As Japan’s Birth Rates Continue Declining, Politicians Talk Cash

As Japan’s Birth Rates Continue Declining, Politicians Talk Cash

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Woman pregnant and questioning something
Picture: metamorworks / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Both Japan's PM and Tokyo's governor want to pay people to have more kids. But is this just another doomed short-term strategy?

It may be a new year, but Japan is once again continuing to reckon with old problems, namely the decreasing birth rate. Many politicians are kicking off 2023 with promises to alleviate the financial costs of child-rearing.

In her New Year’s press conference, Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko said she wants to provide children a monthly allowance of 5,000 yen (~$38 USD) until they turn 18 in order to bring about a “children first society” [1]. She has cause for concern about fewer kids, as Tokyo Prefecture ranked dead last in the total fertility rate for 2021 [2], with some municipalities already in talks to consolidate elementary schools [3].

But with inflation and stagnant wages, 5,000 yen per month seems quite pitiful by Tokyo standards. Unfortunately, Japan has a long track record of countering the low birth rate with short-term strategies.

The 1.57 Shock and the Angel Plans

Japan’s total fertility rate (TFR) — the average number of children one is predicted to have in their child-bearing years — first took a serious nose-dive in 1966, hitting 1.6. Following economic prosperity due to flourishing manufacturing industries, Japan experienced a second “baby boom” with its TFR peaking at 2.2 in 1971.

Believe it or not, around this time, this population explosion was overwhelming enough to make the government consider encouraging people to have fewer kids. At a July 1974 conference sponsored by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, attendees considered a two-child policy to curb population growth [4].

Unsurprisingly, the media ran sensational headlines exaggerating fears of a country struggling over resources. In the end, no concrete two-child policies were ever implemented, but around this time the birthrate did begin its slow steady decline.

A chart of Japan’s total fertility rate (TFR) from 1960 – 2020. (Source: World Bank)

The government finally grew seriously concerned in 1989 when the TFR hit 1.57. Dubbed by the media the “1.57 Shock”, this spurred the government to invest in pro-natalist policies like never before. Its first major initiative was the 1994 Angel Plan, a five-year plan that involved creating more childcare centers and improving infant childcare services [5]. It also established a lump-sum allowance system to offset costs related to childbirth. In 1999, the New Angel Plan geared policies towards supporting mothers juggling work and child-rearing.


Despite these initiatives and other financial support, it never seemed enough, prompting less traditional approaches. In 2020 the government decided to throw money at local governments developing AI-based matchmaking apps despite calls for more concrete strategies. But those in power giveth as well as taketh; that same year they also revised its childcare allowance policy and slashed benefits to help tackle childcare waiting lists.

Some Success, But Not Enough

Yet some towns have seen success in raising their birth rate by — shocker — investing in their communities. Isen on Tokunoshima raised its birthrate to 2.81 in 2017 through cash gifts and emphasizing its deeply embedded sense of community where children are treasures [6].

Nagi in Okayama Prefecture began implementing services in the early 2000s to support families and promote the town as the mecca for raising children. Services include free medical care for all high school students, monthly subsidies for families with children under 4 years of age, and monthly 100 yen car seat and baby stroller rentals [7].

Nagi also provides subsidized infertility treatments and free medical check-ups during pregnancy. All this and more helped raise Nagi’s birthrate to a record-high 2.95 in 2019, a figure still proudly displayed on their official website.

Nagi’s website puts its kids front and center. (Source: Nagi Town)

Replicating the above successes nationwide and in metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka seems almost impossible given the myriad factors at work. Traditional gender roles have somewhat relaxed enough for more women to flourish in careers and lives outside the home. Yet they’re still expected to take on the majority of child-rearing duties. More companies are offering parental leave, but many fathers are especially reluctant for fear of suffering paternity harassment.

Amid job and economic insecurities, people are also marrying later in life and having fewer kids. Some are simply not marrying at all. Many cities also just aren’t kid-friendly; more than one parent has voiced frustrations over being judged for bringing baby strollers onto public transportation. Just recently a single noise complaint about kids was enough to permanently close a park. Overarching many concerns is the ongoing pandemic that negatively impacted women and children the most.

Taking the Fight to a New Dimension?

Declining birth rate chart with woman holding baby
Picture: 無印かげひと / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

In his first 2023 press conference, Prime Minister Kishida declared his intent to prioritize raising the birth rate and will present plans to double child support budgets by June [8]. If Kishida wasn’t already unpopular before, his latest declaration did little to inspire people. In one poll, 71% were against raising the consumption tax to fund low birthrate countermeasures [9]. An ongoing Yahoo! News Japan poll has 95% responding they expect nothing from the government’s efforts [10].

The government’s already pledged to raise the lump-sum childbirth allowance from 420,000 yen (~$3,185) to 500,000 yen (~$3,792) by April. But some are already saying this won’t be enough.

Twitter user @shishimari_555 posted screenshots of a maternity hospital’s price changes that occurred around the time the lump sum increase was announced. Sadly, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Maternity hospitals have consistently upped prices in line with lump-sum allowance increases for years [11]. With the current economic climate, it’s understandable for people to feel dismayed — and even less likely to want kids.

ししまる@人生はハッピーターン on Twitter: “来年4月から出産一時金が42万円から50万円に増額されるに伴って、産院が値上げしてるから全く意味ない…というツイートを見て、まさかね…と思いながら、念のため近所の産院のHP料金表をスクショ撮っておいたのよ。で、今、久しぶりにもう一度HP見に行ったら……きっちり8万円値上げされていました…😭 / Twitter”


For prefectures without Tokyo-sized budgets, funding is a little trickier. Some governors are trying to think outside the box, like the Miyagi prefectural governor Murai Yoshihiro, who suggested promoting the immigration of foreign nationals as a way to boost the birth rate.

Governor Ichimi Katsuyuki of Mie Prefecture asked for free medical care for children nationwide, regardless of the local government’s financial strengths. “I envy Tokyo,” he said when asked about Koike’s monthly 5,000 yen proposal. “Mie Prefecture doesn’t have those financial resources, so I hope the government steps in” [12].

Needless to say, the government has a lot of work to do to gain not only financial support but the public’s faith as well if it ever hopes to make a “children first” society a reality.


[1] 都内の0歳から18歳に月5000円を給付へ 小池都知事が新年の挨拶で発表「チルドレンファーストの社会の実現に向け」. TBS News Dig.

[2] Total fertility rate (TFR) in Japan in 2021, by prefecture. Statista.

[3] 少子化の波、いよいよ東京にも 公立小の児童数が11年ぶり減少へ 進む学校統廃合. Tokyo Web.

[4] 日本で「子どもは2人まで」宣言が出ていた衝撃. Toyo Keizai.

[5] 第1節 これまでの少子化対策 「1.57ショック」から「「子どもと家族を応援する日本」重点戦略」まで. Cabinet Office Official Website.

[6] 出生率2.81――“子宝”日本一の島が大切にしてきたこと. Yahoo! Japan News.

[7] 奈義町子育て応援宣言. Nagi Town.

[8] 子ども財源、岸田政権また難題 増税論浮上、世論の反発危惧. Jiji Press.

[9] 少子化対策の消費増税 「賛成」22%、「反対」71% JNN世論調査. TBS News Dig.

[10] 政府の「異次元の少子化対策」、あなたは期待する?. Yahoo! Japan News.

[11] 出産育児一時金の増額にあわせて、産院の便乗値上げが続出 SNS「ただの病院へのお布施」「無意味な少子化対策」. Yahoo! News Japan.

[12] 人口減少対策めぐり 子ども医療費全国一律無償化を要望. NHK News Web.

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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