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Abe convenes panel to tackle low birthrate, aging population

by

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched a key advisory panel of intellectuals and Cabinet members Thursday, tasking them with providing ideas to overcome one of most serious long-term problems confronting Japan: its rapidly aging population and low birthrate.

Abe has set a key policy goal to maintain Japan’s population — now around 127 million — at a level of more than 100 million in 50 years by boosting the low birthrate.

Abe also has pledged to create “a society where all of the 100 million citizens can play an active role,” apparently with the aim of making full use of Japan’s latent work force, and women in particular.

The panel, which includes 15 non-Cabinet members, was launched to generate ideas for achieving the two key goals.

The members include Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara, former internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda and Momoko Kikuchi, former pop idol and now visiting professor at Toita Women’s College in Tokyo.

Based on advice from the panel, the government plans to hammer out “urgent measures” to tackle the population issues by the end of this month, with a more comprehensive, long-term program to follow around spring next year.

“If the birthrate remains at the current level, Japan’s population will be about 80 million in 50 years, and 40 million in 100 years,” Abe said at the panel’s first meeting in the prime minister’s office.

“This is about one-third of the current population. It will directly lead to a decline of our national power,” Abe said.

Japan’s rapidly aging and shrinking population has caused serious concerns about its future as the size of the economy shrinks while social security costs for the elderly continue to swell.

Abe is trying to turn this trend around by pledging more public support for households raising children and increasing welfare facilities to eliminate instances of family members quitting jobs to care for elderly relatives.

He has already been criticized, however, for an apparent lack of specific programs to boost the low birthrate as well as a lack of financial resources to fund increasingly expensive welfare facilities.

  • Scott Durand

    Immigration could be one answer. If Japan like other developed Western democracies had polices that supported migration to Japan (especially that of refugees) then the population may slow its decline or possibly even increase.

    • Taro-nechan

      Immigratiom is definitely one answer and I personally think Japan is warming up to the idea that immigration is good. I do wish things chanhed faster, though. Just this week an immigrant couple friend and their 2 kids were going to lose their nanny and were wondering how they can keep their jobs while taking care of the kids. 2 types of immigrants affected there.

    • J Steel

      Immigration is indeed an option but like every initiative the leaders will be closely assessing the pros and cons. This is not a purely numerical issue. At the heart of this issue (ie. the falling birthrate) is the subsequent decline in various important services. One step Japan has been doing to address this is the development of robotics to replace human labor. Another as mentioned in the article is making full use of the female workforce.

      Thus while you note correctly that immigration could be one of the options, the perspective to evaluate this on is how will immigration itself contribute. Just adding people into the country hardly helps. If Japan allowed in an individual with no skills to contribute, with this individual needing extensive language training, cultural instructions, skills training, and various other services provided by the country, then he or she is of no net benefit to the country and allowing in this immigrant does not in any way help Japan. In fact this individual would be of net detriment to Japan.

      Pros and cons with every option I suppose.

    • Steve Jackman

      Japan needs immigrants and it can benefit greatly from immigration. Having said that, I think that Japan should not allow large scale immigration, since the Japanese are simply not capable of living in a multiethnic society.

      At it heart, Japan is extremely traditional, conservative, stubborn and insular, and that’s the way it likes it. As an American who has lived in Japan for over a decade, I find the vast majority of Japanese to be extremely bigoted, closed-minded, racist and xenophobic, in their attitudes towards anyone who is non-Japanese.

      I just see no point in Japan accepting large numbers of immigrants in such an environment, since they will be treated very badly and will face widespread racism and discrimination in all facets of life. The country does not deserve immigrants, unless it does some serious soul-searching and changes its outdated attitudes towards race and ethnicity.

  • Honesty WasTaken

    Why would Japan allow people to migrate? They are proud people who are racist, sexist, and oppressive and could give a rats ass less about tackling the causes of low birth rates. You want to know why? Because in Japan you work long days, and you must work long days to get a good paycheck to pay for all the taxes. Raising a Japanese kid is expensive and time consuming. 2 people that are married are most likely working rather than 1 staying at home because of expenses. the only good job s are corporation jobs, but there are so many of them now they can easy pay you less, because they can easily replace you. You think it’s the Japanese fault? No it your corrupt leadership who get handed money under the table. It nay not be the whole cabinet but you can be rest assured they aren’t cabinet for the Japanese people.

    • Hanneke Koppenaal Konosu

      But the cabinet reflexes the people who have chosen it.

    • dotherighthing

      “2 people that are married are most likely working rather than 1 staying at home because of expenses.”

      How is that different from other countries, such as Canada for example where I live now. If it wasn’t for immigration the population of Canada would have been decreasing since the birth rate is so low: both parents have to work to pay one of the highest taxes and fees in the world (tax freedom day comes earlier in Japan than in Canada!).

