January 11th, 2010
10:16 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan - Today is a joyous national holiday in Japan known as the Coming of Age Day. The day marks the time when girls and boys become women and men.

Young people celebrate Coming of Age Day in Tokyo.
Young people celebrate Coming of Age Day in Tokyo.

All over Tokyo, young women who are turning 20 this fiscal year are decked out in the fanciest, brightest, and most expensive kimonos you’ll ever see. Young men show up in the sharpest (and likely their first) black suit. The women are adorned with all the stylings of youth: huge hair, flowers, furs and silk. You have to forgive them if they’ve gone a bit over the top — you only become an adult once in Japan.

At the Shibuya ward office, 1450 people arrived at the important Coming of Age Day this January 11, 2010. Compare that number to years past, and you get a glimpse into one of Japan’s most pressing economic problems.

Five years ago, Shibuya ward had 1,917 people turn 20. Ten years ago, that number was 2,462. Twenty years ago, it was 4,380. That’s a steady decline in 20 years, down almost 70 percent. The number of young people is declining, not just in Shibuya, but all over Japan.

The birth rate in Japan is 1.37, among the lowest in the world. Japanese women, in survey after survey, report they’re holding back from having children because of the lack of daycare, inequity of domestic duties in marriage, career concerns and the high cost of living in Japan.

At the same time, the number of elderly is growing. By 2050, Japan’s government predicts 40 percent of its population will be over the age of 65. It’s a crippling population problem which analysts say will make this current recession and recovery look like a brief hiccup.

Japan celebrates its young today. But the joy diminishes every year.

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Filed under: Business


soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Tobias Douglas

    Why is written in such a negative tone? The rising elderly rate is a real problem, but the issue of slightly decreasing population has to be considered in the context of the overpopulation of the Earth. In addition, i would go as far and say that Japan is nowhere near to being an ecologically/agriculturally sustainable country at its current population.

    January 11, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  2. johan hanselaer

    negative population growth is however the only ethical way to saveguard the limited natural resources of the earth, to curb climate change and to ensure the existence of all animal species.
    The absence of any political will to curb population growth will eventually lead to unethical corrections ( war, famine etc).

    January 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  3. John Daly

    I was at a coming of age day festival today in Setagaya Kuyakushyo (ward), and it was beautiful. The girls were strikingly beautiful, and the men were decked out in their Hakama or sharp suits. It's going to be interesting how Japan decides to cope with this incredible problem, and hearing people talk about it, here in Japan, is really quite scary. They know what's coming, and they know it's a problem. They also have no idea how to solve it.

    January 11, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  4. jhombimon

    Society depends on children, to help keep traditions, languages alive. to care for the elderly and create new generations. Does anyone know why japanese women seem to have littlle incentive to continue the species?

    January 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  5. Keith, La Rioja, Spain

    We have a similar "unbalanced" demographic problem here in Spain, and the causes and consequences barely differ from Japan – or other "first" world countries.
    When I came to live in Spain in 1972, the maternity rate was the highest in Europe; today it is about the lowest in the world: the birth rate dipped below 1.2 for a while. Something similar is happening in Italy, and I daresay also in Ireland, though I have no figures.
    The other end of the problem is that people are dying much older, thus over-stretching social resources. The elderly need special care, hospitals and medical attention, etc. – a burden for the economy.
    The same with the young: people under 20 need education, for example, another important burden for the economy.
    Thus, if in Japan, as also in Spain and other countries, in a few years the non-productive sector of the elderly surpasses 40%, but barely 25% are under 20, simple mathematics show us that 35% of the population MAY be working and productive: with their work they have to pay taxes so as to provide for the elderly, and this is just not feasible. In a report a few years ago I read that ideally there should be 3.4 people working so as to provide for each person in the non-productive sector of the population. In Spain this figure dipped briefly below 2.2 – which is absolutely catastrophic and unsustainable.
    Certain relief – up to a point – has been the massive arrival of young immigrants in the last 20 years: bringing young children with them, or – better still – having children here. But how long will that last?
    Europe is getting old, and only a few countries – Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden..... – have put into effect social programmes to help the working mother.
    Hopefully, in 7 months time, I will start getting my retirement pension: but I wouldn't bet on it.

    January 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  6. TheBird

    I understand that the decreasing population in Japan is an economic problem, but japan is also overcrowded and needs to have less people anyhow.

    January 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  7. earth solutions

    If we could just replicate that dynamic in another 100 or so countries we would solve our global pollution/warming/cooling problems and we could establish a sustainable populace on this planet.

    GO JAPAN!

    January 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  8. 2yen

    I have been living in Japan for ten years, and I have noticed this very thing over the years.

    At first I thought that just not as many people were celebrating their coming if age anymore, but in fact the truth is that the raw numbers are declining, rapidly.

