by Philip Patrick
Friday, 16
September 2022
Explainer
10:15

Will Japanese people ‘cease to exist’?

Declining fertility is turning the country into one big retirement home
by Philip Patrick
Credit: Getty

In May of this year that keen observer of future trends Elon Musk caused a storm when he observed that, if their ultra-low birthrate were to continue, the Japanese would eventually ‘cease to exist’. He was responding to an eleventh consecutive drop in population numbers caused by a lack of births and the ever-increasing longevity. Japan now has a record 86,000 centenarians, and adult diapers have outsold those for babies since 2011.

Musk was accused of alarmism but more evidence to support his grim hypothesis emerged recently with a survey of attitudes to marriage among the Japanese young. A poll by the government affiliated National Institute of Population and Social Security found that 17.3% of men and 14.6% of women aged between 18 and 34 said they had no intention of marrying, which represented an eightfold rise for men and a threefold rise for women from the same survey in 1982. Japan also saw a record low in new births in 2021 (811,604 down 3.5% from the previous year).

The Japanese seem less and less inclined to commit to a life-long partner and especially reluctant to procreate, which does indeed leave the country facing the prospect of becoming the world’s largest retirement community. What this might look like can already be witnessed in Japan’s rapidly depopulating countryside where substantial properties in ghost towns can bought for the price of a car.

But is there anything uniquely Japanese about this? The truth is that Japan’s fertility rate (births per 1000 women of child-bearing age — a more accurate metric than the birth rate) is certainly low (1.38) but 10 countries have worse figures. Taiwan, about which we rarely hear, takes ‘top’ spot at 1.07. The UK (1.7) is not much better. And declining interest in marriage, or a shift towards later marriage, is a first-world trend. To cite just two examples: marriages fell by a hefty 6.5% in the UK (in 2019 from 2018) while the US marriage rate has halved (9.8 per 1000 people to 5.1) since the 1990s.

We could look for local factors to explain Japan’s declining fertility rates. In Japan, there are certainly a distinct lack of role models; the Japanese royal family has shrunk to a barely sustainable number and glamorous pop musicians are essentially banned from having relationships — a glossy young idol flashing her baby bump for the media is something you never see here. And the traditional match-making business (‘omiai’), once very common, has fallen into abeyance, leaving it harder for the difficult to pair off to find partners.

But these are unlikely to have made a huge difference. In Japan, as elsewhere, the most plausible explanations for people postponing their family planning are economic uncertainty and the end of the job for life guarantee offered by major employers. Then there is the increased number of women in the workplace enjoying newly available career opportunities and the attendant decline in status of the traditional housewife.

What does mark out Japan and gives a degree of credence to the extinction narratives is the extremely low rates of immigration. Where many advanced western countries camouflage their dwindling native populations and invigorate their workforce with large numbers of imported citizens, Japan retains very strict controls. There are especially steep barriers to overcome for those wishing to attain permanent residence or bring their families.

It’s a controversial issue. It is possible to have sympathy with Japan’s desire for a homogenous society and the preservation of its unique identity and complex rule and etiquette-based culture, which it would be hard to imagine surviving a huge influx of untrained immigrants. On the other hand, some see the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the demographic realities by welcoming newcomers as simple racism. Many in Japan would bristle at that suggestion but Japan’s strict and protracted, but popular, Covid-19 entry restrictions for foreigners do suggest a country that hasn’t wholly shaken off its historically isolationist tendencies.

That leaves a stark choice: preserve the culture but accept a gradual decline and an increasingly urbanised gerontocratic society; or embrace an influx of new arrivals, and a sustainable, but very different Japan.

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Lee Marshall
Lee Marshall
16 days ago

The Japanese are right to put first the preservation of their culture, identity and pedigree. If this meets the definition of racism, it remains unimpeachable nonetheless. Even if Japan’s population dwindles surely there is a chance for some sort of future renaissance that will at least be undertaken by actual Japanese people and not just those who are simply masquerading as such (although as we ourselves see, a even a masquerade is often too much to ask for). If they need foreign workers, a strictly enforced visa and repatriation policy, together with a total block on citizenship, a complete rejection of multiculturalism and a refusal to engage with so-called universal human rights, would help them avoid what we in the West have done to ourselves. If Japan chooses mass immigration, they will die out completely – it is not a true alternative to declining birth rates but a short-term plug to mask (and eventually exacerbate) the problem of national decline. Let’s hope at the very least they look to the UK, Germany, Sweden etc as examples of what not to do.

