Only our descendants will know for sure, but we may be witnessing something not seen in the world since the slow demise of ancient Egypt — a nation expiring of natural causes. Nations, unlike people, are potentially immortal. When they die, it's usually violently. Japan may make history by its manner of leaving it. It may simply crumble into dust.The phenomenon recalls the 2008 documentary, Demographic Winter: the decline of the human family, and its 2009 sequel, Demographic Bomb: democracy is destiny. Produced by Barry McLerran and Rick Stout, both films make one stark argument: Far from having too many people, the world is running out of them -- especially young people.
That its vital signs are weakening is well known, and though the words "natural death" are not used, expressions just short of them are, conveying an unspoken, unspeakable fear of the worst-case scenario, that this is a country without a future. Two examples among many: "The truth about Japan you don't know," Shukan Gendai headlined ominously last month. "Japan at rock bottom," added Shukan Shincho last week....
Population? After peaking in 2004 at 127.8 million it dropped to 127.5 million in 2009 and now looks headed into free fall — to 115.2 million by 2030, 70 million by 2070, according to government projections. It's a nationwide phenomenon. Forty-six of the 47 prefectures are depopulating, Okinawa being the lone exception.
Age? In 2009, 22.7 percent of the population was 65 or over (as against 7.9 percent in 1970); by 2030, experts say, 31.8 percent will be; by 2055, 40.5 percent.
In an article entitled "Exploding the myth of overpopulation" (Celebrate Life, July-August, 2010), Steve Weatherbe relates some of the compelling images from the documentary:
In Europe, town squares are empty; in China, playground swings are empty; and in America, acres of homes are empty -- and unsold.Although the United Nations continues to warn about rising population and pushes, along with the United States, for policies aimed at slowing the global birth rate, other indicators in the West point in the opposite direction. Weatherbe notes:
But some leaders in the developed world are desperately trying to reverse the declining fertility trend. Russia, which expects to lose a third of its population within 40 years, now offers $9,000 to mothers for having a second child. [Any Catholic home-schooling families interested in making a little extra money?] Portugal's government is considering charging higher pension fees to those who have fewer than two children. Japan, which has the world's lowest birthrate outside of Europe (1.25 live births per woman], has a whole ministry devoted to reversing its decline. In Shanghai, China [in a reversal of long-standing Chinese policy], the administration is now encouraging families to have two or more children -- a stark departure from China's notorious one-child policy....And people thought contraception and abortion (as "back-up birth control") was so cotton-pickin' progressive, and that the Catholic Church was so ... medieval! Go figure. Our collective life depends on it.
... The second film predicts that in the not-so-distant future, every set of 16 Chinese grandparents will depend on the labors -- and taxes -- of a single, shared descendant.