Last year, Japan recorded less than 800,000 births.
"Unheard of since the appearance of the first statistics on the subject in 1899", observed journalist Karyn Nishimura-Poupée, at the end of January, with
But how to explain it?
In reality, many factors are involved.
On the one hand, "the economic context and the labor market do not really encourage having children", analyzed then this Frenchwoman based in Japan for more than twenty years.
"Finally, the lack of childcare is also a brake."
Read alsoWhy don't Japanese women have babies anymore?
Faced with this observation, the fight against the fall in the birth rate is a priority for the archipelago.
In January, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned against this trend which threatens Japan's ability "to function as a society", and countless articles on the issue have since been published.
One of them has drawn the wrath of Internet users, after insisting that Japan has the highest rate of women over 50 without children in the OECD.
The post immediately sparked torrents of comments online under the hashtag “childless for life”.
Because women have little say on this subject, and above all, because they are made to feel guilty, it is on social networks that they now turn to make themselves heard.
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reverse the guilt
At first, Tomoko Okada dreaded reading the usual criticism of childless women there, but she was finally pleased to discover nuanced and empathetic discussions.
Some explaining why they could not, or wanted to, be mothers.
"Before, I thought having children was the
normal' thing to do ,
the 47-year-old writer told AFP.
In the past, she has unsuccessfully registered on dating sites in the hope of finding a partner.
She had the bitter experience of feeling guilty when her father asked her for a grandchild on Father's Day.
But sharing her experience with others made her realize that her “way of life was also acceptable,” she says.
'Don't blame women'
Many industrialized countries have low birth rates, but the problem is particularly acute in Japan, which has the second oldest population in the world after Monaco, and is experiencing a growing labor shortage due to strict labor regulations. 'immigration.
The Prime Minister thus promised financial assistance for families, easier access to childcare services and more parental leave.
But while Japan has only two women in its government and more than 90% men in the lower house of its parliament, many feel left out of public debate, even attacked.
"Don't blame women for the low birth rate," tweeted Ayako, a 38-year-old childless Tokyoite who advocates online for recognition of "different choices" in life.
In his eyes, the traditional distribution of roles in Japan is at the heart of the problem, while according to a government study in 2021, Japanese women spend four times more time on children and household chores than men, yet more and more many telecommute.
If we note undeniable progress on the side of the new generation of parents, strong pressure still weighs on the shoulders of women, who struggle to be the “perfect mother”.
“You just have to see them get down to preparing the best “bentos” (
lunchbox in anticipation of lunch, since there are no canteens, editor’s note
) every morning for their child”, noted the journalist Karyn Nishimura-Poupée, still with
“Beyond this mental burden, the sexism of Japanese society also overwhelms women.
Recently, one of the tenors of the ruling party, for example, said that the first cause of the birth rate was linked to the fact that women marry too late, implying that “they profit too much”.
Social networks, women's confessional
Ayako isn't shy about speaking out on the internet, but feels "sidelined" when addressing these issues in real life.
"I have the impression that women are very criticized when they express their opinions", regrets this thirty-year-old who prefers to give only her first name, quoted by AFP.
For Yuiko Fujita, professor of gender studies at Meiji University, social networks are a way for women to discuss politics and social issues without fear, often on condition of anonymity.
“Hashtags” outraged at mothers caring for children alone or complaining about rejected childcare applications have also gone viral on Twitter, but have had little impact outside of this “bedroom.” echo" online," says the teacher.
Experts point to multiple causes for Japan's complex problem of declining birth rates, including its rigid family structure.
Only 2.4% of births in the country take place outside marriage, the lowest rate among OECD countries.
Others point to economic conditions, believing that the country's weak growth discourages couples from having children.
And then, "as there are no babysitters and almost no night care, parents are blocked in their social life, whether it's going to the movies, going to concerts, to go to restaurants…”, recalled Karyn Nishimura-Poupée.
For this reason, concrete actions have been implemented.
They are mainly aimed at allowing better access to childcare services and could apparently boost birth rates, but often in a “temporary” way, notes Takumi Fujinami of the Japan Research Institute.
According to him, in addition to a better distribution of household tasks, "long-term economic stability and rising wages are essential" to reverse the trend.
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