  • Taro-nechan

    Were there enough women on that panel?

    • Richard Solomon

      Good question!

  • Richard Solomon

    Japan’s demographic challenges are admittedly complex and thorny. Overcoming these dynamics will require strong and proactive leadership that must help the people overcome centuries of hierarchical patriarchy and an aversion to immigration. It will also require significant changes in the country’s tax system. I hope the panel comes up with suggestions that are feasible and constructive. I hope Abe and his cohorts are willing and able to do what is necessary.

  • Hans Gruber

    Japan could turn to immigration, but it doesn’t need to: It needs to ASK young Japanese why they aren’t having kids. Instead of blind guessing, they need to TALK to people to ask why. Don’t guess or assume. ASK! Get some working-class moms on that panel.

    The government looks after the elderly well. It needs to start looking after the young who are worked so hard they don’t have the time or money to raise a family.

    Legislate to enforce work life balance. Right now companies make employee work unpaid overtime and late nights and weekends. Yes there are laws against that, but no penalties so companies do it anyway. There’s no time to raise a kid. There’s no time to even see your kid.

    Take the financial burden off families. The reason they are not having kids now is high cost and lack of time. I hope the government understands that increasing sales tax will only put more pressure on young families. The way you grow your economy is by encouraging innovation and investment. Raising taxes has the opposite effect.

    • Steve Jackman

      I don’t think immigration is a viable alternative, given the extreme racism and xenophobia which are so widespread in Japan.

      It’s detrimental and unhealthy for immigrants to live in such an insular society where racial discrimination is so entrenched. It will be bad for both the Japanese and the immigrants, especially when they find that they are discriminated against in every aspect of life including, employment, housing, schooling, while shopping, trying to use the judicial system, getting medical services, going to restaurants, while using sports club/gyms, interactions with law enforcement or even simply trying to get a haircut.

      Japanese society is simply not ready for immigrants and it is actually incapable of interacting or coexisting with non-Japanese, so why make life miserable for everyone. The Japanese are destined for oblivion and it is their perogative to do so, so let them.

      • tisho

        How are they going to ”get ready” and accept immigrants if they never even get to interact with them? The only way they are ever going to accept ”others” as part of the Japanese society is by interacting with them, and being exposed to different views and ideas. If you don’t bring your different ideas and views to a group of people that holds a particular view, or way of thinking, then they’re never going to change, because they are not made aware of other ideas, so their ideas win by default. America went through many phases in its history before it became so acceptive and socially liberal as it is today. Americans through out history were first against the Irish immigrants, then the Italians, then the Russians, then Asians (in particular Chinese), then after the ww2, they were against the Japanese, then Women had to fight for their right to vote, then the Black people had to fight for equal rights, then it was the fight against child labor, and recently the gay community earned their right to get married.. the American history shows that no oppressed group ever wins acceptance without a fight for it.

      • Autumn Fae

        sorry do not agree with you Tisho. Americans and how they dealt with immigrants are totally different from how things work in Japan. What do you mean by interacting with them? The point is that they do not want to interact with foreigners for the most part. They want to keep Japan as it is now with a very small amount of foreigners and the rest Japanese. They do not want a multicultural society like what the west is pressuring them to do. They practically ignore most of the african/brazilian/asian immigrants. I was just speaking with a group of them not wanting Syrian refugees coming to Japan. With the highest suicide rate in the world except for war torn countries, i highly doubt this would be a place flexible enough to deal with mass immigration. There are many Japanese who have dealt with foreigners and mostly avoid them if they are not white or English speakers. The state of most immigrants from non western countries here is not good. THey are stuck in low paying jobs while enduring constant prejudice. America was multiracial from the moment that the pilgrims and then the Blacks and irish/Germans came. Comparing how Japan and America dealt with racism and immigrants is like comparing apples and oranges. Forcing immigration down the throats of the citizens there will only create problems in the end. Look at the EU now… They tried the forced immigration path for new workers and now there are clashes between a lot of the Muslims and natives there. I cant believe you even tried to compare America to japan when everything about those two countries are the complete opposite.. I say this as an expat living here in Japan.

      • tisho

        Well, of course they want to keep Japan as it is now, if you ask them, obviously they would prefer things to remain as they are, otherwise they would be advocating for more immigrants. If you’d ask any American in the past if he would want more Irish immigrants or Italian, Russian, later Chinese, Mexicans or Japanese immigrants to come, they would say to you the same thing – we want to keep America as it is now, we don’t want to damn Italians coming. People very rarely accept change, change usually happens in the face of opposition. Americans didn’t just wake up one day and decided to accept black people as part of the American society, it was a slow process of acceptance. The black community had to fight their way into the society, same goes for pretty much every group in the US.

