Don’t scorn Japan’s powerful old people

japan_100year-oldForeign journalists have a habit of using a lot of judgemental language in their articles about Japan.

“The country is quite simply dying,” is a very judgemental phrase. It was used in a prominent article which appeared on a US political website called The Week. Another piece said “it is hard to appreciate the scale of the crisis” caused by Japan’s ageing population.

The articles were written by opinionated journalists who also proposed solutions to Japan’s problems. These are, namely, to bring in lots of immigrants, to pay people to have babies and to stop sexist discrimination against women at work.

Japan’s ageing population is a topic of daily debate in the Japanese media. Thousands of different versions of the story have been written. Yet these two foreign journalists approach the topic with nothing new in the way of research.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry who writes for The Week is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington, an organisation which says it “applies the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”

As he examines the sensitive issue of the ageing population in Japan, Gobry informs his readers that the country is selling more adult diapers than infant diapers.

According to current projections, he says, by 2060 Japan’s population will have shrunk by a third and people over 65 years old will account for 40 percent of the population.

His suggestions on how to stem the declining birthrate are that Japan must incentivise women to have children and also that it must adopt a more open immigration policy.

One phrase that journalists often use in connection with this issue of population decline is “time bomb” – a term which suggests future disaster.

The time bomb idea is used prominently in a piece by journalist Zack Beauchamp writing in Vox.

Beauchamp says Japan’s demographic problem is “very, very bad”.

He notes that Japan has a very long life expectancy but adds that it also has a low birth rate. “And for that, we can place a lot of the blame on one of history’s greatest villains: sexism.”

The Vox article says that Japan forces women to choose between work and children and it cites research by Yale University’s Frances McCall Rosenbluth, an expert on gender and the Japanese economy.

Neither author has spoken to any Japanese people about the issues, let alone to older people. Gobry’s piece presents Japan’s dignified and powerful older generation as a dying breed of people wearing diapers like babies.

For credibility, writers must show they are engaged in a dialogue with Japanese people about the issues which shape their society. The best articles hold back judgement and show the world a Japan which Japanese people themselves recognise as real.

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