Clyde Prestowitz, in his 2015 book Japan Restored (link at bottom of page), imagines a very different Japan in the future:
...you notice that there are as many women in smart business suites as there are men, something that had already made an impression on you when you attended a conference with a Japanese client company yesterday. That conference had been chaired by a female CEO, and you were surprised to see that women and non-Japanese employees of the company outnumbered the Japanese men around the conference table. Your Japanese host at the company declined your suggestion of an after-work beer because he had to collect his children from the daycare center. So you left the office alone and went in search of a drink by yourself, but instead of streets lined with bars, you could only find streets lined with family restaurants, where mothers, fathers, and young children were enjoying dinner together.
Of course, this isn't today's reality. As of 2015 the Japanese population of 127 million is set to decline to 85 million by 2050, and the only thing aging and shrinking faster than the population is the workforce, 87 million in 2010, and on track to drop to 52 million by 2050. The problems with this are many: Pension funds evaporate as funds are exhausted, standards of living drop, and the cycle continues. Many following the declining birth rate are even beginning to forecast when the last Japanese person could die. They're talking about extinction. The current reality is not a small issue.
Mr. Prestowitz puts forward that to maintain economic growth and standards of living, more women need to join the workforce, and women should have more children. To make this a reality, he argues, the following issues need to be addressed and resolved:
- The Japanese child care system needs to be fixed. The system of overcrowded hoikuen and under-utilized yochien is arduous at best, and the ease and availability of quality daycare for children has a direct impact on the decision of women to work or not.
- Corporate practices and societal attitudes that act as strong disincentives for women to work: Long, inflexible working hours combined with the societal pressure for women to stay at home to care for aging parents in addition to managing the administration and logistics of the childrens' education. Even with Parental leave available to fathers, some estimates indicate that as little as 3% actually take leave available to them for fear of being considered unmanly or disloyal within the workforce.
- Male-centric career selection, advancement and compensation: Only 9% of Japanese managers are women, compared to, as an example, 43% percent in the United States. Not only is there a lack of role models to begin with, but the inherent inflexibility of career-track positions post college exit automatically disincentivize female college graduates from applying, which minimizes the potential cost to a company of early retirement by women. This, along with a median wage that's 28% less than their male counterparts (2X higher gap than in other similar economies) is further disincentive.
- Social stigmas associated with single motherhood, and all the various discrimination from various systems that result. Consider this: There were 200,000 abortions performed in Japan in 2011 (reported), and 1.05 million babies born. First, let me be extremely clear that I am pro-choice. I believe that no government or any person should ever have any power over any woman's decision regarding her body and her pregnancy. What I do wonder is how many of these women choose to give up motherhood because of fear of discrimination in employment, taxes, housing, social services, and more?
- Adoption is rare in Japan. In the US, the adoption rate is 170 per 10,000 births. In Japan, it's 6. This leads to questions about the impact of the traditional koseki family registration system, where all the demographic data about births, marriages, divorces and life are recorded and widely accessible to outsiders.
- Social stigma about fertility technologies that enable women to proactively manage when they want to have children.
This list goes on. Put simply: It's a complicated mess. But the Japanese government knows what the issues are, and it can take specific action with new laws and new policies to begin reversing and ultimately eliminating many if not all of these issues. In Japan Restored, Mr. Prestowitz goes on to describe how specific changes to the Japanese immigration system in addition to very specific, focused changes within business could completely reverse today's demographic trend. Envisioning these issues dealt with, and having suggested very specific, actionable and reasonable changes to do so, he ends the Chapter "Women to the Rescue":
While most of the rest of Asia - especially South Korea and China - is becoming older and more enfeebled every day, Japan in 2010 is becoming younger and more robust.
More Gustos and Cocos than izakaya? Parks filled with children playing and schools brimming with students eager to take on new challenges? Women balancing out men in boardrooms and becoming equal decision makers and business leaders? This sounds very much like a future to look forward to.
In Japan Restored, Mr. Prestowitz tackles the main issues Japan is facing in a fascinating and approachable way. Regardless of whether or not you agree with any of his assertions, the book is very difficult to put down, and leaves you energized and excited. Get Japan Restored by Clyde Prestowitz on Amazon, depending on which country you're in: