26 July, 2006

Long Time No See

For the first time in weeks we have a blue sky here in Tokyo!! As I commuted this morning, I saw a bunch of people putting their futon mattresses and blankets out in the sun. I wanted to too, but I gave up cuz I know it’ll be all damp absorbing the evening mist even if I did hang it out to let them dry.

Many of the regions in Western Japan are said to escape the rainy season for this year. Can’t tell you how jealous I am. Anyway, I also heard on the weather forecast that the weather for Tokyo in August will be so different from what we have now: days will be way hotter and sunnier and summer might extend a bit into September.

Sadly, however, today seems to be the only day we can enjoy the bright blue sky and the sun and this so summery muggy heat. Sounds like the weekends are going to be back to rainy season... I might as well have a rainy day today and a sunny weekend if I had to have the same amount of rain anyways.

Something caught my attention this morning on the news and it’s about the average life span of Japanese people. The average for Japanese people in 2005 was 78.53 years old for men and 85.49 for women. They say that the number has slightly gone down the previous year for the first time in six years.

The essential reason behind the shortening (well, by sth like 0.10years) of average life span is the increase in deaths due to flu and suicides. Even though Japanese women continue to be the longest living people in the world today (I mean, statistically you know), men dropped from second place (2004) to fourth place (2005) falling from the top 3 for the first time in 32 years. By the way, second place for women was Hong Kong followed by Spain, and for men it was (1) Hong Kong – (2) Iceland – (3) Switzerland.

Even then, the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare claims that although there have been changes in international rankings due to irregular causes (like flu), average life span continues to grow longer in tendency. Well, I guess more people are living longer.

Becoming a country carrying a bunch of grandpas and grandmas itself is not a huge issue, or at least it won’t be only if we had enough younger population to take care of the country. One of the biggest problems this country carries, as some of you may be aware of, is the concurrence of aging and sharp decline in birthrate.

If the current pace continues or worsens, we will lose labor force in a remarkable speed leaving us to expect nothing else but stagnation in economic activities and drop of living standard. The increase in the ratio of producing generation (15-64 years old) to senior population (above 65) makes hard the healthy maintenance and balance of social security services like pension. Not only that, services and products geared towards the young generation such as video games, manga, music CDs etc will also suffer economic stagnation.

In reality, the number of issues of the manga magazines for young men has reached its peak in the mid 1990s and has been dropping, and the CD sales too are weakening in the market since late 1990s. I am very aware that there are other elements that contribute to the drop like the spreading of internet services and free downloads, but anyone can tell that Japan is going to be a country of doddering gramps and grannies.

So, what are the solutions? What should we do to improve the situation?
Okay, the problem is not the aging part but the drop in birthrate. What drops the birthrate? A lot of “losses” – loss of chances to work and make money while pregnancy and delivery (it is very costly to become pregnant and have a baby here), loss of compensation, underdevelopment in the family-friendly environment in simultaneous pursuit of work and home, the increase in the sense of burden in raising a family due to spread of nuclear families, increase in financial burden due to spiraling education cost, loss of comfortable-living environment in urban areas due to overpopulation in big cities, increase in “unofficial employees” caused by the loosening of employment regulations and increase in financially unstable population such as NEET and “freeters” caused by the loose regulations... etc. etc. The list knows no end.

The other day I saw on the news about some prefectures that have relatively high birthrates and introduced how they managed to pull up the birthrate.
For example, this prefecture encouraged companies to help young fathers spend more time at home doing house chores and child rearing. Some permitted them to take them to and from nurseries during office hours, reduced or freed tuition, built homes for young families etc. and tried to prepare an environment in which fathers and mothers can safely and comfortably raise children.

That’s the way to go. It’s always better to have more kids – it’ll be more fun and happy. We have to think and work fast to bring the society back alive.

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