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This is the last report in a five-part series looking at the impact of World War II still being felt in Japanese society.


In the 70 years since the end of the war the Japanese people and society have undergone radical changes.

The following is a statistics-based glimpse at some of the transformations:

Striking changes have evolved in terms of health and physique: Japanese now live much longer and are much taller. In 1950, life expectancy was 59.6 years for men and 63 years for women. In 2014 it was 80.5 years and 86.8, respectively, with the female figure the highest in the world.

Life expectancy sharply improved after the war, and this is attributed mainly to a decline in deaths due to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, according to the health ministry. A decline in infant deaths, improved hygiene, advances in medical technology and treatment, and improved eating habits are also often cited by doctors.

In a survey on household composition, data clearly paints a trend of declining childbirths. In 2010, single-person households represented 31 percent of 50.8 million households, nearly 10 times the 1955 rate of 3.4 percent, when households totaled 17.4 million. The ratio of couples with no children also grew more than three-fold from 6.8 percent in 1955 to 20.1 percent in 2010, while that of couples with children declined from 43.1 percent to 28.4 percent over the same period.

While these changes have taken place, have the Japanese become happier?

Although living through the early postwar reconstruction era didn’t necessarily equate with unhappiness, in terms of the way people spend money, life now appears to be definitely easier.

While food still accounts for the biggest portion of average monthly expenditure, nearly 40 percent of total household spending went to food in 1963 compared to 24 percent in 2014, according to Statistics Bureau data. That means Japanese today have more to spend on other pursuits.

That may not be surprising if, as Engel’s law suggests, the percentage of income spent on food declines as income grows.

Other top five spending items in 1963 included “clothing and footwear” and “furniture and household items,” representing 11 percent and 5 percent, respectively, indicating people 50 years ago had to spend more on daily necessities.

While neither category was in the top five in 2014, “transportation and communications” accounted for the second-biggest monthly spend.

Within this category, the ratio of costs related to both car ownership and communications doubled between the two periods, while the proportion of public transportation expenses declined.

When we look at how society has changed in Japan, it is hard to deny an increased presence of women and their roles.

But in terms of female representation in national politics, it remains low.

Women didn’t have an active role in the Diet until the first postwar Lower House election in April 1946, when Japan’s first 39 women won seats.

However, the figure declined in subsequent years and languished around single digits from the 1950s to 1980s, only starting to pick up in 1990.

The number of female Lower House members finally rose above the 1946 figure in 2005 and it currently stands at 63, representing just 9.5 percent of the chamber and ranking at an unenviable 113th among 190 countries surveyed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Japanese women still face challenges in various aspects of social life despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to make the nation a society where women can shine.

Sexism, for example, apparently remains a serious issue, as seen in a survey conducted last summer by the Alliance of Feminist Representatives, in which 52 percent of female local-level assembly members said they had been targeted by sexual harassment at least once.

Information from Kyodo added

Physical measurements and life expectancy
1950 Current*
Male Female Male Female
Height (aged 13, cm) 141.2 142.5 159.5 154.8
Weight (aged 13, kg) 35.1 36.9 48.8 47.1
Life expectancy (years) 59.6 63.0 80.5 86.8
*Height and weight figures are for 2013; life expectancy figures are for 2014.
SOURCE: Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

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