The vanishing Japanese

When the United States defeated and occupied Japan after World War 2, lowering the country's birthrate was a major priority.  The conventional wisdom of the day was that overpopulation was a root cause of Japan's military aggression, so measures to reduce the birth rate were a major priority.  Abortion was legalized, and a comprehensive propaganda campaign was launched, with media (fully under control of the occupation) depicting large families as unhappy and two children as ideal.  Over the course of a few years, the birthrate sharply declined and then continued to decline more slowly.  Meanwhile, as the average age rose, so did the death rate, so deaths began to outnumber births, as this chart shows:

(The decline in 1966 was due to that year being particularly "unlucky" according to the Japanese zodiac.)

Japan's population peaked at just over 128 million and now is declining at an accelerating pace, as fewer young people are having fewer babies.  A demographic time bomb is now detonating, with the population projected to decline by one third to 87 million in 2060, with half the population between 15 and 65.

The birth dearth is already visible on the streets of Tokyo, where I am currently visiting with AT co-founder Richard Baehr.  Very few babies are visible on the streets.  Yesterday, we saw only two baby carriages all day, and both of them were like this:

Pets, meanwhile, have become big business.  This is in upscale pet store very near where we are staying:

"Pets always come first."  Hmmm.

The dogs and cats are adorable.  A quick look at the pets section of a bookstore as well as the pet store itself suggests that low-maintenance cats are far more popular than dogs.

Meanwhile, it is cherry blossom (sakura in Japanese) season in Japan.  Here are the cherry trees in front of a junior high school in Tokyo:

And here are the blossoms in Ueno Park, one the prime spots for viewing them.

But of course, as with every aspect of human behavior in Japan, there is an etiquette, a set of rules for people to follow.  Due to the large number of foreign tourists (esspecially from Asia) visiting Japan lately, the rules are spelled out in Ueno Park:

Aside from the sheer beauty of cherry blossoms, the cultural appeal for the Japanese is related to their evanescence: after blossoming for a few days, they fall to the earth – a powerful metaphor for the transience of human life.  Owing to the accelerating decline in Japan's population, the cherry blossom may prove an unfortunately appropriate symbol of Japan's flowering as an economic and cultural force in the world.

When the United States defeated and occupied Japan after World War 2, lowering the country's birthrate was a major priority.  The conventional wisdom of the day was that overpopulation was a root cause of Japan's military aggression, so measures to reduce the birth rate were a major priority.  Abortion was legalized, and a comprehensive propaganda campaign was launched, with media (fully under control of the occupation) depicting large families as unhappy and two children as ideal.  Over the course of a few years, the birthrate sharply declined and then continued to decline more slowly.  Meanwhile, as the average age rose, so did the death rate, so deaths began to outnumber births, as this chart shows:

(The decline in 1966 was due to that year being particularly "unlucky" according to the Japanese zodiac.)

Japan's population peaked at just over 128 million and now is declining at an accelerating pace, as fewer young people are having fewer babies.  A demographic time bomb is now detonating, with the population projected to decline by one third to 87 million in 2060, with half the population between 15 and 65.

The birth dearth is already visible on the streets of Tokyo, where I am currently visiting with AT co-founder Richard Baehr.  Very few babies are visible on the streets.  Yesterday, we saw only two baby carriages all day, and both of them were like this:

Pets, meanwhile, have become big business.  This is in upscale pet store very near where we are staying:

"Pets always come first."  Hmmm.

The dogs and cats are adorable.  A quick look at the pets section of a bookstore as well as the pet store itself suggests that low-maintenance cats are far more popular than dogs.

Meanwhile, it is cherry blossom (sakura in Japanese) season in Japan.  Here are the cherry trees in front of a junior high school in Tokyo:

And here are the blossoms in Ueno Park, one the prime spots for viewing them.

But of course, as with every aspect of human behavior in Japan, there is an etiquette, a set of rules for people to follow.  Due to the large number of foreign tourists (esspecially from Asia) visiting Japan lately, the rules are spelled out in Ueno Park:

Aside from the sheer beauty of cherry blossoms, the cultural appeal for the Japanese is related to their evanescence: after blossoming for a few days, they fall to the earth – a powerful metaphor for the transience of human life.  Owing to the accelerating decline in Japan's population, the cherry blossom may prove an unfortunately appropriate symbol of Japan's flowering as an economic and cultural force in the world.

RECENT VIDEOS