Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently warned that Japan’s birthrate — one of the lowest in the world — is not sustainable and that the ongoing population decline in the country poses an urgent risk to Japanese society.
“Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” Kishida said in Monday’s speech before the newly opened session of Parliament.
Kishida, a conservative leader who took office in 2021, said he intends to launch a new government agency in April to support children and families. Kishida said he wants the government to double its spending on child-related programs.
“Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed,” he said, as reported by The Guardian.
Japan, a nation of 125 million people, has the world’s second-highest proportion of people aged 65 and over, according to World Bank data. The only country with a higher proportion of elderly people is Monaco, a tiny city-state. Japan also has an extremely high life expectancy and has struggled as a nation to care for its growing elderly population.
The prime minister noted that only 800,000 births were recorded in the country last year, a low figure that Japan was previously not projected to reach until 2030. It’s also the lowest figure recorded since Japan began compiling statistics on births in 1899.
According to Asia News, a Catholic news site, Kishida has endorsed direct economic support to families with dependent children, the strengthening of child care services, and the reform of Japanese working habits to allow working parents a better work-life balance.
Specific proposals to address the demographic crisis are being drawn up by a task force led by Masanobu Ogura, the government minister in charge of implementing them. The members plan to come up with measures by the end of March so they can be included in the economic and fiscal policy document that is published every year in June, Asia News reported.
The archbishop of Tokyo, Isao Kikuchi, spoke with CNA in late 2019 about Japan’s “birth rate crisis.” He said the ongoing collapse in the national population has already negatively affected all sectors of Japanese society.
“Population decline due to the low birth rate and the aging population is not just a problem for the Church but a problem for the entire Japanese society,” Kikuchi said.
While couples in Japan are financially rewarded, to an extent, for creating larger families, Kikuchi said at the time that the government has been unable to give young Japanese a sufficient push to make them comfortable with the traditional idea of family-making.
He also said Japan’s ruthless working culture, combined with a heavy expectation on children to be busy with extracurriculars, can impede the practice of faith in Japanese households.
“In addition, such a collapse in the traditional Japanese family system has caused marriages to break down, with single mothers raising their children in poverty,” the archbishop said.
Japan is not the only Asian country facing a demographic crisis — China, the world’s most populous nation, registered a population decline in 2022 for the first time in nearly six decades.