Japan’s population is dramatically shrinking
Japanese people are said to have the longest life expectancy in the world. My paternal grandfather passed away 15 years ago, but his wife is still alive. My oba-chan (the Japanese word for grandma) is 94 years old and I am so proud of her.
It’s good that people in Japan live longer than those from other countries. But the country is faced with an unprecedented population loss and the government has to seriously think how to support 65 and older population when there aren’t enough young people to support them.
Here are the possible solutions. These do sound simplistic, but I am not sure if the country will be ready for the projection: People over 65 and above will make up 40 percent of the total Japanese population by 2060.
Solution #1 Encourage women to give birth
My father seems to think that giving more tax breaks and financial incentives are the answers. But I do disagree. I think it is important to create an environment in which Japanese people feel like it is ok to pursue happiness and wellbeing. Government has been working on this, but Japan is notoriously a highly stressful society.
The more people are stressed, the less they are likely to get married and have children .Also it is important to increase the number of quality child care centers especially in big cities.
Also, Japanese companies should not make their employees work unreasonably long hours or put enormous pressure on each employee to be loyal to one’s corporation.
I think the solution to this issue could be simple but it’s challenging to actually put these into practice.
Solution #2 Allow dual citizenship.
Japan does not allow dual citizenship. Some Japanese people have to give up on their citizenships in order to become a citizen of another country. There are many Japanese people who choose to be a permanent resident of the foreign country that they live in order to maintain the Japanese citizenship. Or some people just abandon Japanese citizenship in order to keep the second citizenship. I think we should allow especially ordinary citizens to have dual citizenships. Many countries allow the dual citizenship.
Solution #3 Create more inclusive environment for people from different ethnic heritages, backgrounds.
Japan is one of the most homogeneous country. It’s said that 98% of its population is ethnic Japanese. I am not sure if this is really the case or not, but we all know their focus on ethnic Japanese and national identity.
Unlike America, people are not automatically Japanese just because they are born in Japan. There was a controversial incident several years ago. This 16 year-old Thai high school student who was born and raised to the undocumented parents from Thailand. Although he was born in Japan and had never been to Thailand, the immigration of Japan still made a judgement to deport this boy after he graduates from high school.
I do believe that this was not really about him violating the Japanese immigration law, but rather Japanese society doesn’t really want non-Japanese by blood to permanently reside in Japan. It’s changing, but that’s the impression such homogeneous society tends to give to tourists, international students and temporary workers.
I think it is important for Japanese government to implement some kind of educational curriculum that focuses on diversity and inclusiveness in K-12 education. At the very least, they should create a society Hafu (mixed children) Japanese people can comfortably live.
Solution #4 Assess Japan’s work culture
In 2015, a 24-year-old woman committed suicide due to work induced suffering and stress. She ended her life. She was an employee of Japan’s top advertising agency, “Dentsu” and this case has gathered enormous media attention.
Since then, Japanese government and media are calling for reducing excessive workload and working hours. Dentsu decided to turn off the light at a certain time to encourage workers to finish up and go home.
Also Japanese government has increased a number of holidays in order to encourage Japanese people to take relaxing days off. I think these are all very important.
It will likely take like a decade to see the real outcome of such effort.
At present, it is nearly impossible for women to do it all in male-dominated workplace culture in Japan. Japanese workers are known for their extreme loyalty to work. Japanese women often give up their careers for marriage and family or give up on marriage and family for their careers.
Solution #5 Stop work harassment especially against women
Japanese companies used to primarily adopt a lifetime employment system in which newly university students are hired to work for the same company for life.
This trend has changed and many companies can no longer afford that. But this mentality has affected Japanese corporate culture to the full extent. Because of that, age is a crucial factor for successful employment. Sadly women over 35 years old are secretly frowned upon when they submit their resumes.
Some companies don’t care, but women are judged much more harshly based on age especially due to the cultural norm that women are likely to retire from their work after marriage and child birth.
It is illegal to mention this during the interview, but this is an invisible
Solution #6 Invest more resources in mental health, wellbeing..
Japan is a highly stressful society. It is difficult to focus on finding the right partner, get married and then start a family when there is a deep underlying issue.
These solutions may sound premature and simplistic. While the Japanese government has to think about ways to increase the population, they still have to find efficient ways to make the future of Japanese seniors more bright.
What are you thoughts on this issue?