John Derbyshire Says The 21st Century May Belong To Japan—Because It’s Biting The Demographic Bullet Now

With a hat tip to the Human Stupidity blog, I have just been watching the BBC documentary No Sex Please, We’re Japanese.” It’s a one-hour program broadcast in Britain last fall in which a reporter visits Japan to do a quick run around the place touching all cultural bases. In what follows I tag quotes from the program with square brackets showing minutes and seconds into the video clip. [Click on the numbers to go to that point in the  video.]

The reporter in this case is Anita Rani, a thirtysomething Briton of Indian (mixed Hindu-Sikh) parentage.

Ms. Rani is presentable enough and does a decent job on the documentary, though from within the standard-issue multicultural journo-liberal mindset. My only grumble is that her speech sounds are occasionally irritating. She eschews lateral plosion so that “hospital” and “candle” come out as “hospi-tull” and “can-dull,” and she tortures the vowel of “you” into a triphthong: “yieuw.” These faults are common among Brits born after 1965, though, and it is probably fogeyish of me to mind them.

Japan is interesting to immigration patriots for an obvious reason: it is immigration-restriction heaven. Asked what we think an ideal U.S. immigration policy would look like, we tend to say (I once actually heard Peter Brimelow say it): “Like Japan’s!”

We get to the immigration issue towards the end of the program. First we take the 45-minute tour of modern Japanese culture, although minus the robots, which Ms. Rani somehow omitted.

Demographic decline. We begin with a trip to the far-north town of Yubari, which has lost most of its population since the last coal mines closed twenty years ago.

Not very surprising, I thought, but certainly melancholy. We see some old photographs of crowded streets at festival time; now the streets are empty.

Ms. Rani visits a shuttered school.

[02m09s]: “There used to be 21 primary schools in Yubari, and now there’s only one… All the children have disappeared.”

Then the maternity ward of a hospi-tull—sorry, hospital. Our reporter consults a staff member:

[06m37s]: She: “How many women in Yubari give birth now?” Answer, in Japanese: “In Yubari City it’s zero.

Off to Tokyo, where now we see streets bustling with traffic and humanity.

[09m29s]: But even in crowded Tokyo they’ve noticed a change.

Ms. Rani consults a Japanese demographer, who tells her:

[11m21s]: Year after year the number born is declining; and it seems like the speed of population decline is accelerating, and it’s going to continue for many years to come… In about 50 years we will lose one-third of the population.

 “That’s a catastrophe for Japan,” observes Ms. Rani. “So why are the Japanese having fewer children?” She cuts to the chase:

[14m22s]: Couples are thought to have very little sex. In one survey just 27 percent of them reported having sex every week—way less than us Brits. It appears that relationships between Japanese men and women are becoming increasingly dysfunctional.

That leads naturally to the next cultural base: the otaku, nerdy young males (mostly) who are obsessively interested in animated movies, shows, and video games.

Otaku. Ms. Rani meets two otaku (it’s the same in singular and plural) who have virtual girlfriends: anime figures in a game called Love Plus, on the screens of iPhone-size gadgets the guys carry around with them.

The otaku are very attached to their cyber-sweethearts.

[16m40s]: As she’s at high school she picks me up in the morning and we go to school together… After school we meet at the gates and go home together… When I go beyond the game and bring her to this side, I put her in the basket at the front of my bicycle. When I arrive where I’m going I take her out and we take pictures of each other.

The otaku who’s been telling us this is 39 years old— “but 17 in the game.” The other otaku is 38 (though 15 in the game), and… married.

[18m51s]: Ms. Rani: “What does your wife think about this, Nurakan?”

Nurakan: “Basically I’ve kept it secret from my wife. I’ve lied about it so I have to keep on lying.”

Ms. Rani: “If you had to choose between your wife and Rinko [the virtual cutie], who would you pick?”

[Long pause, laughter.] Nurakan: “I do my best not to get into that situation.

