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Don't kill yourself, and make love more frequently

On December 22, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry released the latest estimate of changes in population in 2005 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research attached to it. And as usual the mainstream media passed on the release to their readership and audience precisely in line with a "homogenized and sanitized" interpretation they'd come up with among the press club members.

According to the extremely inaccurate and uniformly distorted news stories, 2005 is going to see a negative growth of population for the first time since the government started the demographic survey in 1899. (This statement needs a lot of clarification. See Note below.) The estimated result shows that deaths are going to outnumber births by 10,000, with the number of births estimated at a record low 1,067,000.

(Note) Isn't it 1920 the first population census was taken? Was the population still increasing in the last years of the Pacific War? The media tend to use the word "population" interchangeably including or excluding foreign residents. Are foreign residents included this time? When they say 2005, do they mean the calendar year, or fiscal year?

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe was quoted as saying: "The government and the ruling parties think of measures to counter the falling birthrate as extremely important, and are willing to further reinforce them."

But should we take it for granted that the downtrend will constitute a formidable threat to the nation's future? Yes, it certainly is a threat, but only to a certain type of professionals called "actuaries" - no need for politicizing it at all. Any pension plan is designed based on "actuarial" assumptions for expected income gains, capital gains, birthrates, mortality rates, administrative costs, etc. which are subject to periodical review against, and adjustments to, respective actual figures.

However, it has never occurred to the welfare ministry to put in place a mechanism in which to systematically analyze investment performance, cost and other factors against these assumptions. As a result, Japan's national pension programs have almost collapsed. And when they have virtually gone bankrupt, it doesn't help at all to discuss haphazard measures, let alone for lay actuaries such as politicians and journalists who tend to arbitrarily single out a certain part of the assumptions such as the one concerning demography.

Apart from the pension issues, the downturn in population, as such, does not cause most of us an added difficulty because it's nothing more than an unavoidable consequence of the root problems which are already there, and not the cause, in itself. And you cannot think of any sensible solution for an issue where the causal relationship is turned
upside down, as is the case with this one.

But for now let us make believe the question is being posed in a valid way, just for the sake of argument.

In the face of a profit shrinkage, a savvy businessperson approaches it from two different angles: how to boost the sales and how to trim the cost. So we can address our "problem" at hand by seeking a realistic solution to rev up fertility, or a workable method to lower mortality.

Can we increase the birthrate?

According to the results of "Global Sex Survey 2005" conducted by "durex" , Japanese adults made love an average 45 times this year. This sexual inactivity placed Japan at the very bottom of the list for an international comparison of "Frequency of Sex", while the Greek ranked No. 1 with their frequency averaged at 138 times. The global average was 103 times.

One sticking point with the durex survey is the fact that it allows too many ways of interpretation because it doesn't provide an in-depth analysis of the respondents by age, marital status, use of contraceptives. And yet, I think you can safely presume that the Japan's showing here by and large explains the declining fertility in this country.

So the real challenge facing the government is whether it can make the Japanese people feel like it much more frequently, and if yes, how. Unfortunately, though, my observation tells that the Japanese, today, are the second hardest species to become horny only next to Giant Pandas. As a matter of fact, I see a certain resemblance in this respect between my fellow countrymen and castrated dogs.

Moreover, unlike with other animals, it takes a certain amount of spontaneity for a human being to make love, with a lot of brain cells involved in it, and thus, human sex is not confined to the lower body. In other words if your brain is dead, your genitals are also dead. Only exceptions are sex addicts.

My tentative conclusion in this regard is: "No, there is no way to artificially increase fertility in this nation."

What about the mortality rate?

Simply put, we are seeing rats desperately fleeing the sinking ship en masse into the ocean.

Obviously the media had been told by the spokesman of the MHLW to explain the main reason for the shrinking population this way: "The institute [attached to the MHLW] attributed the decline [in population] to a rise in deaths because of
FLU! [that claimed many lives of elderly people and toddlers early this year]." (The Japan Times - Dec. 23. The exclamation mark is mine.) Also they must have been told never to touch on the suicide factor.

In 1998, the number of suicides jumped 35% to reach 32,863. Ever since, it hasn't shown any sign to come down below the 30,000 mark once again. When compared to foreign countries, a website puts Japan at the top of the list among the OECD countries, with 24.1 suicides for every 100,000 people, as of 2004.

Even worse, Dr. Yoshi Yamamoto, Director of the Mental Health Center attached to Yokohama Hospital, was quoted by John Nathan in his "Japan Unbound" as saying, "Some 5 million Japanese are contemplating suicide at any given moment." Since it's proved in the past that the most typical way the Japanese act in the face of a crisis is mass self-destruction, I don't think the doctor was exaggerating the situation. Of course, contemplating suicide is one thing and actually attempting it is quite another. But at least, I can not but see a significant implication on fertility in this stunning estimate, because it's very unlikely that these grief-stricken people have thought, or will think, about reproducing themselves.

Under the circumstances, there is only one countermeasure Koizumi can think of implementing: Beg these rats fleeing his ship on his knees not to jump into the briny. That won't work, but there's no other way out of the population pinch.

Other factors

As TokyoFreePress has repeatedly warned, Japan's jobless rates, which hover around 4%, are too
LOW. Another way to say this would be people in Japan Inc. are largely under-utilized simply because of its retention of an enormous amount of redundant manpower. Quite a few (perhaps millions of) people who are at a loss over what to work on every morning still remain employed, as far as they behave (see Postscript), both in public and private sectors. Another factor that shouldn't go unnoticed is ageist, sexist, and other sorts of bias still flourishing in the workplace. Japan Inc. can barely afford to retain redundant manpower only at the cost of these victims of workplace discrimination.

So Jiro Kawasaki, head of the MHLW, was just hallucinating when he said Japan Inc. was facing an acute labor shortage ahead.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's way of thinking is that the larger the population, the better off we are. So he is dreaming that someday Japan will overtake China in terms of population because that now seems the only way to prevent his nation from being overtaken, GDP-wise, by the world's most populous nation. He will never understand that what is at issue in this nation is the
QUALITY of people, not the number of people.

(Postscript - Dec. 28)

On December 27, only five days after the release of the key demographic data, another ministry (Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, this time) announced a preliminary result of the national census taken in October. The Daily Yomiuri says the total population fell 19,000, not 10,000 as had been reported by the other ministry. Judging from the DY's news story, the difference may be explained by the fact that "emigration exceeded immigration". The DY added that Justice Minister is now setting up a project team to work on a loosening of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law which currently permits foreigners to work in only 27 fields.

Personally I don't think any makeshift and half-hearted deregulatory measure will work if it is only intended to make up for the expected shortfall in indigenous population, because the shrinkage in population won't change Japanese obsession with homogeneity. It will only be a matter of time that they end up in a disastrous "xenograft" rejection.

Because of the very inaccurate way the media present these figures, I can't tell whether/where the government changed its population forecast in a matter of five days, but one thing is for sure: There are two groups of people that are gazing at the demographic crystal balls. So either one of them is REDUNDANT. And the project team newly set up in the Justice Ministry is also redundant, let alone the "journalists" who can't provide us with precise facts, consistent data, and undistorted views.

Recently a Japanese businessman among the audience of TokyoFreePress sent me this joke --
Q: "What do you call a journalist with an opinion?"
A: "Unemployed."
In fact this applies to all white-collar occupations in this country.

But unfortunately rather than fortunately, these lame ducks know very well how to remain employed. So let's forget about the manpower shortage and a revision of the immigration control law altogether. ·

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