        I am not talking about mass immigration into Japan, there never was uncontrolled mass immigration as you would imagine it in the US either, it was labor-driven immigration, there is a big difference. The United States had completely open borders and open labor market for decades, and during that time, anybody would wanted could hop on a boat and come to the US and get a job, he knew he can get a job, that’s why they came to America, to seek for more opportunities, they knew America had a lot of capital, it was easy for anyone to get a job, and people believed if they work hard they can make it big in America. They knew they can’t do that in Europe, that’s why they left everything and came to a country dirt poor, without speaking the language or knowing anybody, most of them were picked right off the boat and hired by private capitals, the rest just found any job they could, it was easy, many started their own businesses. This is the type of immigrant Japan, and every country needs. Labor-driven. Japan needs free labor market, that means allow companies to hire anybody they want, regardless of nationality. Currently there are some groups that are getting abused in Japan, but that is because there is no free labor market, which means, those people have no choice, and because they have no choice, this allows their employers to abuse them, if they had choice, nobody could afford to abuse them, because they can just quit and get another job. You open the labor market, and that would increase the productivity instantly, it will allow companies to supply themselves with the needed labor from abroad, it becomes easy for anyone to go to Japan and find a job if he wants, it also rises the standards of living. This is what Japan needs – free labor market, not mass immigration without purpose. If immigrants are not free to get a job and climb the job ladder, then they will be stuck in Japan, why would anyone even want to come if he knows his job opportunities are limited.

        As for Europe and the refugee, i am from Europe so i would know. The problem with Europe is that they are trying to force people into integration, this is a failed model that does not work, never had and never will. The United States has more romani people, more muslims and more everything than Europe, yet they don’t have any problem with integration there, why is that? Because the US has a free labor market which allows people to integrate themselves. Even when you hate your neighbor you want to sell to him. Free labor market allows people who might hate each other to work together. In Europe, they have big welfare states, big social benefits, big social programs, they create the perfect system in which people have no incentive to work. Why would i work when the gov. can pay me not to work. The minimum wage is also a big obstacle for integration of refugees. A minimum wage is like a law banning people from working, because it prevents people from selling their labor. A refugee who doesn’t speak the language, and doesn’t have any skills or experience at all can never compete with the local people, the minimum wage law prohibits him from selling his labor, which would be much cheaper. So these are some of the reasons why Europe fails so miserably at helping people integrate as oppose to the United States. During the 3 big waves of immigration to the US, there was no language courses, there was no government help, or any social programs, it was just you and the free market, people knew if they come to the US you’re on your own, there is nobody to help you, you find a job you support yourself or else don’t come at all.

      • Autumn Fae

        sorry do not agree with you Tisho. Americans and how they dealt with immigrants are totally different from how things work in Japan. What do you mean by interacting with them? The point is that they do not want to interact with foreigners for the most part. They want to keep Japan as it is now with a very small amount of foreigners and the rest Japanese. They do not want a multicultural society like what the west is pressuring them to do. They practically ignore most of the african/brazilian/asian immigrants. I was just speaking with a group of them not wanting Syrian refugees coming to Japan. With the highest suicide rate in the world except for war torn countries, i highly doubt this would be a place flexible enough to deal with mass immigration. There are many Japanese who have dealt with foreigners and mostly avoid them if they are not white or English speakers. The state of most immigrants from non western countries here is not good. THey are stuck in low paying jobs while enduring constant prejudice. America was multiracial from the moment that the pilgrims and then the Blacks and irish/Germans came. Comparing how Japan and America dealt with racism and immigrants is like comparing apples and oranges. Forcing immigration down the throats of the citizens there will only create problems in the end. Look at the EU now… They tried the forced immigration path for new workers and now there are clashes between a lot of the Muslims and natives there. I cant believe you even tried to compare America to japan when everything about those two countries are the complete opposite.. I say this as an expat living here in Japan.

  • U Nyunt Shwe

    Well, the prime minister himself is unproductive, isn’t he?

    • Tangerine 18

      Well, back in 2007 the tabloids were claiming that Shinzo had a 20-year affair with a woman in Fukuoka that produced a child. In 2006 his wife Akie went on TV to talk about her failed fertility treatment and her reluctance to adopt a child, although she and her husband had considered it, apparently.

      • U Nyunt Shwe

        Thanks a lot for the information that I didn’t know, fried!!

      • U Nyunt Shwe

        Thanks a lot for the information that I didn’t know, fried!!

  • Tangerine 18

    Japan has been aware of the demographic trend since the early 1970s yet has done almost nothing serious about it. Quite why yet another “panel of experts” will be expected to find a short-order solution when there is clearly no political will to make the drastic changes needed, is anyone’s guess.

