Foreign Policy Blogs

Japan's demographic crisis

Japan’s largest crisis is neither the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant nor the recovery from the March 11 earthquake/tsunami. The Japanese will eventually overcome and move on from both these problems. The crisis Japan is facing is one of demographics.

Japanese women are obsessed with fashion. I commented last week that Japanese are quick to absorb foreign fashions. However, whenever I walk downtown on the narrow streets leading to the fashionable shopping centers, I pass dozens of small, mom-and-pop shops selling old people clothes for dirt cheap. I wonder how these little shops stay in business selling fashions that were all the rage 60 years ago. Then I remember that Japan is the “grayest” society in the history of the earth.

I have mentioned before the reasons Japanese women have fewer babies, which has to do with social issues and the high cost-of-living in Japan. That, combined with the fact that the Japanese have the world’s longest life expectancy, has led to an age bracket that looks like an inverted pyramid. The below graph, which I copied from a 2007 BBC news article, speaks for itself.

Japan's demographic crisis

Japan’s task now is to find a way to survive while its seniors are crushing the economy. It is clear that Japan’s economic policy has been a failure. It’s protective policies which keep out foreign businesses and keeps select businesses afloat doesn’t exactly inspire competition. Since the “Japanese economic miracle” came to a crashing halt in 1990, the government has barely managed to keep the economy afloat with massive pork-barrel spending, raising public debt to world-record levels. This is not sustainable. After all, there are only so many places you can pour concrete. If Japan stays on its present course, it will become a welfare state that will no longer have neither the economic nor military edge it needs to secure much-needed provisions from abroad.

For Japan to survive with a work-force of barely over 50 percent of the population and 40 percent of the population retired, it will need to regain its technological edge and build an advanced, post-consumer society that can provide a model to the rest of the world on how to take care of its old people. This is easier said than done, but I am confident that once the Japanese know what needs to be done, they will pursue it with the driven zeal they are historically famous for.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]