Everyone knows Japan has a demographic problem. It’s society is aging rapidly, and this is constantly referenced in economic projections for the coming decades. But what does that mean on the ground, away from the statistics?
I’m no spring chicken. I’m approaching forty at the time of this post. But on my daily commute and strolls around Sapporo I feel positively juvenile in comparison to much of the humanity I encounter.
I had an early afternoon commute yesterday, around 2:00 PM. I glanced around my bus, just to do a head count. Approximately 20 people, 15 of them were easily 60 or older (that’s being generous). The same ratio held true for the subway carriage that I took later.
We all grow old. I’ll be joining those pensioners sooner than I care to admit. But my concern is with the ratio of elderly and how it effects this country’s policies and political climate.
You see, the one thing older folks love to do, and have the time to do, is vote. They do that a lot here (the elderly, not younger adults). Essentially the elderly run the country. And what do they vote for? They vote for things not to change. They vote for things to remain the same.
The 70+ crowd wants things exactly as they were in late Showa Era (1980’s) Japan. Before the bubble burst. Who wouldn’t. The economy was thriving. Japan as #1. The world was in love with Japan!
But being trapped in the past manifests itself in many unique ways: Fax machines still get regular use, blackboards and chalk are the default in the classroom, nearly all daily transactions are done with cash, and the general populace is still fearful of internet shopping. Starbucks is still the only place I can get reliable, hassle free, Wi-Fi.
There’s countless other examples of retrograde customs and procedures that permeate Japanese society. They are an indirect reflection of an aged voting and policy making populace. I don’t pretend to offer any easy solutions. But it often pains me to see Japan still portrayed in international media as a kind of hyper-modern, technologically advanced, utopia. That seems a long ways away.