  • Andy D

    Just look around,,,,Elderly ….enjoying travel,,parking lot are full with cars at Gambling places,,,
    almost play grounds cover by elderlies,even during holidays to play there games,,,….most of them enjoying good vehicles..getting enough money to have expensive supplements, companies targeting elderly to make huge profits..

    Now Looks Children and Middle class Parents situation…Salaries are not enough to provide common need easily to kids.

    most of parents salary goes to pay car and house loan….
    expensive kindergarten fees,,,severels needs for elementary and upper students , Roads condition are to worse,,even thousands of roads have no footpath for kids to go safely to school,many accidents occurring,,
    if you or more kids may parents have no enough time for them,,all day you should have to rush n rush to care kids from morning till late nigh..welfare in Japan Is very low….
    Parents worry about their pension and even kids feature,,,,,,

  • Conrad Brean

    Abe has only contempt for people with IQs over his own….which would mean 13….

  • Ron Lane

    The current government, like the previous governments in the last forty years, is incompetent. As has been mentioned previously, it has been known for 40+ years that the population of this country would begin to decline — as it has — very early in the 21st century. And yet nothing has been done to solve the problem. As raising a family + having a career at the same time is terribly difficult, many women have had to choose between family and career. Having a career provides a woman with financial independence as well as opportunities to interact with the “outside world” — something denied stay-at-home mothers. As long as raising a family prevents women from participating in the workplace, the population will continue to decline.

    Our current government, like previous ones, remains clueless as to the causes of the problem. For that reason, any attempts at mediation are pointless. Abe’s proposed panel included.

  • 99Pcent

    Yes, this is great news. Japan should make it easier economically for couples to reproduce. At the moment most Japanese would prefer not to have kids because they cant afford it. Japan should have like a hippie movement or a free sex movement to promote sex between couples and further birth rates.
    Go Japan Love democracy and freedom unlike China.

  • 99Pcent

    Yes, this is great news. Japan should make it easier economically for couples to reproduce. At the moment most Japanese would prefer not to have kids because they cant afford it. Japan should have like a hippie movement or a free sex movement to promote sex between couples and further birth rates.
    Go Japan Love democracy and freedom unlike China.

  • PRADEEP CHATURVEDI

    HIGHLY-EDUCATED and enlightened girls will never allow their hubbies to convert them into child producing machines. There is no point in wasting time in convincing busy girls to have extra baby. It is easier to import manpower from countries like INDIA. Like PARSIS, Japanese also will become extinct before the blink of eyes.

  • bobcat72

    Japan is going to continue to go downhill because the people in power don’t even understand the issues at hand. The funny thing is, I rarely see any mention of Japanese men and improving their situation. More and more Japanese men are looking at marriage as nothing but a death sentence, where they spend ungodly amounts of hours in the office, only to have to hand over their paychecks to their wives, who then give them an “allowance” (no, I’m not making this s**t up) and then the wives keep the rest for themselves. They play an absolute minimum role in the lives of their children, because they work so many hours and the fathers role in a child’s life is one that is considered to be completely insignificant – other than the financial role, of course. If the marriage ends in divorce, the woman takes EVERYTHING. Fathers are basically nothing but walking ATM machines in Japanese society, and an increasing number of Japanese men, after growing up watching their own fathers work themselves to death and get zero respect, have absolutely no desire to go down that road – and rightfully so. If Japan continues to allow marriage for men to be nothing but a sentence to decades of misery until they die, then the Japanese population will continue to decline.

    Western society is now starting to experience the same thing, as many countries in Europe are watching their marriage rates go down the tubes, and populations in many European countries are declining. Men no longer want anything to do with a gynocentric system that treats their role as nothing other than that of a walking ATM machine. Immigration is probably the only thing keeping the U.S. from having a declining population. Men lose everything in divorce court, and over 70% of divorces are initiated by women. Heck, men don’t even need to be fathers to get stuck paying child support anymore. Just look up Carnell Alexander. A woman lied about him being the father of her child, and even though she admits she lied and a paternity test proves he is not the father, he is still being forced to pay…and yet, women can’t figure out why men avoid single mothers like the plague. They call these men “irresponsible”, as though if the roles were reversed they wouldn’t be doing the same thing. If a woman had to pay child support to a single father that she was dating, she and every other woman out there would lose it, but so long as it’s men getting the s**t end of the stick, who cares? Right? In fact, I just saw a news story about a handful of women who are whining because they are paying alimony to their ex-husbands. Keep in mind, these women are only a part of 3% of people paying alimony. 97% of people paying alimony are men paying women. Of course, as soon as women start getting treated like men, then they cry foul like the hypocrites that they are.

    Japan’s situation will not change so long as men have zero incentive to get married and have children.