The Japanese have stopped having children. Or more precisely, they are not having enough children to maintain the nation’s population. According to a recent article in The Week magazine (“Japan’s Population Crisis”, 01-07-14, p. 11), Japan’s population is “dropping rapidly” and will soon be declining at a rate of one million per year. Current projections have the overall Japanese population declining from a high of 128 million in 2007 to only 87 million by 2060. Such demographic shifts also result in the average age becoming older–much older. Japan is on track, that by mid-century, half of its population will be over age 65. If another country attacked Japan and eliminated 40 million of its citizens, that would be considered genocide. But the Japanese are doing this to themselves. In effect, Japan is self-exterminating.
The article in The Week listed a number of factors for the drop in birthrate: economic, social, and (interestingly enough) technological. The marriage rate has plummeted, and along with it so has the birthrate. Among Japanese adults 30 and under, 60% of women are unmarried and so are 72% of men.
For many career-minded Japanese (who generally work 60-80 hours per week) developing a relationship with the opposite sex is not worth the effort or commitment. In Japanese culture, technology has allowed every aspect of romance and intimacy to be simulated, compartmentalized, packaged, marketed, and treated like a commodity. It is simply easier to settle for some form of substitute. Any culture that doesn’t have time for marriage certainly doesn’t have time for children.
One significant factor is “an epidemic of shut-ins”, a generation of male hermits who take the concept of “failure to launch” to another level. “Shut-ins” are young men who live in a bedroom in their parent’s home, and rarely venture out. Their lives consist of sleeping all day then playing video games and watching porn all night. The article tells of one shut-in named Takeshi who remained in his room for four years; his mother feeding him by leaving a tray outside his bedroom door. Japan has an estimated one million similar shut-ins.
There are certain features to Japan’s situation that are unique, but in many ways their dilemma is an extreme version of the problems facing Western cultures. The US and European countries have immigration policies that are much more open than that of Japan, so similar trends in these countries are not quite as evident. But make no mistake: Japan is the canary in the coal mine. Here are some of my takeaway thoughts:
1. In order for a society to have a healthy understanding of human beings, it must view them as having been created in the image of God. The doctrine of the Imago Dei presents humans as unique expressions of the glory and goodness of the Creator. There is something irreducible about the human person that cannot be substituted, and that certainly should not be merchandized. Caring relationships require great commitment, but people are worth it. From abortion laws to prison conditions, a society reveals in a myriad number of ways the esteem in which it holds human beings.
2. Having children is an expression of hope. Raising a family proclaims confidence in God’s plan for the future. The presence of children reveals a community’s commitment to a calling greater than ourselves.
3. Narcissism is both tragic and self-defeating. The lifestyle of the Japanese “shut ins” resembles a type of perdition, a self-inflicted solitary confinement. Also, those who have no time for others because of their commitment to business careers and hedonistic lifestyles seem to be the opposite of happy or fulfilled. We all need to be reminded that “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt 16:25).
There is so much about Japan and its people that is beautiful. Please remember to pray for the Christians believers in Japan. They face unique challenges. Pray that God will use them to proclaim Christ to the Japanese nation. In final analysis, the problems facing the Japanese people are spiritual problems. In this way they are no different from the rest of us.