peaceful and comfortable life in Japan.
The inter-country efforts of Kohokushinkoukai will, however, require the close coordination of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) headquarters in Manila as well as our diplomatic and consular offices in Japan.
We are sure both DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario and our pro-active Ambassador to Japan Manolo Lopez will be more than ready to assist Kohokushinkoukai and other similar NGOs in uplifting the lives of our less fortunate countrymen and their families.