May 5th is Children's Day (kodomo no hi) in Japan. The Japanese government according to an article by asahi.com dated 2004.05.04 notes that there are 150,000 fewer children (defined here as under age 15) in Japan due to the falling birthrate. Japan is headed for a demographic nightmare -- too many old people and not enough young.
|Raising children in Japan: A balancing act?
Photograph copyright 2005 by Karen Nakamura.
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From the article, a quick and rough translation says that for the 24th year in a row, there are fewer children in Japan. The total population as of April 1st, 2005 is 17,650,000 children (boys 9.04 million; girls 8.60 million). Taken as a ratio of population, children make up 13.8% of the total population, a continuous decrease over the last 31 years. Regionally, Okinawa Prefecture has the highest percentage of children with 18.6% and metropolitan Tokyo the lowest with 12.0%.
In comparison, the USA is made up on 20.7% children, China has 21.5%, Germany has 14.7%, etc.
Source: Asahi.com 2004.05.04
Speaking for my 30-something female friends, the reason why there are fewer children is simple: it's really difficult to raise children in Japan. It requires a tremendous investment of time and energy from when the child is born until they reach high school. Japanese kindergartens are famous for their long list of things that mothers need to do (from the type of zokin wipe cloths to hand-made lunches to teacher-parent reports); elementary schools have onerous PTA duties; by the time your child is in fifth grade, you have to start worrying about exams, etc. To make things worse, there is no system of neighborhood teenagers willing to babysit for you, making childcare extremely dicey for working moms. It's enough to make you want to get tubal ligation.
For my American readers: this is not a time to get smug. Only the rich in the USA can afford good childcare. Look at truly kid-friendly nations such as France or the Netherlands and then write to your congressperson about getting better childcare policies in the United States as well. One main reason the USA has a plentiful supply of children to fuel the economy in the coming decades is because of immigration (both legal and illegal). Remember that before going off on an anti-immigrant tirade.
Truth in journalism: I am an immigrant to the USA from Japan.... yes, I am betraying my country. Sigh.