David Gifford
David Gifford
16 days ago
Reply to  Lee Marshall

I have to agree. Having visited Japan, it was noticeable how pleasant the capital was, how friendly and clean. It was harmonious and homogenous compared to modern western states. The Japanese seem to be managing with a shrinking population quite well. At some point I expect the birth rate will rebound to maintain equilibrium. A choice we have been denied.

M M
M M
16 days ago

I read this article nodding my head until halfway through, but the last part of the conclusion is clearly wrong. I am a Japanese. I think Japan lost its way largely because of the Koizumi era, when he destroyed society by believing that Japan would Americanize itself as if it were the Philippines. Heizo Takenaka, Koizumi’s messenger, whom many Japanese consider to be the devil incarnate, introduced the non-regular employment system and destroyed Japan in a spectacular manner. (Heizo Takenaka, even became the chairman of a human resource company called Pasona and made a lot of money) and has allowed a group of Chinese to destroy Japan under the excuse of developing the tourism industry. By choosing the dangerous path of having people of Korean and Chinese descent at the top of Japanese society instead of pure Japanese, Japan has been shaken up by these people and has fallen so far. We believe that it is time to return Japanese society to the 20th century once again, restore the lifetime employment system, and order Heizo Takenaka to immediately halakiri and revive Japanese traditions. It is time for the real Japanese people to rebuild Japan, and they must be prepared to do so. But that does not mean the revival of the Empire of Japan. We need to revive arranged marriages, bring women back into the home, and not force them to be assertive and work as hard as American women do. We must not let the bullshit of globalization lead us astray, and we must live as Japanese citizens, taking care of Japan in a small way. Then women will be able to have children with peace of mind, and the Japanese people will be able to escape from this 21st-century fool’s rush to extremes. Do you think this kind of thinking is crazy? That is because you are not Japanese.

Matt M
Matt M
16 days ago
Reply to  M M

This is the most interesting comment I have read on this website.

Aaron James
Aaron James
16 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Those Japanese women brought back into the home to raise crying infants after university will end up employing Philippina nannies on work contract to raise the children…. Like the well off in Saudi and Hong Kong do…haha, But that ends up working well, look at the Imperial British and their Ayahs….

In USA the Post WWII, the university educated housewife, in the new suburbs and stuck at home with babies after the exciting intellectual years of University, was going quietly mad, and so the mass vallium and other Benzos and Barbiturates (‘she runs to the shelter of mother’s little helper’ was the song of this) addictions, and the birth of Feminism… haha, the world

But Japan is 110% right in this.

Harry Phillips
Harry Phillips
15 days ago
Reply to  M M

As a former resident of Japan, I think the Japanese have got it about right regarding immigration. Non-Japanese are allowed in to work, but always on a visa that can be rescinded in the event of excessive poor behaviour. Permanent residency just means you can get a bank loan and don’t have to go to immigration as much, and citizenship is all but impossible to obtain.

I personally would be quite happy to live there without voting rights as long as I can enjoy the lack of crime, the safety, and the uniqueness of the place.

If only Europe could emulate Japan more. It is so sad to see the plight of France, Sweden..the list goes on.

Bob Groth
Bob Groth
15 days ago
Reply to  M M

頑張って

Good Reason
Good Reason
15 days ago
Reply to  M M

If you were a Japanese woman, this would be an interesting comment. But you are a Japanese man, who will not be undertaking the burden you would so readily foist on your country’s women. Therefore, your comment is irrelevant, for it is Japanese women who will decide the future of Japan, not Japanese men.

Emre 0
Emre 0
14 days ago
Reply to  Good Reason

The only thing (Japanese) women can decide completely on their own is to be alone or not. Any decision that involves a man will have to take into account his views.

Last edited 14 days ago by Emre Emre
Rip van Winkle
Rip van Winkle
15 days ago
Reply to  M M

No it is sane thinking. I don’t need to be Japanese to see that your mind is clear and stable and you have the correct view. I am glad to hear you say all these things and I hope your opinions become widespread in Japan. It’s a beautiful culture and it’s time for a revival. Let’s all have a revival – globalism is a wrong turn and a dead end.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago

It fascinates me that the Woke national socialists have missed out on berating Japan for having almost zero black and muslims?

John Solomon
John Solomon
16 days ago

Perhaps they worry that the Japanese would see that as praise, and would almost certainly fail to feel in the least guilty.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
15 days ago

It’s obvious. The Japanese are not white.

