TT-660 -- Waiting Forever for Kids Day Care, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
(http://www.terrie.com)

General Edition Sunday, May 06, 2012, Issue No. 660

+++ INDEX

- What's New -- Waiting Forever for Kids Day Care
- News -- Live piranha caught in Kanagawa river
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Destinations Picks -- Tochigi and Hokkaido
- News Credits

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+++ WHAT'S NEW

At the start of this year the Internal Affairs Ministry
released data showing that the nation's population
decreased by 204,000 people during 2011. This was the first
time that the decrease has exceeded 200,000 and was put
down to both the Tohoku disaster (deaths and departing
foreigners) as well as the falling birthrate. This is not
news for any of us, but it was interesting to hear that
the trend of decreasing births is accelerating again, after
a temporary uptick 4-5 years ago. The government said that
the population of kids under 15 fell for the 31st year in
a row, to 16.65m. More tellingly just 1,057,000 kids were
born in 2011 -- which implies that in the next 15 years the
number of kids will be around 13m or so, a fall of 15%-17%.

Now this is a big number. If you were to apply it to the
Japanese population as a whole, we could be looking at a
lot less than the Health Ministry's projection of 95m
living souls in Japan in 2050. Instead, if you take 2 and a
bit generations of childbirth reducing at a rate of 17% per
generation, you get a compound number which could result in
a population falling to 80m-85m people. That has to
be a problem.

The Ministry recently went into more detail about the
distribution of the under-15's population. As could be
expected, the drop in kids was uniform over most of the
country, with only Tokyo and Fukuoka seeing increases. We
imagine those increases were mainly due to continued
migration of rural families to the cities in search of
better paid jobs and services, and, due to families fleeing
Fukushima for the perceived safety and opportunity of
Tokyo. Indeed, this latter point can be partly confirmed by
the fact that the number of kids in Fukushima
correspondingly fell by 13,000, the highest percentage
reduction of all the prefectures.

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[...Article continues]

Other interesting points of the report were that Okinawa
has the highest percentage of kids under 15, at 17.7% --
the result of more sun, surf, and potent sake perhaps? :-)
At the same time, Tokyo and Akita have the lowest
percentages, at 11.3%. Japan is also apparently the country
with the lowest ratio of kids in the world, amongst
countries with populations of 40m or more.

OK, so the falling birthrate is a problem. There has been
plenty of jawboning about why: young Japanese being too shy
or germ-averse to want to have sex, an increase in women
with careers and fun single lives not wanting to trade them
in for married servitude, and married couples simply
realizing that having kids is expensive. Take your pick,
all of these options reflect the increasing diversity of
Japanese society.

But what about the couples that DO want a "passel" of kids?
The desire to have kids is still alive and well as far as
we can see, and there are plenty of young women who are
willing to head back to the workforce to earn sufficient
family income to support that desire -- if only they could.
It's not like the legislation isn't there. For some time
now, it has been law for companies have to give women at
least one year of maternity leave, and up to 18 months if
they are having trouble to find a day care facility. No,
the problem seems to be that women are unable to find
places to put their young children so that they can help
out rebuild the family income in between kids.

Again, it's no news that there are huge waiting lists for
urban mothers to get their kids into day care centers.
Especially for mothers with kids under 18 months. They are
the most desperate, because if they can't get day care,
they will lose their jobs and have to re-start their
careers in the open job market after a 5-6 year break. The
Welfare Ministry says that that as of April 2011, there
were 25,556 kids who couldn't get into day care. This
doesn't include those whose mothers just swallowed the
1.5x-2x extra cost of putting their kids into private day
care, but does include those whose moms are forced to
stay home and prioritize the kids over work -- with the
inevitable result that those families can't afford to
have a second or third child even though they may want
one.

If you look at the statistics over the last 15 years,
there has been an ongoing backlog of kids waiting to get
into day care, at one point in 1997 it was around 40,500
kids, but then the government monkeyed with the
statistics and the number magically dropped to
21,200 in 2001. It's been hovering around 25,000 mark ever
since (although from the earlier statistical method, the
real number is probably more like 40,000 kids wait listed).

