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Japan faces a population crisis

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Japan faces a population crisis

  1. 1. Japan faces a populationcrisis Russell Grenning Since 1963, centenarians –those aged100 years – inJapan have receivedasilversake cupcosting about$91 and a congratulatoryletterfromthe Prime Minister. Thisyear the presentationontheir“RespectfortheAged Day” onSeptember15 will probably be the last. In the inaugural yearof theirseniors’dayin1963, 153 cups were distributed.Lastyear 29,000 were handedoutto those whohad reached100 and the cost was more than $3 million. The costthis year spiralled evenhigher. From nextyear,itislikelytobe a far lesscostlypresentation –possiblyjustacongratulatoryletter fromthe Prime Minister.Some yearsback,the governmenttriedtocontainthe costof the saucer- like cupsknownas “sakazuki”by shrinkingthe diameterbutthathadlittle financial impact. The Japanese HealthMinisterhasbeenquotedinlocal mediaassayingthat, “We are reviewing it butwe havenotmadeany firm decisions.” Thisyear accordingto official statisticsreleasedontheirseniors’day,the numberof people aged 100 or olderwas61,568, up2,748 in 2014, and a new record forthe 45th straightyear.Women account for87.3% of that total and the oldestmanis112 while the oldestwoman is115. The total exceeded 10,000 in 1998 and reached30,000 in2007 and 50,000 in2012. Japan hasthe highestlife expectancyinthe world –the average life expectancyforwomenisalmost87and for menit isjustover80. There are an amazing282 who had reached110 at lastcount. The government predictsthata further39,000 centenarianswill be addedby2018. The nation’scomprehensive healthcare system, supportfromthe community,encouragementto remainphysicallyactive,asense of beingpartof a familyanda healthydiet traditionallyheavyin fish,rice,vegetablesandfruithave all contributed. Today,more than a quarter of the populationis65 or olderandthisispredictedtoincrease to40% whenthe total populationwillhave shrunkfromthe current127 millionto90 million.Atthe other endof the age scale,fewerandfeweryoungpeopleare havingbabies –the birthrate isinfree fall. It ispredictedthatthe populationof Tokyowill halvebythe endof thiscentury. Japanis notoriouslyaversetoallowingforeignerssettle thereandtheymake uplessthan2% of the population.Itisprobablythe mostethnicallyhomogeneouscountriesinthe worldand the Japanese simplydon’twantandsimplydon’tlike foreigners.Whatsome wouldcall racism, the Japanese call cultural pride. But theyare beingconfrontedwithaproblem –whoisgoingto take care of the ballooningolder population?
  2. 2. In 2008, the governmentstartedallowingforeignnursesandcare workersin.Howeverthe barisset high.Havingto passthe national examinJapanese isincrediblydifficultand,sofar,only304 nurses and carers have managedtomake Japan theirtemporaryhome.Prime MinisterShinzoAbe is walkingapolitical tightrope –he iskeentoexpandprogramsforforeignworkersbutinsiststhatthey wouldhave togo home afterthree to five years.He knowsthatallowinglarge-scale immigration wouldbe political suicide. One influential andwell-knownJapanese authorAyakoSonohassupportedremovingstrict requirementstoallowmore foreign workersbutshe insiststhattheyshouldlive inseparate communitiesawayfromJapanese.Frankly,thatisa policysimilartoapartheid. The head of the Japan ImmigrationPolicyInstitute,Hidenori Sakanakahas saidhiscountryneedsat leasttenmillion immigrantsoverthe nexthalf century,saying “Whatthegovernmentisdoing isnot going to addresstheseriouspopulation collapsethatJapan faces.” “If we educate ouryoungpeople thatJapanneedstobecome more multiracial totackle the populationproblem,Ithinkthatwe can achieve itwithoutcausingmajorproblems,”he said. There isa dark side tohavingan increasingolderpopulation. In 1989, Japanese police startedkeepingtabsof crimesbyage groupand thisyear,for the firsttime, the numberof people aged65 or oldersubjecttopolice action washigherthan those agedbetween 14 to 19 The rise inthe elderlycrime rate doubledbetween2003 and 2013 whenthe numberof crimescommittedbythe elderlywassix timeswhatitwastwentyyearsearlier. Alreadyone infive prisoninmatesare 60 or olderand a governmentstudyin2012 notedthat some 70% of the elderlycrimeswere actsof shopliftingbyimpoverishedpensioners.Evenasmurderrates overall decline,homicidescarriedoutbythe elderly are rising. The surgingcost of caringfor the elderlyhasalreadyforcedthe governmenttocutwelfare. Justhow Japancopeswiththispopulationtime bombisthe biggestchallengefacingitsgovernment.

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