Japan faces a double challenge: an aging population, reclusiveness
The Covid-19 pandemic aggravated an existing problem within Japanese society, making it more complex to overcome the culture of reclusiveness.
In the 1980s, the word hikikomori was coined in Japan to describe the culture of inclusiveness in Japan. A new government survey has revealed that about 1.5 million people have withdrawn from society in general and rather live most of their lives confined to the walls of their apartments.
The Japanese government identifies its hikikomori community as "people who have been isolated for at least six months," reported CNN.
The survey also revealed that some only leave their apartments to go and buy their groceries while others remain confined indoors for a long time. In the past decade, it was reported that Japan has become increasingly concerned regarding the reclusion of this group of people, however, the Covid-19 pandemic actively worsened the scene.
Last November, a survey conducted by the Children and Family Agency found that from the 12,249 respondents, about 2% of people aged 15 to 64 have identified as hikikomori; given Japan's population, 2% make up 1.46 million social recluses in the country according to the agency's spokesperson.
Pregnancy, job loss, sickness, retirement, and poor interpersonal interactions were all frequently stated causes of social isolation, but Covid-19 was the leading culprit, with more than a quarter of respondents attributing their reclusive lifestyle to the epidemic.
Another paper published earlier in February in Japan’s National Diet Library “Due to Covid-19, opportunities for contact with other people have decreased.”
The pandemic may have exacerbated already-existing societal issues including loneliness, isolation, and financial difficulty, the paper said, citing an increase in recorded suicides as well as child and domestic violence.
The decline in population growth as well as the aging of the current population in Japan also poses a challenge. Hikikomori is not new, for it existed long before the pandemic emerged. However, this phenomenon looms over other Japanese problems.
Since the 1980 boom in Japan, its population has been in decline as the number of births continues to fall to record lows. Moreover, the aging population meant that more and more people are aging out of the workforce as more and more people are adopting a hikikomori lifestyle.
Earlier this year, the Japanese Prime Minister had warned that the country was “on the brink of not being able to maintain social functions.”
This means that families with members who identify as hikikomori, face even more challenges as 50-year-old people have to rely on their 80-year-old parents. This problem was even named the "8050 problems" in Japan.
Japanese gov't to adopt measures to raise birth rate
Japan's government will take comprehensive measures to raise the birth rate amid a possible record drop in the country's fertility, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said back in November 2022.
Prior to that, Japan's Health Ministry said that 599,000 babies were born in Japan in 2022's first nine months, a number that is 30,000 fewer than that in the same period of 2021. The country's birth rate could fall below 800,000 for the first time if the rate remains the same until the end of the year, the ministry added.
"Comprehensive measures should be promoted to address the decline in the birth rate at all stages of life in the form of economic assistance for marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, creating conditions to combine work and child-rearing for both parents," Matsuno said, as quoted by the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
In early May of the same year, the Japanese Interior Ministry registered the lowest share of children in Japan's population in 41 years (11.7%); they now number 14.65 million.
Japan's shrinking population has raised so many alarms that one paper called for the declaration of a "declining birth-rate state of emergency."
The first time Japan took notice of its low fertility rates was in 1989 when the country's Total Fertility Rate (TFR) was found to be 1.57, much lower than the 2.1 needed for a population to sustain itself.