    This is a ticking time bomb for Japans economic future.

    January 11, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  9. Jay

    It appears that we have a similar level of brithrate crisis in Korea, too. It costs so much to raise up children these days. It makes would-be parents think twice before they form an extended familyl.

    January 11, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  10. BlairEricson

    Adding to the problem in Japan are stringent government controls on immigration–Japan is still 97% Japanese.

    January 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Akki

    Been Lived in Japan for 9 years, i couldnt agree more with the article.
    Japan has been in the throes of economic ,financial problems which coupled with reducing birthrate has caused even more social problems.

    January 11, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  12. 103loan

    It's a pity that the number of young japanese is declining so much. It is significantly opposite to the situation in Vietnam. Every year, there are more and more babies are born in Vietnam, which makes its population rise a lot. Japan is a developed country and to continue that status they need more people to devote to that, especially young people.

    January 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  13. joe

    there's an over-abundance of Chinese men if they could bunk up with the remaining cows the sparks could fly..

    January 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  14. jojo

    hey iam willing to go there and start a breeding bussiness anyone wana join

    January 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  15. Jason

    Pay attention to the reasons surveyed women gave for not wanting children:
    * lack of daycare,
    * inequity of domestic duties in marriage,
    * career concerns and
    ** the high cost of living in Japan

    The first three reasons are encapsulated by the last reason. If not for the "high cost of living in Japan", the other three reasons would not be statistically significant in my opinion. So why is living in Japan so expensive? The Japanese government cannot stop themselves from manipulating their economy via Keynesianism!

    If the Japanese people would elect people who represent their constituencies instead of just the major exporting companies, things would greatly improve. Keynesianism and bad import policies have depressed the Yen relative to other 1st world currencies and continues to rob the Japanese people of the benefits of cheap, international imports. Their huge government robs the national economy of private sector jobs. Resolving these issues would reduce the cost of living and widen the employment spectrum in Japan. These circumstances might then lead to more children in Japan without having to resort to more Keynesianism.

    January 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  16. Mark Eifert

    An interesting article, but I don't agree with the last sentence. The Japanese mentality is joyous and happy. That hasn't changed with all of the hardships and problems in the last century, and it won't change because of the changing economic situation either. The Japanese people are industrious and resourceful; they show real joy in their work. I'm sure that the challenges brought upon by a changing demographic will be met and solved with these attitudes.

    January 11, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  17. justin winslow

    this is a very horrible promblem. if the japanese goverment does not step in japan will be in trouble.

    January 11, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  18. Guestman

    This is something that is happening all over the world especially in the highly populated areas. Why CNN would just diplay Japan as if it is localized is dumb, there is a much broader and bigger thing going on accross the world.

    January 11, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  19. Wuhenry

    Just watch NHK program or other Japanese program – the women are either in the mid 40's or early 50's.

    Japan can never regain her world economic power with large number of elderly.

    Look at KBS or Arirang the young girls are jovial and full of youthfulness.

    The comparison of the ladies shown in the TV programs of South Korean and Japanese will give you the answer – Japan is aging fast

    January 12, 2010 at 8:12 am |
  20. Boxer

    It would be interesting to know the predictions for productivity levels in the year 2050. If productivity grows sufficiently it could completely offset (or even exceed) the burden of lower worker / retiree ratio & help us maintain (or even continue to improve) our standard of living. In my opinion it is population GROWTH that would over time cripple the world with it's ever-increasing strain on finite resources & pollution. I think dealing with an age-group imbalance would be much easier than dealing with continuing population growth (unless we quickly find a way to populate other planets :-)))...

    January 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  21. E. Nomoto

    Having witnessed the population decline with my own eyes as an American expat (now in the States), the zenophobic attitudes have come to bite Japan in the behind. I eventually gave birth and raised my half-Japanese kids in Japan (until they were 8 and 10 years old), and dreamed that they would contribute to the growth and globalization of a very stagnant society. But the stifling education system and economy proved to be too much for me to further endure raising them in a place where they would never completely "fit in". Immigration policies further prevent international families from settling in and feeling comfortable enough to raise more children – a vital component of economic development and innovation. Native Japanese women are fed up with unchanging paternalistic attitudes at home and in the workplace. This has truly manifested itself into a silent protest against their lot in society, as well. Now there is the "carnivore" and "herbivore" trend among young Japanese that is really getting things screwed up...overly agressive women and men no longer interested in women/dating??? There seems to be no end in sight...

