Monday, August 3, 2009

What's in a name

Japan's August 30th general election is fast approaching, and Japanese voters are to be faced yet again with an almost certainly unresolvable problem. You see, Japan has been governed for over 50 years now by the same political party, generally criticized for being corrupt and ineffective. Its main, more liberal rival is viewed as equally corrupt but with less experience. These days I've been seeing a lot of signs for a third party, which I had never heard of until just recently. Despite the sound of it, this is a real party: the Happiness Realization Party, when translated into English. From what I've read they are quite crazy, and yet (perhaps it's the crazy in me), some of their platforms don't seem that outlandish. You can read about them in this Japan Times article. I find their choice of name to be the perhaps the most surprising thing about them - while marketable, it does sound very cultish, indeed. Their religious beliefs are also quite surprising, but less so once their party name is considered.

Particularly appealing to me are their aims to bring more foreigners to Japan and remilitarize (while striving to overcome Japan's "colonial mentality"). I am somewhat mixed on their desire to inject religion into Japan. If you know me, you know that I am religious myself and am by no means an opponent of policies partly influenced by religious considerations. However, I do draw the line at establishing any kind of State religion, which seems more likely what the HRP means to do.

That aside, Japan does need more people, and since the Japanese seem unwilling to have more babies to bring up their population, they need immigration. Unfortunately, due to strict government regulations it is difficult to obtain a Japanese residency and nearly impossible to obtain a citizenship. The government's desire to preserve Japan's homogenity is understandable, given its culture, but also ultimately self-destructive. If Japan doesn't get a significant amount of young workers in the coming 50 years or so by one means or another, the country faces an impending economic collapse.

Update: Here is an article highlighting one aspect of Japan's population problem.


  1. You say Japan needs to bring up its population, particularly by allowing immigrants... I was under the impression that Japan suffered from significant overcrowding, no?

  2. Well, by the standards we set in many other countries, Japan is overcrowded. Due to its mountainous geography, something like 2/3 or more of the country's land is undevelopable. However, the Japanese have become very proficient at saving and making the most of space.

    While the question of "where would all these extra people go?" is a valid one, it's not something that I see as being a major issue. The Japanese are very good at building infrastructure to support their population when they have the will to. I think their excellent train and phone/internet networks prove that.

    The main issue is one that was brought to my attention at an economics lecture I attended in college, delivered by Wharton's professor Jeremy Siegel. He presented a study analyzing the age bubbles in America and in Japan. He felt that in 50 years, Japan will be facing a crisis in which its retiree:worker ratio will become too high. America is about 50 years behind Japan because of our slightly higher birth rate and our much higher immigration.

  3. Actually I was mistaken in that last statement - we have both much more immigration than Japan and also a much higher birth rate (in 2008, Japan had a rate of 7.87 births per 1,000 people and the US had a rate of 14.18 per 1,000).

  4. This is fascinating stuff, seriously. I was under the impression Japan was overcrowded, too. I had no idea they'd be suffering from a ratio shift due to lack of reproduction.

    I wonder why they are against having children? What's the normal nuclear family number?

  5. A lot of families only have one or two kids. I'm no expert on Japanese social patterns, but it seems to be a symptom of becoming rich and modernized. More people want to focus on their careers instead of having kids, and birth control becomes more widely used.