Here are some of the sociological needs, bearing pressure upon Japanese society:
Japan has the oldest and the most rapidly aging population of any country in the world (27.4% over age 65 by 2005). This means that there will be more and more people living on pensions, with fewer and fewer people in the work force to support them. Sadly, the suicide rate among the elderly is on the rise.
Japan Plans to Curb High Suicide Rate
December 27, 2005
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan hopes to cut the annual number of suicides by roughly 8,000 over the next 10 years in a bid to bring down one of the worst suicide rates among industrialized nations. Japan saw a surge in the number of suicides in 1998 amid economic woes stemming from high-profile bankruptcies in the financial industry the year before. The annual number of suicides has exceeded 30,000 every year since then. [full story]
Disintegrating Youth Culture
Perhaps the sociological issue of greatest concern to educators, political leaders, business leaders, and parents is the rapid disintegration of the youth culture. Today's generation is a group of people who came of age during the time of Japan's greatest affluence and global economic power. Despite their affluence, they have grown up without a moral framework. Many of them had insufficient input from parents and members of extended family to shape their sense of self, community, and personal responsibility. This manifests itself in a variety of disturbing forms – children are being born out of wedlock in huge numbers; more and more Japanese students are dropping out of college and showing less interest in long-term professional careers; crime rates among Japanese young people are skyrocketing. Currently the federal government is considering legislation that will lower the age at which young people can be tried in court as adults. Juvenile detention centers are packed and over-flowing.
Perhaps nobody feels the pressure greater than those in middle age do. On the one hand, they feel the pressure of caring for aging parents, many of whom no longer live with extended family, but instead live all alone in empty apartments or in retirement communities and nursing homes that are being taxed to the limit. On the other hand, they deal with a sense of dismay, as they watch the next generation come up without a strong sense of direction and with an increasing sense of commitment to family, to community, and to career.
Increasing Family Pressures
- Family instability: "breakdown of the family structure is one of the biggest problems modern Japan faces." ("Operation Japan" 2000)
- More working part-time and away from families: fathers spend much time commuting to work or living apart from families in order to work
- Increased divorce rate:
- 1 couple marries every 41 seconds; another couple is divorced every 2 minutes, 22 seconds (statistics by "Operation Japan 2000")
- "Silver divorces" (i.e., of people in their 40s and 50s) have increased ten-fold in the last three decades. 70% of these are filed by women. Men's age expectancy drops by 9 years following a divorce.
- Not only does the social upheaval in Japan affect every generation, it also affects each major dimension of the society.
Japan's education system was only recently considered the envy of the world because of the discipline in its schools and the high test scores consistently produced by its students. However, this is a pillar of the culture, which is seen to be crumbling. Schools that were once places characterized by samurai type of discipline, are now places of chaos, bullying, and increasing crime.
Though Japan remains one of the most powerful economies in the world, it can no longer guarantee lifetime employment and security for the families of its employees. Thus, there is a sense of uncertainty and pessimism about the economic future and stability of Japans' households. The loss of income has created anxiety about retirement financial resources, as has the growing numbers of people on pensions.
Though the liberal democratic party provided a sense of continuity and stability in the government for more than 40 years after World War II, the last ten years have been characterized by one weak government following another. Currently, Japanese are disgusted with their leadership and increasingly concerned that there are no emerging leaders on the horizon to provide a sense of direction for the country and the culture during economic, political, and culturally uncertain times.