May 5 is Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day in Japan – a national holiday. The custom is to fly the carp-shaped koinobori flags, one for each child. But as a recent report from AP points out, each year for the past 28 years there have been fewer and fewer children to enjoy the holiday. Japan has the lowest percentage of children amongst 31 major countries – only 13%, compared to 20% in the United States.
But the number over 65 is currently 22.5% and rising. By about 2020, the percentage of children will fall below 11% and the percentage of elderly to 29%. Low birthrates and high life expectancy are already putting strains on government services, pension programs, and labour supply.
So far, government efforts to boost the birth rate have been utterly unsuccessful. Still, with the fashion for stimulus packages, Prime Minister Taro Aso is pushing for more financial support for child birth and an expansion of neonatal intensive care units. But a loosening of Japanese rigid immigration laws is still not on the cards. To help ease the looming labour shortage, the retirement age is gradually being extended from 60 to 65, and it could reach 70. ~ Miami Herald, May 5