Sunday, February 15, 2009

Procreation Propaganda

The current fashion in Japan is babies.

For the past 2 or 3 years, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the Japanese government to fight Japan's shrinking population by encouraging more women to have kids. At first, they tried the obligation and duty angle: news was that the Japanese people needed to produce more children to maintain Japan's status as the second wealthiest country in the world. Then, the government started providing more services to ease child rearing; some of these were long overdue, such as maternity care programs and day-care centers for working parents.

Let be reiterate that because the concept may be unbelievable to readers from modern nations: until just recently, day-care centers were few and far between in Japan; what few there are were very expensive and, until deregulation in 2000, run by the government. The concept of a babysitter is still foreign here. Of course, things are changing, but Japan has gotten an awfully late start.

I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I recall a poster on the train a few months back that sent the clear, if not implicit, message that if you have kids then people will be nice to you. In a country in which people rarely acknowledge your existence, that's a pretty bold statement. We're going to skip the courteous stage and jump right from the treating-you-as-an-obstacle stage to the being-kind-to-you stage...all you need is a kid.

There has been much internal discourse in Japan about the ramifications of a shrinking population. By and the large, the message is "have more children" because "shrinking is bad". I have not read the multitude of books on the subject, but the message sent by the in-train posters, celebrity magazines, and "talent"-riddled Japanese television shows is "kids are cool".

Don't get me wrong: kids are cool. What is uncomfortable to me is the idea of the government intervening in my personal life to support an official policy to counter the shrinking population.*

The pretext to all this commotion is that a shrinking population is bad. However, Professor Akiko Matsutani disagrees and in 2007 wrote a book titled "Shrinking Population Economics" in which he claims the shrinking isn't bad, but rather provides an opportunity for Japan to improve the quality of life for its smaller population. In his book, he argues that Japan should not focus on producing a new army of alcohol-numbed workaholics, but rather let workers enjoy more time with their family, take up hobbies, and unwind on holidays.

Which actually brings the argument around full circle. Perhaps the 12-hour+ work days, 3+ hour commutes, semi-regimented drinking parties, etc. with little or no time left to spend at home are as much to blame for the current "baby crisis" as anything. You can't be a family if you are never home. If the only time you see your spouse is for a few minutes as your drag your groggy butt back home after a long day at the office, is it really any surprise you don't have more kids.

The government solution: use propaganda to encourage people produce another generation of workaholics with no time or energy to have children themselves. Professor Matsutani's solution: make life enjoyable, kids or not. Life is to be enjoyed, not frittered away in some Orwellian dystopia. And the irony is, happier couples are more likely to have children.


* I use the phrase "my personal life" empathetically with the Japanese people. As a foreigner in Japan, the government couldn't care less whether I have kids or not.

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As a timely addendum to my ramblings:
Canon has taken the initiative to send its workers home at 5:30pm (only twice a week, mind you). But it sends them home with homework: to make babies.
I wonder if they get performance reviews.

3 comments:

turingpup said...

I wonder if Takanashi-san would be down for implementing something like that at MCL? Maybe Fornication Fridays? :D

Kelly Yancey said...

Best comment ever.

I'm kicking myself for not thinking of that as a title for my post.

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

Heh, I work from home three days a week, and I'm up to 5 kids. I'm happier now than I've ever been, although I make less money than when I worked at MCL.

Being a workaholic for a large corporation can't possibly provide very much satisfaction for most people, which is probably what leads to the rampant alcoholism.

It reminds me of the fact that Mother Theresa said that the poorest people in the world are the people who feel they are unloved. Sounds like the poverty in Japan must be horrible! ;)