TT-444 -- Baby Machines, Ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, November 4, 2007 Issue No. 444


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
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The policy makers at the Ministry of Health and Welfare are
no doubt spending long evenings over any new demographic
data showing where the nation's birth rate is heading.
They, like many other countries in Asia (South Korea, China,
Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are all experiencing
declining birth rates), are extremely concerned about the
economic and political effects on Japan as its society
ages, especially since its young adults feel no compunction
to replace their numbers with more births.

No doubt much of the discussion in various task forces
revolves around why amidst a society of abundance, people
are choosing to have fewer and fewer children. Certainly we
have wondered this.

Demographers tell us that since the industrial revolution,
as the first world has become wealthier, families have
tended to have fewer children. And rich families have the
fewest children of all. The global birthrate in 2007 was
20.3 per 1,000 people, which translates into 7.19 children
per mother in Niger and 0.91 children per mother in Macau.
Amongst sizable countries with low birth rates, Japan is
not the lowest -- that honor goes to South Korea, with
1.21 children per couple. The desirable birth rate to
sustain a population is considered to be around 2.33
children per couple.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

In poorer and more agrarian countries, a high birth rate is
understandable. More kids means more workers in the
household as the children become big enough to work, a
better chance of having someone to look after the parents
in their old age, and a higher child mortality requiring
that more kids are necessary to ensure survival rates. Low
industrialization makes the "human work unit" a real
predicator of well-being, in that it takes a certain number
of people to till the fields and bring in the harvest. In
contrast, industrialized nations are able to disconnect the
ratio of people to income.

So why don't families in richer, industrialized nations
have more kids? It would seem that having an abundance of
food and possessions would create a perfect environment for
more kids -- if the ability to pay for them were the main
driver behind family size. Various theories have been
thrown up, ranging from education and the increased
availability of contraception naturally giving people the
opportunity to control their lifestyles, through to
religion and the empowerment of women as they throw out the
idea of being baby makers and seek to create a life and
income of their own.

The thinking of Japanese bureaucrats seems to be that men
work too long and the women are shirking their
responsibilities to have babies. In January 2007, then
Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa infamously commented that
one of the causes for the declining birth rate was that the
number of "baby producing machines" (i.e., women) is
limited, and that the Government could only ask that the
nation's women try their best.

Well, it is true that Japan's men work long hours.
Government statistics show that more than 20% of men in
their mid-20s and 30s nationwide work more than 60 hours
per week, and the majority of them return home after 20:00.
A separate Benesse survey several years ago found that in
Tokyo, the average Dad didn't arrive home before 23:00!

As a result the Health Ministry wants companies to shorten
overtime hours, and have employees take all of their paid
leave, not just a token amount. They also want to have men
start taking child-care leave, and companies receive a
government subsidy of 40% of a man's wages to facilitate
such leave. The reality, though, is that only 0.5% of male
workers took this leave in 2005.

And in any case, just how much time and energy do you
really need to make a baby? Given that many companies no
longer work Saturdays, once a week would seem plenty. So
we need to look further afield for reasons for a declining
birth rate.

One possible cause, which we have alluded to before in
commenting about the very high rate of sexual disease, is
the big jump in infertility, something which is borne out
by statistics and government measures. An online survey
written up in the Nikkei found that as of last year, 13.8%
of those women giving birth in their 30's -- most of them
due to the later marrying age -- had in fact undergone
infertility treatment. Further, around 50% of all women in
their 30's wanted to receive such treatment. We think this
is a very high level, and one which is being repeated in
other advanced nations.

