A serious population discussion has erupted online and in newspapers following a tweet by Elon Musk
Fallen bicycles are seen here amid strong winds as Typhoon Nanmadol approaches Izumi, Kagoshima prefecture in Japan on Sept. 18. The nation is shocked by losses due to natural disasters like the 2011 tsunami but few worry about the declining population, where the cause is not from earthquakes, typhoons or tsunamis. (Photo: AFP)
If Elon Musk had not tweeted about it, in all likelihood, the Japanese general public would not have taken it seriously. And we’re talking about the national demographic downfall here.
The few words posted by the Tesla CEO: “Unless something changes to cause the birth rate to exceed the death rate, Japan will eventually cease to exist,” seem to have made talking about population decline appear “cool.”
The subject used to be solely the concern of bureaucrats and statisticians. But since that tweet, a serious discussion has sprung up online and in newspapers.
Here, the novel coronavirus weighed on the number of marriages and pregnancies in a country where people in their 20s and 30s were even otherwise worried about marriage, income and jobs.
One of the usual causes for the decline in births, according to opinion makers, is the increased participation of women in the workforce. Women are finding it less and less attractive to have children as it derails their career or life opportunities — this is the usual cliché dished out in the media.
This notion is de-facto contradicted by the huge number of working women in their late 30s who are choosing to freeze their eggs. These are women who do want children at an age when biology becomes a barrier, almost insurmountable, while also having a problem in finding a suitable man.
"As of now, there are about eight million abandoned homes in Japan"
Japanese women in their late 30s indeed feel the pressure to start a family, especially those living in the countryside, where the huge void of human emptiness that the demographic downturn has produced is all the more evident.
We have all been shocked to see the effects of the 2011 tsunami in certain areas of Tohoku after a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck. Besides the almost 20 thousand people killed, thousands of houses were damaged; houses that people never returned to.
As of now, there are about eight million abandoned homes in Japan and that number is projected to grow to at least 20 million. And the cause is not an earthquake or a tsunami.
These houses are mostly abandoned voluntarily or due to the natural death of their occupants.
There were 124.6 million people in Japan in 2020. A year later, 123.9, which is a loss of 700,000 people in just 12 months. In terms of lives lost, it is the equivalent of 35 tsunamis of the scale that hit the nation in 2011.
It’s somewhat hilarious to hear influential Japanese trying to find a good aspect of such a drastic population reduction in what they call an “overcrowded world” (funny how they never include themselves in that crowd).
"Look at the consequences this demographic apocalypse is already having"
It is a hypocritical and short-sighted view. Hypocritical, because it is literally like vegetarians fighting for a reduction in meat consumption, while they eat steak every day.
This view is also shortsighted. Just look at the consequences this demographic apocalypse is already having not just on the economy, as is obvious, but also on the environment.
The human disappearance is reducing the distance between human habitats and animal habitats. You can easily witness this phenomenon in the most remote region of the archipelago, Shikoku, Yamagata, Hokkaido, and many other areas of the northeast.
Encounters with wild animals are now an everyday occurrence. Not just Shika deer and monkeys, but even fearsome bears and boars who rush into farmers’ fields to munch away their hunger.
But that is not all. With a shrinking population who is going to take care of the maintenance of the thousands of kilometers of railroads, which is the core of Japanese infrastructure?
Just recently JR West declared that due to a lack of funds it will have to close at least 30 rail lines in the countryside. Those lines have been running in the red for years as have many bus routes. So much so that the local authorities now have to collect private donations just to keep them going, as long as donors are able to afford it, that is.
People who speak of overpopulation should visit a Japanese hospital. There they will see with their own eyes what it means to be understaffed. Here the number of available doctors and nurses and those in need of care doesn’t match up with local public finances, with the community taxpayer "pie" shrinking with each passing year.
The other worrying aspect is the huge number of dams Japan relies upon. Dams require constant maintenance and unless the nation is willing to open its doors to thousands of immigrants or work out a technical solution with advanced robotics, it will require actual people, Japanese or not, to do it.
So a lack of population also means an inability to maintain the huge infrastructure that directly affects the quality of living and overall safety.
Those still advocating the benefits of the reduction of the human population haven't really looked ahead much to the future when their second house in the countryside will be inaccessible because of bridge failures, bad roads, or simply because nature reclaimed it back. And what used to be an animated and colorful town is reduced to an all-encompassing wilderness sterile of human presence.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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