News: Fewer children on Children's Day

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May 5th is Children's Day (kodomo no hi) in Japan. The Japanese government according to an article by 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.
All rights reserved. Permission required before use.

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: 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.


I was going to include obscure jokes in the article about Soylent Green and Logan's Run but was afraid it would reveal both my inner geekiness and my inner 30-somethignness.

Why do you say you're betraying your country?

I agree that raising children in Japan is sort of a joke. The government complains about the lack of working "baby making machines" but then makes it no easier for women or families in general to have children.

I am recently married to a Japanese woman and we want to have children, but I'm scared to raise them in Japan!

But Kindergarten/Elementary School time isn't where all the problems lie:

The decrease of local maternity clinics makes it difficult to get checkups for pregnant mothers and its quite a long trip to the nearest hospital where there might not even be a doctor present to deliver your baby.

The lack of clean safe FREE green space in the city where children can play (Shinjuku Gyoen is huge, but you have to pay to get in!)

The ever increasing pressure to send your children to a "cram school" now starting in early elementary school (not only expensive, but a huge time killer... when are these kids supposed to play?) Why can't they just learn what they need to in school? If school isn't teaching them what they need to know, then the government should take care of that problem. (Of course if you leave it up to the Monbusho then you get a lengthened school week... which just gives kids less time to play or spend with their families... they don't actually learn more.)

A lot of the school problems are caused by the fact that students just don't pay proper attetion in school and a good number of teachers don't engage students in class (they speak AT students, not TO them... and not even while facing them.)

Then theres the work culture that forces fathers (and some mothers too) to work until all hours of the night and weekends so they never see their families. I have kids in my classes that will see their mothers for less than an hour a day.. and their fathers for maybe a few hours a week (on Sunday if they're lucky.) No wonder juvenile delinquency is on the rise!

The government can provide all the refunds for the delivery hospital visit. All the yearly child bonus money and free child insurance it wants... but it won't convince more people to have kids. People just don't have the time! And when my generation looks at the state of a child's existence compared to the freedom we had when we were kids (Americans and Japanese my age alike) we pity todays kids and all the BS studying and club activities they are forced into.

If the Japanese government wants to increase the birthrate among native Japanese citizens it needs to do 2 things in my opinion:
1. Limit the work week and impose penalties on companies that force/allow people to work more than 50 hours a week.
2.Change the High School/College Entrace Exam system to more accurately reflect what is taught at the average public school and change it to test INTELLIGENCE as opposed to brute memorized factoids (knowledge) in order to cut down on or eliminate the waste of time and money that is the parasitic cram school system. (And in doing so decrease the stress on HS/JHS students = less youth suicides. Increase the time spent with family = less youth crime. and hopefully more attention paid in class due to less sleeping [a byproduct of late night cram schools and too much studying], emailing, comic book reading, and cram school homework writing.)

Sorry for the rant


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on May 5, 2005 2:10 AM.

Link: Joi Ito's Web: How to find and cook Takenoko was the previous entry in this blog.

Careers: Be portable is the next entry in this blog.

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