Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced that Japan's total fertility rate (TFR) — the average number of babies born to women during their reproductive years — rose slightly to 1.34 for 2007, even though about 3,000 fewer children were born last year than in 2006. Two years ago the TFR was at 1.26, a postwar low, and last year this country experienced a natural population decline for the first time since 1899, when data-gathering in this area began. If fertility remains constant at these levels — and projections for the next 50 years have it doing just that — the population of each successive generation will fall at a rate of approximately 40 percent.

To address this concern, administrations have implemented a number of programs over the past two decades. In fact, the cost per month incurred by the government to fund day-care services in Tokyo for one infant currently exceeds the average monthly wage of a male worker in the capital.

But have you ever wondered how the fertility rate ended up dropping so low in the first place? Well, follow along with me to gain a better understanding of not only that, but also why one of the actions government has since taken appears to be biased against non-Japanese — the very people who may be needed to reverse this trend and provide support for Japan's rapidly aging society.