Each year on May 5, Japan celebrates Children’s Day with waves of young families flooding local parks, playgrounds and amusement centers.

If the swelling crowds and cacophony of cheerful voices are any indication, all is well in Japan. But the numbers tell a different story. For almost 30 years, Japan’s birth rate has been falling, and the government appears powerless to reverse the ebbing tide.

There is no shortage of suggestions as to how this might be achieved, from increasing the number of daycare facilities to allowing fathers time off for paternity leave. But employment concerns are just one set of variables that influence whether people have children. For my wife and I, concerns about the environment weighed heavily in our decision to have just one child.

Wondering if young Japanese are similarly concerned, I asked the students in one of my recent interfaculty Environmental Seminars the following question: “What are your hopes and concerns for Japan’s environment in the next 25 years?”

Assuming their responses reflect others in the same generation, it’s time for Japanese leaders to realize that daycare facilities alone are not enough to recruit young parents.

Below, with a touch of editing, are the students’ answers. On the natural environment: I went to Okinawa to scuba dive two years ago. I was really looking forward to seeing many kinds of tropical fish and the colors of coral, but the condition of the bottom of the sea was actually bad. It was a terrible shock to me. There were some tropical fish but the corals were dead.

Through environment studies, I know that careless development and construction have caused this terrible situation. I know it is easier to protect the present environment than to repair it. The government must care more about the environment when they plan public works, and think deeply about what will happen before they destroy the environment.

I hope the next 25 years there will see no more destruction, and I hope I’ll be able to swim in the beautiful ocean of Okinawa some day. (Ayano Endo, 20, Policy Studies) “Japan shows the compatibility of development and conservation of nature”: This is The Japan Times headline I hope to see in 25 years.

I think “green” is the keyword, because Japan is now in the middle of a recession and corporations put profit above the environment. The tendency is toward higher gain. The point is whether Japanese people will choose to protect or destroy our “green.”

We have to make a decision about which direction we should take. I hope we can choose the right way to the future. (Eri Tobai, 20, Law) I can say that Japan’s environment is OK because many Japanese people consider environmental issues seriously, and companies are actively taking environment-friendly measures. I hope we will leave our children environmental wealth, such as clean seas, rivers and beautiful scenery. It is natural that we should preserve the current environment for our descendants. (Rie Kawai, 19, Economics) On forests: I am concerned about the problem of Japanese forests, which cost a lot for thinning and maintenance in comparison with forests in other countries. So we cannot anticipate making a profit from them. It is impossible to compete with the price of wood from other countries without a duty being placed on imported materials. Therefore, there are many forests uncared for in Japan and left untended. Forests not only produce wood but also purify water and the air, and they are a necessary habitat for animals and plants, which are essential for life on Earth.

(Satomi Hoshi, 19, Economics) On recycling and eco-cars: I think the environment of Japan isn’t good, but it isn’t so bad, because in Japan people separate burnable, unburnable and recyclable trash. In many other countries people throw out all the garbage together. In Germany, though, when people buy a drink in a plastic bottle, they pay money for the bottle. Then, if they take the bottle back to the store, they get money, so they return the bottles. This is a recycling movement that young people can do.

My hope for Japan’s environment in the next 25 years is the extension of eco-cars, because people need cars, taxis and buses. Japanese cars are world famous, so Japan should promote eco-cars all over the world.

(Chihiro, 20, Law) On agriculture: I think that Japan will lead the world in the field of environmental technology, and it will be able to contribute to environmental protection in the future. Japan has advanced technology so we are in a position to develop alternative energy, including solar power and windpower generation.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the effects of climate change on Japanese agriculture. It is said that Japan’s agricultural productivity will decline because of climate change — so Japan may have to depend on imported foods more than at present. (Yu Nakai, 21, Policy Studies) I am concerned about agriculture in Japan, especially rice-growing, which is a long-established tradition. However, it has been gradually declining for several decades.

This is a diplomatic issue, an issue of employment, and an environmental problem. Rice-growing needs clean water, fresh air and good soil. Protecting and developing agriculture is a key point in solving environmental problems in the years ahead. (Miho Terasawa, 19, Economics) On climate change: I’m concerned about abnormal weather, because it is happening more and more in Japan recently, such as with localized downpours. These problems are related to greenhouse-gas emissions. So, I hope that carbon-dioxide emissions will be increasingly reduced. I think it is possible to use Japanese technology and research; for example, if everyone lives in houses with photovoltaic electricity generation.

(Yoichiro Tanaka, 19, Law) On education: I hope that in Japan in 25 years’ time we will have better energy-saving systems. At the moment there is an energy-saving boom in Japan, such as Cool-biz [a governmental initiative encouraging office staff to work without jackets and ties in the heat of summer, to reduce air-conditioning demands]. However, the boom is not stable. With growing awareness of global warming, energy-saving systems should take root in our lives.

Therefore, I believe that environmental problems should be a compulsory part of education.

Moreover, I’m concerned with the action that the government will take. I wish that, in 25 years’ time, energy-saving systems will not be a boom, but they will have become a part of Japanese culture. (Midori Niwata, 19, Economics) On technology: I am concerned about how to protect agriculture and forestry and how to promote them. We should not reduce either any more. In cities, the most essential thing is to establish a “low-carbon society.”

We must consider how to live without carbon-based energy. To realize this, solar and windpower offer great potential I think. (Shigeta Asai, 21, Economics) According to the Earth Simulator, midsummer heat and heavy rains will increase rapidly in Japan. But though Japan may face a serious situation, it has great skill in terms of the environment, so I believe we can solve environmental issues.

For example, I heard that a Japanese man invented a “capacitor” that stores electricity easily without using harmful substances. Japan also has good energy- saving techniques. But I think the government doesn’t yet have good policies for the environment. They should ponder these issues more seriously. (Takehiro Kamizuma, 20, Law) I think Japan’s environment will not change a lot. In my opinion, environmental technologies will improve — for example, through grants for solar panels and electric cars. So I don’t think the environment will get very bad, but not changing our lifestyles is bad for the environment. We have to think of how to help nature recover.

(Midori Katsura, 19, Policy Studies) And, finally, on journalism: I am concerned about Japanese journalism and the environment. Our Earth is on the edge of a precipice, but many people don’t care about this because of weak journalism. The mass media should encourage eco-businesses. We all need information for the sake of the environment.

(Shota Suzuki, 20, Literature)

Thanks, all of you. I couldn’t have said it better.

Stephen Hesse’s Environmental Seminar is part of the Chuo University Faculty Linkage Program (FLP) that brings students together from different faculties for specialized study. Stephen Hesse and his students can be reached via stevehesse@hotmail.com

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