Last edited 15 days ago by Betsy Arehart
Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
16 days ago

Japan, or any other country that wanted to address this issue, could do so quite easily. Tax breaks for marriage and young couples, childcare subsidies, more affordable housing – all doable, but ignored. Which makes one wonder if this is deliberate. Maybe Japan will change its mind. But elsewhere we have a deadly combination of multiculturalists (open borders and diversity are good), big business (low wages), social liberals (marriage = patriarchy = tying women to kitchen sink + gender oppression) and environmentalists (people pollute) and we don’t get a lot of choice on the subject.

Aaron James
Aaron James
16 days ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

The intentional destruction of the family is 100% intentional.

It is the very foundation of Marxism.

When the West was Capitalist you had the baby boom, once Liberals (commie-lite) took over the family was murdered as fast as their evil philosophy could manage to engineer it.

Half of the entire point of welfare is to force the men out of the households so the children are raised by poor, single Mothers – causing the destruction of society. Check out USA marriage rates in the groups who most are caught in the evil ‘Welfare Trap’. they went from 80% Marriage to almost none – all engineered by the filthy Liberal woke creed. The Liberals hate decency – so have declared war against it – back in 1920s in Wiemar Germany in the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School’ they declared war on the family, and society, and are now what we call ‘Woke’, and they are winning.

Dominic A
Dominic A
16 days ago

I continue to be amazed at the stubborn myopia of population decline alarmists. Japanese are not going to die out, nor is the country turning into a old people’s home. Moreover:
1) At some point all populations will decline. After hundreds of thousands of years, this is now happening in the natural population of all developed countries. It’s immigration from developing countries that keeps the numbers up. Thinking of this as something that needs to, or can be be prevented is Canute-like – it’s going to happen, plan for it, don’t try to stop it.
2) The main reason Japan’s population is in decline compared with ours – they severely restrict immigration. That is their choice.
3) Japan is actually doing just fine. Go & visit, you’ll see. Though of course accountants and economists worry about numbers.
4) Japan is super-crowded. I have little doubt they would love a little more space.
5) The biggest element of pollution, climate change, and environmental degradation of the one planet that we have – people. Of all the things you could personally do to reduce this – have fewer kids.
6) “In Japan, as elsewhere, the most plausible explanations for people postponing their family planning are economic uncertainty and the end of the job for life guarantee offered by major employers.” – Exactly wrong. The areas of the world with the highest population growth? Those where economic uncertainty abounds.
7) “That leaves a stark choice: preserve the culture but accept a gradual decline and an increasingly urbanised gerontocratic society; or embrace an influx of new arrivals, and a sustainable, but very different Japan.” Again, exactly wrong. At some point the decline will happen – in every case; and importing people to look after your elderly is not a sustainable model.

Matt M
Matt M
16 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Nicely put Dominic.
It seems to me that countries all have the chance to reach a steady state where the population shrinks to the point where there are enough houses for everyone, plenty of space and lots of technology requiring fewer (imported) manual workers. Maybe freeing up larger houses will actually encourage people to have more kids and possibly also look after their elderly parents rather than consigning them to care homes.

Rip van Winkle
Rip van Winkle
15 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Population decline is not natural at all. It is not caused by education or wealth. It is caused by the media, pushing policies that amount to biological attacks intended to block reproduction. This includes feminism, the gay movement, the new fad of child castration etc, on top of economic policies intended to make homebuying and family foundation difficult or impossible (even in a supposedly wealthy nation, what medieval peasants did is unaffordable – as a matter of policy). It all targets reproduction, that is the common denominator. Passing it off as some random coincidence is nonsensical.

FukkyouKlowns TritorsousKult
FukkyouKlowns TritorsousKult
14 days ago
Reply to  Rip van Winkle

Humanity will be well served when you exit.

Dominic A
Dominic A
14 days ago
Reply to  Rip van Winkle

Ridiculous man.

M. M.
M. M.
16 days ago

Last edited 15 days ago by Matthew M.
Garrett R
Garrett R
16 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

Yes, let’s ignore that NYC had a 25 year decline in crime and then throw out recent trends to confirm a worldview. Let’s ignore the fact that Republicans have made significant gains in Hispanic votes the last few election cycles. Let’s ignore that violent crime is higher in rural areas on a per capita basis that has ramped up during the pandemic. Let’s ignore that these areas overwhelmingly “back the blue”. Let’s further ignore that West and Hispanic are contradictory terms given much of the Hispanic background descends from Spain. Is Spain not the West? That would be news to the Spaniards. Let’s ignore that Hispanic youth in the US have cut high school drop out rates from 34% in 1996 to 10% in 2016. Or that Hispanic college enrollment now matches White enrollment.

Really wish Marco Rubio would take his Hispanic background and step down to make room for a more Westernized Senator. Please.

