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To have (or not have) kids: by choice or duty to country?

(All translations are my own.)

So the other day, my teacher at Japanese language school brought in a newspaper clipping and had the class split into small groups to discuss it. The article was from The Asahi Shimbun in March about a 61-year-old middle school principal from Osaka. He gave a speech to his entire school, saying the following: “…a woman’s most important job- more important than her career- is to have two or more children…”

I hope you can see why it became such a scandal- these are 13-15 year olds he said that to! Obviously, I was quite shocked. We got into our groups and discussed the article; my group members (2 Chinese, and one Taiwanese) and I all agreed that what he said was irresponsible. We thought that he should’ve considered the consequences of his word choices. I’m sure he meant for it to come out differently, considering he was coming from a good place- Japan does need more babies with their aging population and lack of young people to replace those dying. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he told impressionable children something very serious that maybe their parents could’ve discussed with them.

Not everything he said was bad, though. He had one- I repeat ONE- modern lesson to teach the kids: it’s not just the woman’s job to raise children; men should take more responsibility and play a bigger role in their kids’ lives. I could whole-heartedly agree with that statement: child rearing should be a team effort.

After we had discussed the issue within our little groups, we had to choose a group representative to present our views to the class. A Korean boy in class stood up to present and said something along the lines of, “Well, my group split in half: some of us agreed with what he said and some didn’t agree. I personally agreed with the Principal, because if more people don’t have kids, Japan will cease to exist as a nation…”

Resource: http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2010/11/japans_population

In the US, we don’t have this problem: between “natural born” (meaning, born on US soil) babies and immigrants coming to live and have families of their own/become US citizens themselves, our population is pretty steady. We don’t have to worry about a shrinking population. Instead, all of our arguments revolve around abortion and a woman’s choice to have/not have children.

Sadly, my Korean classmate is right: if Japan doesn’t do something about its declining birthrate and growing elderly population, it will cease to exist. BUT, that’s where my agreement ends, because the likelihood of that actually happening is slim. If the Japanese government relaxes its immigration policies and/or makes it easier for women (and men!) to work and have a family, their problem will be fixed (to a certain extent, at least). Here are two graphs:

Resource: http://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a01002/

Resource: http://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00096/

These graphs illustrate the current marriage climate of Japan. As you can see, people are getting married later in life (which is also happening in the US, by the way). This could possibly make things harder when trying to get pregnant, since both parents are older. You can also see the general marriage decline in the bottom graph: after a spike of marriages in 2007, there has been a steady decline. And it's not just an overall decline- the number of marriages where at least one partner is a foreigner is also declining. They're naturally less likely to happen overall, which the red dotted line indicates.

So what do these graphs tell us? They tell us there is a pattern of people waiting until later in life to marry, which means that people are waiting to have kids...which means less babies for the time being. The second graph shows that there are less marriages occurring overall, which is cause for worry as people generally get married and then have kids; so if marriages don't happen, babies won't happen.

But, I was most offended by my classmate’s comment because it sounded like it was my duty as a woman to birth babies for my country (if I were Japanese). I’m an adamant defender of a woman’s choice to have children; so by telling me it’s my duty you’re taking away my choice. Or worse, you're telling me I’m a bad citizen for not doing my patriotic duty…what is this, the 1950s? No, it’s 2016: women can have it all, and it’s inequitable to tell us what to do with our bodies, for what purpose, and when.

And that’s not where my objection ends: so Mr. Principal and my classmate want more babies. But are they willing for them to be mixed race? How about immigrant families with children? No, I’m sure they want “pure” babies. Go ahead, talk about the importance of having children all you want, but unless you’re willing to accept all kinds of babies- shut the hell up. And don't tell children it's their "duty" to have children! It's just ridiculous.

Needless to say, I wanted to have a nice debate with my classmate. I didn’t get the chance, however, so I settled for making disapproving noises and faces at him as he spoke.

And that’s my American opinion on the Japanese 少子化 (aging/declining population) problem.

© 2016 by That Voice in my Head - Meagan Finlay

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