In June of this year
How surprising is this change? As recently as 2002 the Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research announced that the lowest possible TFR in
Attempts by the Japanese government to increase the rate of childbirth have all failed, although they continue to introduce new plans. These economic incentives, ranging from cash payments to parents, more day-care centers open longer, more parental leave, legal certainty that a mother would get her job back, etc., all failed. Indeed, as I mentioned above, the TFR fell faster than predicted after these programs were put in place. The programs also included steps to ‘increase awareness of the importance and value of children’; during the last fifteen years child abuse, sometime horrific, has steadily risen in
Other stats look just as bad for
Hikikomori (which translates to “pulling away”) are young people from the ages of about 15 to as old as 30 who simply never leave their parents’ home and, almost always, rarely leave their own room. The usually eat alone in their rooms, rarely speak to even their parents, and the majority seem to only leave their rooms at night, when everyone else is asleep. This behavior is so common that the Ministry of Health limits the term ‘hikikomori’ to people who exhibit such behavior for more than six months. In some cases, hikikomori have not left their rooms for 15 years or more. While female hikikomori are underreported (Japanese culture tends to spotlight male behavior) there is some evidence that hikikomori are abour 60%/40% male/female. Estimates for total numbers are tough, due to a social stigma that causes many parents to simply not mention that their child is a voluntary shut-it. The best guess, though, seems to be that about 1 million young Japanese are hikikomori. This is equal to about 1.5% of all Japanese of working age, or about 5% of all Japanese between 15 and 35.
There has been discussion about suicide in
Another growing trend in
So what the heck is going on? Most researchers point to the flat Japanese economy and intone that ‘the long-stagnant Japanese economy is driving people to despair’. I say this is bunk. The Japanese economy began rebounding in 2003 and showed very strong growth through the middle of 2005 – hindered by a lack of skilled workers! As the Japanese economy rebounds unemployment is dropping (although slower than anticipated). If one of the prime reasons for suicide is lack of economic opportunity, why are workers killing themselves in greater numbers as their prospects improve? This makes no sense. The ennui that leads to the statistics we see above comes from more than just the economy. More importantly, high rates of suicide and the hikikomori phenomenon began when
So what is it that is taking the once-vibrant Japanese culture from being aggressively expansionist to apathetically self-destructive in the course of a mere 60 years? I have a vague inkling of a theory. As I mentioned earlier, religion is good for you. Religious societies tend to be happier, more fully employed, higher earning, and have more children. They also have lower rates of depression and suicide.
I believe that
In short, I think