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This community’s quarter-century without newborns shows the scale of Japan’s demographic crisis CNN


Kentaro Yokobori was born nearly seven years ago, and was the first newborn in Kawakami Village’s Sosei area in 25 years. His birth was something of a miracle for many villagers.

Nearly all of the people who visited their parents Miho and Hirohito for over a week were elderly, some of whom could barely walk.

“The old people were very happy to see me.” [Kentaro]Then an elderly woman who had difficulty climbing stairs with a cane came up to me with her baby in her arms. All the elderly people took turns holding the baby,” recalls Miho.

In the last quarter century without newborns, the village population has fallen by more than half from 6,000 40 years ago to 1,150. Because the younger residents left and the older residents died. Many homes were abandoned and some were overrun by wildlife.

Kawakami is just one of countless small rural towns and villages that have been forgotten and neglected as young Japanese head to the city. live in urban areas. Japanese Shinkansen on time.

As such, rural areas and industries such as agriculture, forestry and farming are facing severe labor shortages, which are likely to worsen in the coming years as the workforce ages. By 2022, the number of people working in agriculture and forestry has fallen from 2.25 million a decade ago to 1.9 million.

But Kawakami’s death is emblematic of problems far beyond rural Japan.

The problem in Japan is that even people in the city cannot have children.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a recent press conference that “we are running out of time to give birth,” but the slogan has so far failed to inspire the majority of the city-dwelling Japanese population. It seems

Earlier this year, he warned that the country was “on the verge of failing to function socially” amid a deluge of bewildering demographic data.

There will be 799,728 births in 2022, the lowest on record and just over half of the 1.5 million births registered in 1982. dropped to 1.3 – Well below the 2.1 required to maintain a stable population. For more than a decade, death rates have exceeded birth rates.

As of 2021, foreigners made up only 2.2% of the population, according to the Japanese government. 13.6% in the US – Some fear that once the number of women of childbearing age reaches a tipping point and there is no way to reverse the trend of population decline, the country is rushing towards a point of no return.

All of this has prompted leaders of the world’s third-largest economy to seek to fund pensions and health care for its burgeoning elderly population despite its shrinking workforce. I am facing an enviable job.

Opposing them is a busy urban lifestyle, long working hours that leave the Japanese with little time to start a family, and a rising cost of living that means having children is simply too expensive for many young people. There are also cultural taboos surrounding talking about fertility and patriarchal norms that prevent mothers from returning to work.

Yuka Okada, M.D., director of the Grace Sugiyama Clinic in Tokyo, said cultural barriers often make talking about women’s fertility off limits.

“[People are]a little embarrassed about this topic. Think about your body, think about[what happens]after trying to conceive. It’s very important. So don’t be ashamed.” ”

Ms. Okada is one of the few working mothers in Japan who continue to pursue a career after giving birth. Many of Japan’s highly educated women are relegated to part-time or retail work, even if they find a new job. According to the OECD, 39% of her female workers were in part-time employment in 2021, compared to 15% of her males.

Tokyo wants to address some of these issues so that working women today become working mothers tomorrow. If you decide to have it, you are more likely to have a successful pregnancy.

New parents in Japan already receive thousands of dollars in ‘baby bonuses’ to help cover medical bills. A state-sponsored dating service powered by artificial intelligence.

Kaoru Harumasu makes barrels using cedar wood.

Whether such measures can turn the tide in urban or rural areas remains to be seen. It offers lessons from

With the declining population, many traditional crafts and lifestyles are in danger of extinction.

Kaoru Harumasu, who lives in Kawakami Village in his 70s, was among the villagers who hugged Kentaro. A woodworking master developed a close relationship with the boy and taught him how to carve the local cedar from the surrounding forest.

“He calls me grandpa, but if my real grandpa lived here, he wouldn’t call me grandpa.” Even if there is no connection, it may be that he feels a stronger affection for Kentaro, who he sees often.”

Both of Halmash’s sons left their villages several years ago, as do many other young rural residents in Japan.

“If children do not choose to continue living in the village, they will go to the city,” he said.

When Mr. and Mrs. Yokobori moved to Kawakami Village about 10 years ago, they didn’t know that most of the residents were past the retirement age. Over the years, they’ve seen older friends die and long-standing traditions of the community go astray.

“There are not enough people to maintain villages, communities, festivals and other ward organizations, and it is becoming impossible,” Miho said.

“The more I get to know people, the elderly, the more I miss having to say goodbye. With or without villages, life actually goes on,” she said. “At the same time, it is very sad to see the surrounding local population dwindling.”

Kaoru Harumasu is a lifelong villager. Kentaro calls him Grandpa.

If that sounds depressing, perhaps it’s because Japan’s fight to boost its birth rate in recent years has given little reason for optimism.

Still, there may be a small glimmer of hope in the story of the Yokobori family. Kentaro’s birth was unusual. Not only because the village has been waiting for so long, but also because his parents moved from the city to the countryside. This is bucking a decades-long trend for young people to become more and more plump due to the convenience of city life in Japan.

Several recent surveys suggest that many young people like them are considering the appeal of rural living, attracted by the low cost of living, clean air and low-stress lifestyle. In one survey of residents in the greater Tokyo area, 34% of respondents expressed interest in moving to rural areas, up from 25.1% for her in 2019. In his twenties he is interested by 44.9%.

The Yokobori couple say it would have been much more difficult financially and personally to have a family had they still lived in the city.

Their decision to move was prompted by a national tragedy in Japan 12 years ago. On March 11, 2011, an earthquake violently shook much of the country for several minutes, triggering a tsunami taller than a 10-story building, devastating large swaths of the east coast and destroying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. caused a meltdown. .

At that time, Miho was working as a company employee in Tokyo. She remembers feeling helpless as her daily life in Japan’s largest city collapsed.

“I have never experienced a war, but it was like a war because everyone was panicking. It was like having money but not being able to buy water. I felt so weak,” she recalled.

For Miho and Hirohito, who were working as graphic designers at the time, the tragedy was a waking moment.

“The things I used to rely on suddenly became unreliable, and I actually felt like I was living in a very unstable place.

The couple found the place in Nara Prefecture, one of Japan’s most remote areas. It’s a land of majestic mountains and small towns, hidden along winding roads under towering cedar trees taller than most buildings.

They quit their city jobs, moved to a simple mountain house, and run a small bed and breakfast. He studied woodworking techniques and specializes in making cedar barrels for sake breweries. she is a housewife She raises chickens, grows vegetables, chops firewood, and takes care of Kentaro, who will soon be a freshman.

The big question for Kawakami Village and Japan as a whole is whether Kentaro’s birth is a sign of better times coming, or a miracle birth in a dying life.

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