Japan is doomed. It's partly a problem that other develped countries are facing, but partly a consequence of decades of inflexibility, racism and formality.
The agent of Japan's death is simple: depopulation.
The fertility rate in Japan is 1.29. That is 1.29 children per woman, whereas demographers consider replacement fertility to be about 2.1. All developed countries have lowering fertility rates, and its a problem of varying degrees. The liberation of women, higher age of marriage, the cost of raising and educating children, all contribute towards low fertility. Japan suffers more than most (only Italy's fertility rate is lower) but it's a country-killer especially in Japan because
Japan refuses to take immigrants.
Immigration is the lifeblood of America, Canada, Australia and Europe. It keeps the economy, culture and pension systems alive in those countries. It provides young people (who have babies) and workers that both produce goods and consume them. Immigration causes some problems and the process is rarely completely smooth. But the target cultures are immeasurably enriched. New ideas, languages, cultures, food, all serve to enliven and stimulate the host country.
Japan is desperately in need of new ideas, culture, and languages, not to mention babies.
It is ironic that the need for immigration in Japan is in almost direct reverse proportion to its likelihood of getting it.
Japan's government, police and bureacracy are all deeply racist and xenophobic. Restrictions on foreigners are extreme; foreigners (labelled 'aliens') have to carry foreign identification cards at all times, and are routinely discrinated against in employment, housing and the law. The process of obtaining permanent residency (e.g. for spouses of Japanese citizens) is fiendishly and purposefully complex. Public conservatism and reluctance to accept foreigners is exacerbated by sensationalist and one-sided media reports of "foreign gangs". Foreign workers find it increasingly difficult to stay on as years go by, and even Westerners, who hold a certain charm and fascination for the Japanese, are expected to leave after a few years. Meanwhile Japanese hold the Chinese and other Asian people in open contempt. Many Japanese do not consider themselves Asian, but rather 'Japanese'.
This (partly imaginary) homogeneity is partly the root cause of the problem. Only Japanese are (or can be) Japanese. And Japan is only for the Japanese. The idea, more or less accepted in countries like Canada or Australia, that you can become Australian or Canadian by living there for a long time or at least by being born there, is alien to Japan. If you don't have Japanese blood, you can't be Japanese. That simple. They also expect other nationalities to be similiar. All Americans are blond and blue eyed, for example. Many Japanese were confused, for example, when I told them many Australians are Asians. For the Japanese, even living there for many generations will not make you one of them. Koreans, whose ancestors were kidnapped and brought to Japan centuries ago, who look like and sound like Japanese, who no longer speak Korean, must carry Korean identification cards.
If excluding foreigners from the country was not dangerous enough, Japanese culture and government policy make it unlikely that the demographic crisis will be solved from the inside. The fertility is set to decline even further. Fewer women choose to marry, fewer couples have children, fewer children are being born to those couples who decide to have them. For Japan's powerful, professional and independent women, a life as a housewife is increasingly unattractive; and women are rarely expected to work after marriage.
And who wants to marry anyway? Japanese people are about as romantic as cement, sex is so unpopular that sex rates are the lowest in the developed world, and the typical marriage has about as much passion as a bank account. Sex within marriage is reportedly so rare that it must be planned around yearly holidays, while men typically (and, from my experience, without much objection from their wives) go outside the marriage for sex, to host bars and 'soaplands', where their money can buy what their personality can't otherwise obtain for them. Meanwhile women learn the lessson that only men want sex, and women are paid for it in one way or another. My girlfriend seemed honestly surprised that I expected her to enjoy sex, apparently 'women don't enjoy sex', and the idea that women in the West can enjoy it and even seek it out took her by suprise.
This is the background for kaso, rural depopulation. Combined with the natural drift of population from the country to the city, the result is demographic disaster in the countryside. Some prefectures have upwards of 70% of residents over 70. The Japanese countryside is rapidly becoming a collection of nursing homes with attached nursing residence and collections of rice farms being farmed by over 70 year old couples.
This leaves many areas completely overserviced in terms of, for example, education. There are primary schools in Minami Osumi Cho, where I was living, with 6 or 7 students. I attended a beggining of year opening ceremony with two students entering the first grade. Meanwhile, the 6th grade had 8. A rapidly shrinking school with more staff than students.
Things are hardly likely to change. The government recently exhorted Japanese women to "pay attention to their duties and not be so selfish". Couples can't hold hands in public, and many men remain so sexually immature they are virgins in their thirties and forties. Both men and women lack flirting skills, while the costs of marrying and raising children are extreme ($350 for a school backpack, anyone?)
The end result is not good. The latest statistics suggest that the population peaked last year; it will decline slightly this year, and will go down steadily...forever.
Unless they take migrants.