While walking about Ikebukuro on the Sunday before I flew back home, I came across this very cute child and her mom. The child was very shy of strangers, as so many children are, and stuck very close to mom. But mom made it easy for the child to eventually wave to me. In spite of her shyness, there was an intense curiosity throughout the entire encounter about the “big scary gaijin” who was standing and smiling in front of her. Mom didn’t have any problems with me grabbing a few quick photos. I don’t know what the little girl thought, as the generational gap was far more intense than the already intense cultural and language gap.
I look at this photo and think about the headlines that have cropped up over the last few days about the aging of the Japanese population and the impact a declining birth rate has on that population as well (see the BBC’s “Concern as Japan’s 2014 birth rate falls to record low” as an example). The numbers for 2014 were around 1 million births compared to 1.3 million deaths. Basically, births are falling while deaths are rising. With these trends in place, and if nothing changes, the population of Japan is projected to fall to 97 million by 2050, or 30 million less than right now.
I certainly understand what a falling population can mean, especially in a first world society such as Japan’s. And I understand how such societies need, at a minimum, a stable population. But the rationale for why we should have more children to help stabilize the population is problematic at best. To read all the reports on this issue, going back at least five years, they’ve all concentrated on birthing future tax revenue resources. Future consumers. All of it centers around money and material wealth. And none of it, as far as I can read, around the real reason for having children.
Because you love them unconditionally and want to experience the joys of parenthood.
Being a parent can be both a joy and, under unforeseen circumstances, a source of deep pain. Speaking as a parent with two adult children, the joys of watching them grow up far out-weighed any of the pains. That’s because we loved our children unconditionally.
If you’re living in a society (and I’m looking at the US as well as Japanese) where the rationale for having children seems to be so that they can support you in your old age as taxpayers and consumers, what kind of human being would want to bring their child into that kind of world? With that rationale, it’s no different from the third world societies that self-righteous first world societies love to criticise that believe in large families so that they’ll have someone to support them in their old age.
As I walked around Ikebukuro that Sunday, I could count on the fingers of one hand all the little children like the little girl above I saw. I saw a lot of adults who could have children, but they were well dressed in their business attire and hurrying to where-ever it was they needed to be. Or out shopping at the up-scale super department store built over the Ikebukuro train station. Even on a Sunday.
As a visitor I have no idea what might be the root cause or causes to a declining birth rate. But dipping back into my past as a first-time parent, I would want to have children because I loved my wife and I would love those children to the fullest extent possible, and because I believed they would inherit a bright and limitless future.
Not give birth to children to fit into my society as future drones into the system to support me. That’s an empty, dystopian future I wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially my children.