Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The article "State trying to reinstill desire to have kids" (July 27) shows once again that the topic of Japan's alleged looming demographic crisis will not quit.
Pronouncements by the Japanese government, ministers and bureaucrats consistently reinforce my belief that they are out to lunch on this matter, and therefore their attempts to rectify it will fail because like so much in Japanese culture, these attempts are more for show than for real achievement.
On the proactive side of the birth crisis, some talk about addressing the demographic problem through better child day care provisions, or maternity/paternity leave from work, or more equity in the job market for women. In other words, tinkering with society. Then on the passive side, others just rue the selfishness of young Japanese adults in choosing to remain single, longer, for whatever purpose, and their decisions to have fewer babies, for whatever purpose. The decline of traditional values. The decline of marriage. The decline and absence of sufficient marital/parental role models, etc. There is lots of ruing, and not enough doing.
These approaches may be valid, but I think that they miss the true main reason why fewer babies are being born in Japan. It is because Japan is so expensive! The problem is complicated by the fact that Japanese seem satisfied with the expense of life here. But Japan does not need to be the most expensive place in the world to live. It has been made this way artificially, by a conspiracy of the people and the government for two formidable motives. One is cultural - Japanese distrust the authenticity and reliability of things that are, or appear to be, too easy. So there is a cultural expectation that life is, and ought to be difficult (and expensive), somethng to "gaman" through. The second is economic. Japan's economy and standard of living are predicated on a certain assumption of value (hence expense), so that deflation is anathema.
If the State really wants to encourage more births then it would do better to address the high cost of living and raising children and not dither so much with the lesser things. Although these "lesser things" are important I think they obfuscate the matter that the State has no business in regulating the genitals of the population - especially young women's genitals - to begin with. So I can't help but feel there is something depraved in the way the State approaches the problem of decreasing births and birth rates.
Published on Wednesday, August 11, 2004 as “Too expensive to raise kids.”
It seems to me that money is the number one issue about raising children these days, especially in Japan where things are designed to be expensive. I don’t know why politicians and commentators do not talk about it directly and publicly but instead fritter away (and Japanese love to fritter, or “muddle through”)talking about child allowances, public nursery school availability, working-mother-friendly workplaces, etc., as if any of that will actually do any good. It’s not that young people are selfishly choosing to spend money on personal consumption and private leisure rather than having a family, or a larger family. It’s just that the money simply isn’t there, especially in these hard economic times that the Japanese government can’t seem to think its way out of.
In addition, it sometimes sounds as if Japanese conservatives think young people have a patriotic duty, or a social obligation to have children, to have more children, to have sex, sex, sex for the good of the country and its future economy. It’s another example of people - especially old men, the majority of Japanese parliamentarians - sticking their noses into ther people’s genitals - especially women’s genitals - like the Roman Catholic Pope talking about contraception. The state has no business in its citizens’ genitals! But in some kind of disturbingly conceivable Kafkaesque future world that might exactly be the case, a world where one needs a license to have children, or one is denied certain civil rights unless one has a child or two.