How times change. In the 1970s, shōshika (having fewer children) was touted as a solution to help rein in a population explosion, writes Michael Hoffman in Big in Japan. Today, it’s a problem to be solved, as the falling birth rate upends life across the archipelago, particularly in hollowed-out rural areas.

A growing number of smaller firms across Japan face the risk of closure due to a lack of successors, the Hokkaido Shimbun reports from remote Okhotsk. Meanwhile in rural Hiroshima Prefecture, rules are being eased to make it easier for people to buy small plots of farmland in depopulated areas, in the hope it will woo younger people out of the cities and back to the land.

Japan's Demographic Time Bomb | INSIGHT | FULL EPISODE | CNA
Japan’s Demographic Time Bomb | INSIGHT | FULL EPISODE | CNA

Worries about the birth rate are compounded by the issue of Japan’s super-aged society. The famed longevity of Japanese people was highlighted just two days into the new year as Kane Tanaka, the world’s oldest person — born the same year as the Wright brothers’ first powered flight — celebrated her 118th birthday at a nursing home in Fukuoka.

With Japan’s growing ranks of elderly not expected to peak until 2040, the government estimates that up to 10.7 million people, or about 20% of workers in Japan, will be engaged in medical and welfare services by that time.

But who will pay for this care? Younger generations fear they’ll bear the brunt, although the government last month took a baby step toward alleviating the burden, finalizing a plan to raise out-of-pocket medical fees for people age 75 or older with the means to pay.