The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan has had a dramatic demographic effect on the country. Firstly, the disaster knocked Japanese women from their perch as the world’s longest living. Their average life expectancy fell to 85.9 years, almost a year less than the women of Hong Kong (although strictly speaking is Hong Kong not part of China?). This was largely due to the fact that of the almost 18,800 reported dead and missing in the disaster, 56% were over 65.
Secondly, it has brought to light very differing opinions between the numerous and often strong-minded Japanese elderly and the diminishing young people about how to re-build destroyed communities. Understandably, the elderly want their communities to go back to the way they were, complete with their younger family members close-by. However, the young are keen to build new, larger and revitalized communities with more shops, hospitals and people, rather than replace small fishing villages that have been washed away. Interestingly, the Economist reports this month that one of the reasons the young want this is so that they have a better chance of finding a spouse and raising a family:
“Mr Yaginuma said that as well as wanting more access to shops, hospitals, jobs and schools, the young wanted the settlements to be merged to give them more chance of finding a spouse and raising a family. This is a telling factor in a country with one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Whole families are split over the issue, Mr Yaginuma says. “The elderly tell the young that they’re arrogant to think like that. The young say, ‘Father, you are not thinking about our future.’
Unfortunately, the controversy over how to do it is making rebuilding in Japan much slower than it would otherwise be. We in New Zealand have seen firsthand how long these things can take, even without such differing opinions, as debates on how best to re-build Christchurch after its big earthquake last year still go on. However, it does look like the future of at least that area of Japan will be a population shift to the cities and that traditional village life could well be on the decline.