Matt M
Matt M
16 days ago

As nations get richer they stop having as many babies. This is a great thing as it solves all sorts of problems from house price inflation to global warming.
But it isn’t cost free. Pension and healthcare systems rely on the young to subsidise the old. Elderly people stop consuming so many goods and services and stop investing in risky assets.
This is the policy challenge of the next few decades.
A few ideas of the top of my head:

  • increase the retirement age to 75
  • massive tax breaks for automation that reduces the need for human workers in any industry
  • target sales and set up British owned manufacturing plants in growth population markets outside Europe such as the (still growing) USA, India and Africa (thanks to Brexit, we have a free hand to agree comprehensive FTAs)
  • encourage young people to move to areas where they can afford to get a house and start a family (rural broadband, transport connectivity, maybe mortgage assistance for under thirties buying a house)
Last edited 16 days ago by Matt M
Harry Child
Harry Child
15 days ago

I despair about journalists. What is never said in these type of articles is the background. For example ” The total land area of Japan is 377, 700 sq km. (37,770,000 ha) (habitable land is equal to 125,500 sq km or 12,550,000 ha, approximately 33% of the total land). and its current population is around 124 million. As people become more prosperous with automated technology there isn’t the need for large families so the panicky headlines seems off.

Prof Mitchell
Prof Mitchell
16 days ago

If people have stopped having children due to economic factors, why does Africa have the highest birthrate in the world?

Aaron James
Aaron James
16 days ago
Reply to  Prof Mitchell

shows different attitudes to parenting

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
16 days ago

The answers so far have been marred by the ubiquitous nationalism + racism that permeates society these days (plus a solid dose of geographic ignorance of someone that labeled “Hispanic” culture as non-western LOL), which is not surprising. What is surprising is that no one addressed the elephant in the room: The most immediate problem arising from low fertility rates is the financing of everyone’s retirement. Whether we like numbers or not, the harsh reality is that a low fertility rate makes the breakdown of a retirement system based on taxing the younger inevitable. So retirement funding must be shifted somewhere else, and the obvious choice is to have each worker financing his/her own retirement. In fact that is what has been going on for a long time already, as the amounts received from public-funded retirement schemes have been dwindling and people realize they need to complement that with some individual resourcefulness. Alas, the problem complicating this shift – from public- to individually-funded retirement – is of course the horrendous inequality that also characterizes most of our countries. You can’t secure survivable retirement if you have been subsisting on minimum wage for your entire life.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
15 days ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

I live in the USA. My husband (age 65) has funded our retirement through 401K and private investment, to the point where (Lord willing) we can have a comfortable if not affluent retirement presumably up to death. He is a professional but not particularly high salaried. This is with his retiring within the next couple years, and without factoring in Social Security.

Last edited 15 days ago by Betsy Arehart
M. M.
M. M.
15 days ago

Philip Patrick wrote, “That leaves a stark choice: preserve the culture but accept a gradual decline and an increasingly urbanised gerontocratic society; or embrace an influx of new arrivals, and a sustainable, but very different Japan.”

A more accurate statement is “That leaves a stark choice: preserve a high-quality Western culture and accept a gradual decline in population, or embrace an influx of anti-Western immigrants, who are violent and could ruin Japanese society.”

Consider New York City, which is an example of the second option.

For July 2022, the city had 47 murders, 142 rapes, and 178 shootings. (See the reference.)

For the year 2021, arrest statistics indicate that Africans or Hispanics committed 93% of all murders in New York City. Africans or Hispanics committed 96% of all shootings in the city. Africans or Hispanics committed 88% of all rapes in the city. (See the reference.)

The American fate is a dire warning to Japan, Sweden, and the rest of Western civilization.

By 2040, the United States will cease being a Western nation, due to open borders. By 2040, most Americans will reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture will dominate. In California, 40% of the residents are currently Hispanic. Most residents of the state already reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture dominates.

Most Westerners prefer the first option: preserving a high-quality Western culture by reducing immigration and enforcing the borders.

Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 15 days ago by Matthew M.
Alexander Scipio
Alexander Scipio
15 days ago

Japan, Italy, Germany all at or near bottom of global fertility. These are the WW2 Axis powers. Hong Kong lost without fighting when returned to Red China. Moral: don’t lose wars; you’ll be out of alpha males & no one cares any more about the future of their culture just shown to be unable to compete.

Last edited 15 days ago by Alexander Scipio
John Riley
John Riley
13 days ago

There are a lot of single Japanese women who enjoy their lives and though they may not want to bear the burden of motherhood, more than that, they don’t want to take care of a man. Just my uneducated impression.