I think we are supposed to find this creepily sexual, but it came through to me as rather touching. As Nurakan explains:

[17m48s]: “I think I was most passionate about love when I was at high school… At high school you can have relationships without having to think about marriage.”

The take-away here: the burdens of adult life weigh more heavily on Japanese men than on anybody elsewhere. This has been noticed by every observer of the culture from Ruth Benedict via Arthur Koestler to Jared Taylor.

School days are the happiest days of Japanese males’ lives. Afterwards they are thrown into…

The work culture:

Japan’s “work culture” is a killer—literally.

A survey carried out by Spa magazine last year reported that 72.3% of 600 men aged 35-45 surveyed were single, and over a third of them had not had sex in three years, often citing work fatigue as their main affliction. More worryingly, work-related anxiety affects an estimated 1 million people in Japan suffering from the effects of hikikomori, or withdrawal.

This phenomenon, rooted in an individual`s fear of social interaction, is often the result of stigmatization and rejection by a high-pressure work culture. As if this were not evidence enough of a failing system, stress-related suicide rates continue to be at a worldwide high for the 16th year running. Essentially, stress is five times more lethal than traffic accidents in Japan, and one of the leading causes of death in men aged 20-44.

[Japan`s brutal work culture takes a toll, by Heenali Patel, Asia Times, February 10, 2014]

Ms. Rani’s enquiries confirm all this:

[29m51s]: The famous Japanese culture of hard work doesn’t make it easy to combine work with having children. 

[30m44s]: They don’t take even normal holiday that much; maybe a week or ten days in the whole year.

[31m00s]: Japan’s rigid traditions around marriage, hard work, and child care seem to be conspiring to make men and women retreat into different worlds, and stop them having babies.

She visits with some Japanese professional women, of the kind that current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” policy is meant to encourage. [Unleashing the Power of `Womenomics` | Our goal in Japan is to boost women in the workforce significantly by 2020 and reduce pay disparity., By Shinzo Abe, WSJ, September 25, 2013] Sure, they tell Ms. Rani, we’d like to have babies, but… no time! Too busy!

Geezer heaven:

All that hard work has its reward at last.

[35m25s]: Japan has the world’s oldest population. Already a quarter of Japanese people are over 65.

[36m 21s] Japan’s pensioners have plenty of money to spend during their long retirements… Here, 60 is the new 40.

[38m04s]: This is an entire aisle dedicated to adult nappies [diapers]… Adult nappies out-sell the baby nappies.

Ms. Rani meets a class of over-55 cheerleaders, all remarkably lithe and spry. The oldest, aged 81, waggles her pom-poms with the rest of them. Et in Arcadia ego, though: One of the rockettes tells Ms. Rani at 34m33s that “We live too long, I guess.”

There is a strange segment dealing with over-65 criminals.

[39m47s]: Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, but among the elderly, crime is on the up. In just over twenty years the number of pensioners convicted of assault has risen by more than five thousand percent. Rates of murder, robbery, and theft have also soared. In Japan, nearly twenty percent of the prison population is over 65. In Britain it’s less than four percent.

Ms. Rani visits the geriatric wing of a men’s prison. Here she lets us down, with no attempt to explain, or even speculate about, why Japanese geezers are breaking the law so much.

Perhaps to make up for the journalistic failure, we get a decent laugh from an excruciating country music session put on for the inmates to sing along with. Ms. Rani [43m59s]: “I couldn’t work out whether it was part of the punishment, or the rehabilitation.”

At last, in conversation with economist Kathy Matsui, we get to the solution for Japan’s demographic woes:

Immigration!!!! 

[48m09s]: Ms. Rani: “Let’s talk about immigration, because surely that is the solution that’s staring you in the face. You can bring in workers who will do the jobs that will enable women to go into the workforce so they can have children, and this migrant community will pay taxes.”

Ms. Matsui: “It is not like the United Kingdom. It is still a predominantly very homogenous society… Obviously Japan is in a global race for talent, and if you want to win that global race, you’re going to have to bring down some of those barriers.”