The government is aware of the problem, and is providing
about half the costs of vitro-fertilization and
micro-fertilization programs for couples. The budget for
infertility treatment is expected to surge from the current
JPY3.6bn to more than JPY10bn over the next couple of
years. In 2004, 17,600 couples received treatment
subsidies, and the number should increase to around
30,000 next year. Private companies are joining the fray
as well. Canon just recently started offering up to
JPY1m per employee wanting to undertake a fertility

Clearly, the low birth rate is a complex problem. A really
interesting analysis from an anthopological point of view
can be found at
The writer, an anthropologist named Jerome Barkow,
postulates that there is a genetic conflict of interest
between men and women, and that evolution causes women to
desire to bear less than the optimal number of children
needed to maintain a society's replacement rate. He says
that evidence from around the world shows that the highest
birth rate is to be found in societies where there is
pressure by the men, the men's families, and societal
values (religion and position) on women to have babies --
i.e., they are pressured to become birthing machines.

So, according to the anthropologists, we have a simple
choice. Either keep your women uneducated and staying at
home making and raising babies, or watch them go to work
and start to behave as equals -- and in particular not
wanting to be burdened by kids until they are ready for it.
Given that we can't put the education genie back in the
bottle, it looks like the declining birthrate is here to
stay -- unless of course Japan decides to allow the
immigration of people from those lesser developed countries
where having a big family is still common practice... ;-)

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Comparing homeless people in US with Japan
- Housing slump to have real effect on GDP
- DoCoMo loses 1m subscribers
- Nova sponsor to be decided soon
- University creates new organic semiconductor

-> Comparing homeless people in US with Japan

An interesting article in the Washington Post compares the
state of homeless people in the USA and Japan. The article
says that there are about 18,500 homeless in Japan, while
the USA with just under 3 times the population has an
estimated 335,000 homeless. The article points out that
there are less threats to Japan's park dwellers -- fewer
beatings, more food of better quality, and generally better
living standards. In addition, the government takes a
more central role in helping such people as well.
Apparently the Tokyo Municipal government has been
offering its 2,000 homeless job training and 2 years of
deeply subsidized rent to get them out of the parks and
into regular apartments. So far, about 70% of those living
in the city's 5 major parks have taken up the offer. The
article goes on to say that about 10% of Japan's
homeless have mental or drug problems, compared to around
25% in the USA. (Source: TT commentary from, Nov 4, 2007)

-> Housing slump to have real effect on GDP

The fall-off in housing starts, estimated to be as much as
43.3% down in August and 44% in September, is causing
a real impact on the nation's GDP. The Bank of Japan says
that it estimates the housing slump will knock 0.3% off the
GDP for the financial year ending March 2008. The
government has now realized that its new laws governing the
construction of reinforced concrete buildings over 20m in
height -- almost all the nation's stock of apartments -- is
too draconian and is now saying it will relax the
regulations while ensuring safety. (Source: TT commentary
from, Nov 2, 2007)

-> DoCoMo loses 1m subscribers

DoCoMo has said that it has lost about 1m subscribers over
the last 12 months, since number portability was
introduced. The subscribers switched initially to KDDI and
more recently are moving to Softbank thanks to its low-cost
calling plans. DoCoMo is still in good shape though, and
has 53m subscribers, or 53% of the market. The company is
trying to improve its competitiveness through the
simultaneous launch last week of 23 new phone models and
various new services such as a multilingual disaster
warning service. (Source: TT commentary from, Nov 1, 2007)

-> Nova sponsor to be decided soon

In light of daily negative news bulletins and the
mass-resignation of teachers, the court-appointed receiver
for Nova English school has said that he will move quickly
in deciding a sponsor to rescue Nova and straighten out
the school's operations. Apparently the school has
approached 12 or so potential sponsors and several have
already given written offers to take over the business.
(Source: TT commentary from, Nov 3, 2007)

-> University creates new organic semiconductor

A Hiroshima University research team and Nippon Kayaku have
announced that they have created a breakthrough organic
semiconductor material that doesn't lose its properties
when exposed to air. The new material is called DNTT and it
has a number of superior properties that will allow it to
be substituted for amorphous silicon in the future. In
particular, it is 3 times faster in transmitting electrons
than silicon, and it can be sprayed or printed onto
substrates, forming a cheap, flexible thin-film device.
(Source: TT commentary from, Oct 2, 2007)

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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