The government reckons that the problem is not enough day
care centers, and says it is prioritizing the building of
new government-run centers as well as licencing of
contracted operators. They also recognize a lack of
qualified staff, and are trying to recruit child care
workers. Apparently out of the 1m or so qualified child day
care workers in Japan, only 370,000 are in active
employment. Our guess is that at least 20% are retired
already and the rest are either at home looking after their
own kids or are sick of being low-paid temps in their
industry and are working for one of the private companies
making headway in this sector. Anyway, as a result, for
government-run day care centers there are currently 10.87
open jobs per qualified applicant. For the welfare
sector as a whole the ratio is 2.66.

There might also be another good reason for the big backlog
of kids. While it's great to be building day care
facilities and hiring staff, if you don't put them where
the customers (the young mothers) are, then they are not
going to be used properly. So it was with interest that we
came across a study done in 2011 by one Mizuki
Kawabata of the Center for Spatial Information Science at
Todai (University of Tokyo). Ms. Kawabata reckons that
there is a basic mismatch of what mothers need and what the
authorities are providing and she has the statistics to
prove it.

http://www.csis.u-tokyo.ac.jp/dp/107.pdf

The study is very comprehensive, covering every ward of
Tokyo, and finds that mothers of young children are unable
to commute the long distances necessary to put their kids
in day care. Mainly this is because they are reluctant to
commute by car, because there is no parking and because the
day care centers themselves discourage parents from
using vehicles. Therefore, if the day care centers in
areas where there are high-density housing projects with
lots of young families are full, which they always are,
then even though there may be a relatively empty day care
facility one suburb over, mothers are not going to travel
more than about 10-15 minutes by foot to use the second
center. Yes, they have bicycles, but apparently rain and
child sickness both mean that walking distance is the
measure of comfort a mother will use if they are to put
their kid into a day care center.

Therefore, it seems rather obvious from this study why the
government has been unable over the last 15 years to lower
the number of kids waiting to get into day care. It
appears to be providing the wrong resources in the wrong
places, and needs to learn from this study. Actually, the
Mizuki study is really quite logical and comes to some
useful conclusions. If you're interested in this topic,
we recommend reading it.

...The information janitors/

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+++ NEWS

- Live piranha caught in Kanagawa river
- Cesium found in 51 food items
- 8 die in late-season snow storm
- Sales of bread exceeds rice for first time
- Possible gas pipeline from Vladivostok

-> Live piranha caught in Kanagawa river

Look before you jump in the local river this summer --
residents caught 3 piranha fish in the Zenmyo River in
Atsugi last weekend. The fish were around 10cm long,
indicating they were either fully grown adults or juveniles
close to adulthood. Either way, there are probably more of
them and they may well breed, so local authorities have
warned parents to not let their kids bath in the river.
***Ed: Makes you wonder what the person who released these
fish was thinking? Not much, obviously.** (Source: TT
commentary from japantimes.co.jp, May 3, 2012)

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120503a4.html

-> Cesium found in 51 food items

The Health Ministry has announced that 51 food items were
found to contain cesium exceeding the new health limits
introduced on April 1, 2012. The failed items were detected
in 337 tests out of a total of 13,867 tests, or about 2.4%.
Of the failed tests, 55 were found to exceed 500
becquerels/kg. ***Ed: We'd like to know what the
excessively contaminated products were. Also, as a side
note, Japan's food limits for Cesium contamination are
about 3x more strict than the USA or Europe, so you do have
to feel a bit sorry for those food producers whose products
are only marginally in excess and who then have to destroy
the food. Still, it's nice to know that the new regulations
will ensure that radiation in the food chain is not
something we have to keep worrying about.** (Source: TT
commentary from kyodonews.jp, May 1, 2012)

