Four days after the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States, writer Kafu Nagai (1879-1959) wrote in his diary: “Advertisements that appear everywhere state Britain and the United States are enemies that must be defeated and call for 100 million people to advance as a fireball.”
During the war, "100 million people" represented the entire Japanese population and the peoples of Korea and Taiwan, and “100 million people fireball,” “100 million people, one mind,” and “100 million people fighting to the last man” became slogans during the war.
Once the war was over, the idea of “all 100 million people making repentance” was advocated. Critics deplored that lowbrow television entertainment would turn the entire 100 million population into idiots. Other buzz phrases with the figure include “all 100 million turning into commentators” and “all 100 million middle class” as most people considered themselves to be middle class. Thus, the number was conveniently used as a sort of prefix.
But eventually, we must part with it in the not too distant future. According to demographic estimates released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan’s population is expected to dip below 100 million in 2048 and fall to 86.74 million in 2060. The figure is about two-thirds of the current population. In other words, the population equivalent to those who currently live in the Kinki, Tokai and Chugoku regions would disappear.
In terms of number, the population would be about the same level it was during the early 1950s. But the composition would be completely different. With the rapid aging of Japanese society and fewer babies being born nowadays, the graph that shows the projected demographic structure 50 years from now looks like a martial artist with a massively built upper body. With slender legs, the top-heavy V shape, which represents the number of older people, lacks stability and appears ready to topple.
Although systematic reforms and measures to fight declining birthrates are indispensable, I am not happy with the way they are being debated. It seems we tend to regard children too much as a “mass” in the form of future work force and human resources who pay taxes and shoulder the burdens of social security. Personally, I feel that our society is somewhat intolerant when it comes to dealing with “real children.”
When children cry in public places, their parents shrink back because other people show displeasure. People even frown at the voices of children at play. Many parents who take time off from work to care for their children are losing their jobs. These are just few of the many examples. Of course, it is important to secure pensions. At the same time, we need to make our society one into which babies feel they want to be born.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 1
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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