Ms. Matsui is plainly a very smart lady, but that phrase “global race for talent” is unbecoming to an economist.  What happened to Comparative Advantage—making full use of the talent you’ve got, and letting other nations do the same? 

Of course, “talent” a.k.a. technology can be imported without bringing people with it—the US has a lot of Japanese technology, but not many Japanese. Those of us who watch immigration issues closely know that the “global race for talent” all too often means letting Bill Gates-type plutocrats import middling-level knowledge workers—computer programmers and such—to undercut the wages of equally-skilled citizens.

And what happens to the loser nations in this “race”—the ones depleted of talent?  I guess they can go hang.  “The Dismal Science” indeed.

Leaving Ms. Matsui, Ms. Rani takes a ride on the Tokyo subway. Looking around the carriage, she turns and confides to the camera:

[50m01s]: One thing that’s hard to ignore here is that everybody is Japanese. So different to our own multicultural society. In the U.K. around one in eight residents were born overseas. One reason Britain isn’t facing quite the same demographic time bomb as Japan is that immigrants tend to have more children, raising the birthrate. [And ratcheting up population density.—JD] In Japan, just one in 60 people come from abroad. This is a country almost entirely made of just one ethnicity: Japanese. And despite the economic problems, the Japanese continue to limit the number of foreign workers.

Perhaps they just like being Japanese, even with all that work stress.

Our reporter does locate one foreign immigrant: a male nurse from the Philippines whose name sounds like, but surely can’t be, “Excel.” Pale-skinned, small-featured, and gracile, Excel looks to me like an ethnic Chinese. There are plenty of those in the Philippines—Amy Chua’s family, for example.

Ms. Rani:

[53m14s]: It’s so tough for a foreigner here that there are only about sixty overseas nurses in the whole of Japan. In the U.K. there are more than sixty thousand.

So there are:

But not a lot of English nurses.

Ms. Rani returns to the stresses of the Japanese workplace:

[54m06s]: Japanese employees are guaranteed just ten days off a year, but most only ever take half of what they’re entitled to.

Excel responds with some very guarded grumbling:

[54m15s]: Taking a vacation is like abandoning your team, or running away from your duties and responsibilities, or abandoning your fellow Japanese friends.

On her way out, Ms. Rani expresses admiration:

[55m25s]: Excel is quite an amazing character…

But she wonders how many could emulate his success, given that, you know, racism:

[55m46s]: I do wonder if he looked slightly different, or maybe if he was less willing to adapt to their culture, whether they’d be so accepting of him.

My emphasis. Why should a nation be “accepting” of anyone who won’t adapt to their culture?

Ms. Rani wraps up with some prognostications:

[56m07s]: Surveys show that relaxing the control of immigration into Japan isn’t popular.

It rarely has been, anywhere.

[57m27s]: Japanese culture may be unique, but the truth is that other wealthy countries are not far behind. Across Europe women are producing fewer and fewer babies; and in the near future, even Japan’s giant neighbor China will have to face up to a rapidly ageing population. What happens over the next few years here in Japan will be watched keenly around the world.

That’s the nub of the matter. Since the planet must have some maximum carrying capacity, and since the medical advances that prolong old age will not be un-learned, the demographic problem Japan is confronting will soon be ours, too.

Mass immigration at best postpones the day of reckoning for a few years, though with the costs familiar to VDARE.com readers: ethnic friction, second-generation absimilation, worker displacement, and so on.

The Japanese have apparently decided to forgo those costs and bite the demographic bullet. If the social and economic problems arising from demographic collapse are solvable—and they’d better be!—the Japanese, on current form, will be the first to solve them.

Then, as boomer-generation oldsters die off, Japan will speed off ahead of us into some new socio-economic order suited to low population levels and better age ratios, as we struggle with the transition they have already mastered.

Might the later 21st century belong to Japan? I wouldn’t be surprised.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by VDARE.com com is FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire`s writings at VDARE.com can do so here.