Japan's 10 most intractable problems
Everybody knows Japan is in crisis. The biggest problems it faces – sinking economy, aging society, sinking birthrate, radiation, unpopular and seemingly powerless government – present an overwhelming challenge and possibly an existential threat. Less fateful but closer to home is a tangle of smaller worries and anxieties, of which Shukan Josei (March 13) enumerates 10.
Some of them – one-third of single women living in poverty, rising number of children needing protection from child abuse – are in fact far from minor. Others – increase in bicycle accidents, increasing destruction caused by wildlife – do seem at first glance to merit the back burner, although at second glance…
Take destructive wildlife, for instance. Deer, wild boar, monkeys and other creatures who know not what they do cause each year an estimated 20 billion yen worth of damage to crops, national parks, and also to people in the form of personal injury – monkeys especially. Deer nibbling tree bark have turned half of Japan’s national parkland into wasteland, Shukan Josei says, while boar ravage rice paddies. If only the Japanese, like the Europeans, could acquire a taste for eating game! Then hunters would hunt the marauders in greater numbers, and a sustainable balance be restored. But though the Japanese became meat-eaters, their preference remains strictly for domestic livestock.
The trouble with bicycles – convenient, environment-friendly and excellent exercise – is that anyone can ride one; you don’t need a license and there’s no mandatory instruction on rules of the road, which many riders, apparently, don’t know. Besides, few people think of bikes as dangerous, so they’re not given the respect they deserve. Many accidents – Shukan Josei doesn’t tell us how many – involve pedestrians and can be serious. Cyclists draw most of the blame, not altogether fairly. Japan, the magazine points out, is far behind other places, notably Holland and Scandinavia, in creating exclusive bicycle lanes.
There’s actually a silver lining in rising child abuse statistics. At least some of the rise is attributed to neighbors reporting problems, which suggests spreading awareness and also maybe heightened neighborly concern. That’s small comfort to victimized children, of course. Stress and isolation get much of the blame. Child-raising used to be a community responsibility, but communities hardly exist anymore; or the whole extended family got involved, but extended families, too, are almost extinct. Moreover, Shukan Josei adds, public children’s homes tend to be understaffed and rundown, unlike senior citizens’ homes, which benefit from more attention.
Why should one-third of single women be living in poverty? For one thing, most working women – 12 million – are part-time employees, receiving small salaries and few benefits. For another, inheritance laws are skewed in favor of men. Since many single women are single mothers, the impact on children is harsh. “Compared to other developed countries, Japan gives very weak protection to its young generation,” the magazine hears from a lawyer.
Female poverty is a factor in the declining birth rate too. There are 340,000 abortions a year in Japan, many of them presumably on women for whom child-raising is an economic impossibility.