    January 13, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  22. ipd

    Whilst the population question is very stark here in Japan, I don't generally believe the 'population time-bomb' theories. Money and sex, the human race's two most popular subjects. Start using fiscal stimulus in the right way and not the wrong way (roads and bridges to nowhere)

    If the population grows, you need more and bigger housing, more schools and nurseries, more food, more goods etc etc etc. This is the way that the Japanese government can lift consumer spending and hence the economy and solve the population question at the same time. Any government can get a population breeding again by improving some of the issues listed via fiscal stimulus. It is not difficult to do

    January 18, 2010 at 4:00 am |
  23. mike

    you guys are all not japanese, so go bring your opinions elsewhere. nobody in japan cares what you think

    January 18, 2010 at 5:42 am |
  24. Graeme

    It's not just Japan.. there seems to be a growing gulf between not only people of the same ethnicity but between the sexes themselves over most of the world. It's probably money at the root of it all (or lack of!) but there's something definitely amiss these days. Maybe too many people with unrealistic expectations of each other? (this applies to both men & women) .

    Having said that, feel free to contact me +30 y.o. lovely Japanese ladies! I only speak English and very bad basic German though so it probably won't help me in downtown Tokyo!

    January 18, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
  25. David Rand

    Japane is a perfect example of a nation that has significant controls to limit immigration. Why? Japanese try to preserve their culture. They are not a USA melting pot nation!!

    Kids are the next generation. Failure to have enough kids limits the culture of the future. If Japan loosens their controls on immigration and allow in other cultures, Japanese cultures gets diluted.

    It is a very real problem..how do you solve it? More Love Hotels? (You need to be in Japan to understand Love Hotels) = )

    Any ideas?

    January 19, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  26. inaka_rob

    Its a real bummer. I live in Ono city in Fukui prefecture. The population is only 38,500, down nearly 5,000 in 10 years. I really like it out here, but other than my students, there are no young people. If you are smart enough, literally, you leave Ono. You go to college and you don't look back. They only youth who stay here are the poor souls who didn't do well in school. They work at the gas stations and the convenient stores.
    When I go to the local hospital, they only people under the age of 60 are the babies going to pediatric ward, and myself. Its makes me very sad, because I love this country so much, but much like America, they are in decline all across the board for decades now.

    January 19, 2010 at 7:31 am |
  27. Connie Williams

    In Japan's way over populated society where most people live in rooms the size of rabbit hutches because the cities are too cramped, what's the problem?

    January 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  28. nimesh

    I wish my native india were a bit more like Japan. A lot of self respect , pride in self, and not just blind fawning over the west.
    Also, social discipline, universal values, and a strong work ethic.
    I was struck by the 'welcome' given to 5 japanese at Tokyo airport after negotiations had to happen in irag to free them, because they were abducted by miscreants in baghdad. They exited the airplane crying and continuously bowing their heads in apology. They were doing this because, apparently, they had brought disrepute to their families, and in-convenience to their country. In america the prima donnas would have complained about long it took to free them,how hard is was; then sued the airline and government, and then sold the movie rights for millions.
    There should be a happy medium.

    January 21, 2010 at 4:22 am |
  29. Joao

    You may consider, for a moment, that youth from developing countries could be part of the solution. Being part of the solution requires being awarded with citizenship and all rights of the existing population. After all, the world is one. Please do not consider countries as though they were surrounded by virtual walls or their fate could be to come to an end, which will not happen for sure.

    January 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  30. Anonymous

    The underlying problem of the falling birthrate in japan is the strong centralization of this country with 40% of the population living in or around tokyo and yokohama. The centralization is responsible for the high cost of living despite a decreasing population overall. This centralization is a heritage from the past and strongly connected with japanese history.
    In addition, cultural barriers limit the acceptance and assimilation of immigrants. As in every declining population a spiral is formed composed of a marriage sqeeze on men, high selective and therefore late partner choice by women and consequently a decrease in female fertility due to higher age.
    The most efficient way to break this spiral is by reversing the marriage sqeeze through boosting the immigration of young single women and therefore putting the squeeze on japanese women, as it is done indirectly by some european countries.
    However, a strict cultural barrier may prevent such a solution in japan. The only alternative I am aware of, decentralize the country by completely abolishing Edo-time. In fact Edo-time was never really terminated in japan.

    January 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
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    March 3, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  32. ヌジュ

    This article is very importat for that regional area and also for a micro for what is happen the world over. We do have over poopulation not the world over because we all keep move closer and closer toogether their are parts of the world we dont live in even though we coulde because we to live closer tothe action and in very modern conditions. now if japan does not get its act together there contry will dissapear. its going toneed a new social program that get men to grow up american and erupe had to let females play a more active role in the home and japan is going to have t do that aswell. and japan is going to have to start alowing perment residents to become citzen they have shown their love for the coulture and th country and its people they should be treated as japanese and. what makes a family and a counry is not always blood but the love and traditions that are followed and passdown and if they fail to do this they will simpley faid way and that is why this article is about. That a counry and a people could dissapear all together

    April 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm |

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