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2012/05/155836.html

-> 8 die in late-season snow storm

A late-season snow storm that hit the Mt. Korenge area in
Nagano, resulting in 8 people from two parties of climbers
being killed. The climbers died of hypothermia and were
aged in their 60's and 70's. There were apparently climbing
the 2,932m Shiroumadake peak. ***Ed: What's interesting
about this article is that as it was reported in the USA,
the newspaper said that the climbers were "elderly".
Obviously if they were climbing a 3km-high mountain, they
were far from 'elderly' despite their ages. Just goes to
show how "genki" Japanese retired folks are these days.**
(Source: TT commentary from google.com, May 5, 2012)

http://bit.ly/J69fpl

-> Sales of bread exceeds rice for first time

The Internal Affairs Ministry has released stats showing
that the average Japanese household is now spending more on
bread, around (JPY28,091), than it is on rice (JPY27,780).
This is the first time that bread consumption per household
has exceeding rice consumption. The Ministry puts the
cut-backs in rice consumption to general dietary trends as
well as the public's ongoing concern about rice safety
after the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosions. ***Ed:
If rice was priced at the same rates as overseas, this
dietary change would have been noticed years ago. Therein
lies the problem, in fact. Japanese rice is just too
expensive compared to grains from other sources.** (Source:
TT commentary from telegraph.co.uk, May 4, 2012)

http://tgr.ph/IMR4c0

-> Possible gas pipeline from Vladivostok

A Japanese Diet delegation has apparently had preliminary
discussions with Gazprom about the idea of building a
seabed-based direct pipeline from Vladivostok to Japan.
The discussion comes as Japan's last nuclear reactor has
been shut down and all electricity is now once again being
generated with hydrocarbons. Natural gas is the preferred
resource for power generation, and Japan consumes about
95-100 bcm of LNG annually, making it the largest importer
of the fuel. ***Ed: The Russians already have massive gas
pipelines strung across Europe, so apart from cost, there
doesn't seem to be a major impediment to installing a
pipeline sometime in the next 10 years.(Source: TT
commentary from rt.com, May 4, 2012)

http://rt.com/business/news/gazprom-japan-pipeline-project-570/

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

***------------------------****-------------------------***

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***------------------------****-------------------------***

+++ CORRECTIONS/FEEDBACK

In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to editors@terrie.com.

*** No comments this week

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+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS

=> Nikko's Akechi-Daira Ropeway, Tochigi

The Akechi-daira ropeway is one of the best viewpoints to
see the Nikko valley. It's on the way to Chuzen-ji Lake
from downtown Nikko and from the highest vantage point, you
can see all of Mt. Nantai, Kegon-no-taki Falls, and
Chuzen-ji Lake in one extraordinary frame. At the top, the
west view consists of Chuzen-ji Lake and Kegon-no-taki
Falls. Chuzen-ji Onsen in particular features a lot of
historical inns and hotels, restaurants, and souvenir
shops.

http://japantourist.jp/view/nikko-s-akechi-daira-ropeway

Rishiri Island, Hokkaido

No trip to Wakkanai is complete without a stopover at
either Rishiri island or Rebun island, so Rishiri it was.
We had planned on taking the car across on the ferry, but
given the price to take our vehicle we decided to leave it
in the carpark. Armed with a daypack, we made the journey
across the Sea of Japan from Hokkaido's mainland to
Oshidomari Port on Rishiri island.

The September skies were wonderfully clear and blue,
perfect for taking a few scenic shots as we traveled
across the water. On approaching the island, it’s pretty
hard to ignore the volcanic (thankfully, dormant) mountain,
aptly named Mount Rishiri, which takes centerpiece on the
island. Upon arrival, right outside the ferry terminal we
hired rental bikes that only cost 2000 yen for 24 hours. We
now had wheels – making the uphill journey to our camping
ground a struggle, but definitely faster than walking. The
camping area is atop a large hill, which is a little
hard going on the bikes, but the view is worthwhile.

http://japantourist.jp/view/rishiri-island

***------------------------****-------------------------***

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+++ ABOUT US

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