Japan’s Graying Democracy

Of the many problems Japan faces today, a graying democracy is one crucial yet oft-overlooked malaise. The term “graying democracy” refers to how Japan’s political decisions are increasingly being controlled solely by the older generation. This phenomenon bodes ill for Japan’s younger generation because the government’s expenditures are currently heavily lopsided in favor of the elderly.

The de facto preferential treatment of the older generation at the cost of marginalizing the younger demographic has far-flung ramifications. One egregious case lies in the government’s expenditures: of every 35 yen spent for social security, only 2 yen is allocated towards childcare support. While this may allow Japan’s senior citizens some level of modest living (although the elderly have also begun to feel the effects of Japan’s financial squeeze), this also renders young mothers with very little support when the time comes to raise a child.

Such lack of government-sponsored childcare support is undoubtedly one factor that contributes to Japan’s dismally low fertility rate and is also an explanation for why many women in Japan hesitate to give birth. The women are certainly not to blame—with so little help from the government—such as the lack of financial assistance along with the dearth of daycare centers—young women today are faced with the crushing choice of a “child or career.” This particular predicament that Japanese women are facing is unique, or at least anachronistic to say the least; most liberal democratic countries provide for the childcare needs of young mothers.

Fueled by the cozy relationship between the government and the older demographic, Japan’s graying democracy has also distanced the younger generation from politics. Such disinterest only exacerbates the problem of “a graying democracy”: the younger generation is becoming increasingly disinterested in political affairs, and less than 20% of Japanese youth vote. The absence of the voice of the younger generation in the Japan’s politics allows the government to continue to earmark its expenditures in a way that will benefit the older generation, all at a cost to the next in line.

So then, what can be done to ameliorate this lamentable situation? One thing that must be done is to bring the younger demographic back into the political realm. After many years of being “unrecognized” by politicians, many of today’s youth are now not only being socially disenfranchised by a government that clearly favors the eldest generation, but have also unconsciously silenced their own voice by losing interest in politics altogether.

This rift can be narrowed by garnering the political interest of those in their twenties and thirties. The Japanese government must show that it genuinely concerned with the problems that today’s youth are facing—such as the economic instability and a weakening sense of community—and intends to take on a leading role in addressing such issues.

One doesn’t need to look at social indicators like the Gini coefficient to see that the level of intergenerational inequality is rising in Japan—young people mired in poverty is no longer a rare phenomenon. For all its metropolitan allure, in recent years people who seem to be in their mid-twenties can be seen in tent-villages to survive the winter cold in Tokyo’s major parks. Increasing rates of unemployment, underemployment, and a precipitous decline in living standards amongst Japan’s youngest generation will prove costly over the long-run: after a while, it will be nearly impossible to turn these people into productive tertiary-sector workers.

Only when the Japanese government finally provides the catalyst for political concern amongst the younger strata will we finally begin to see real changes in Japan’s graying democracy, and thus a turnaround in a country headed for long-term decline. Without addressing Japan’s fatally flawed “democracy,” future prospects for the country will undoubtedly remain bleak.

Two decades of pitiful economic growth have certainly taken their toll on people’s spirits. Without the energy and activism of the young, the rays of a brighter future will never penetrate the omnipresent gray clouds that have been looming over Japan’s populace for far too long.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

3 Responses to “Japan’s Graying Democracy”

  1. Samuel says:

    On Nov, 18th, the Economist had a special report on Japan, Into the unknown. And the theme is similar with yours, about the aging society. They have a good graph to show the change of Japan’s population.
    One of point in the article is this:
    “Because of a seniority-based pay system, this puts a huge strain on business costs, leaving less money to provide young people with training and good jobs.”
    I think it is a good entry point since the employment system in Japan is truly different with other countries.
    I don’t search the data of average age of members of parliament or other government agencies. However, right is always controlled by elderly. Maybe this is one explain of graying democracy.
    We all have to face this problem, but Japan is the first one into the unknown.

  2. Think Loud says:

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire. Amazing freedom forum over here. Have a look!

  3. Hi, all is going sound here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s truly
    fine, keep up writing.

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