THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM -If supermarkets sell more diapers for adults than for babies, you know there is a problem.


With the change of the seasons the elections are coming to Japan. The LDP presidency on September 29, the Mayor of Joetsu in October and finally the House of Representatives on October 31, 2021. The season of elections but at the same time the season of electoral promises.

Incidentally, “Promises to keep” was the title of a 2007 memoir of the current president of the USA, Joe Biden. Interesting to see what came of his promises. Personally, I have more confidence in the kind of promises Robert Frost refers to in his “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:  The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.   

In a business environment you do not overpromise. Bad practice and a practice that usually catches up with you. Not so in politics. Very few voters read the promises that were made 4 or more years ago to decide whether a particular politician or party should remain, or not. Instead, almost everyone reads the most recent brochures that we receive regularly in our mail box. No one is able to see the proverbial elephant in the room, as a result.

This elephant is of course the greying and declining population of Japan. A fairly quick decline will hollow out the tax base and declining revenues will make it increasingly difficult for politicians to deliver on their promises and – worse – for the country to control its debts.

Japan has the highest proportion of elderly citizens in the world. 25% of its citizens are 65yrs and older. They no longer earn a salary and thus contribute little to national or local tax revenues.

The overall population began to decline in 2011 and continues to do so. By region only Tokyo, its neighbouring prefectures and Okinawa saw a slight rise in its numbers. All other prefectures showed declining numbers. This trend will continue and Japan’s population is expected to shrink from the current number of 125mln to 107mln by 2040 and 97mln by 2050.

Back to the elephant. In many countries such numbers would be cause for panic, but not in Japan. Are the Japanese too trusting of the wisdom of their politicians and bureaucrats? Or is everyone happy to leave the problems to the next generation to solve?

The obvious solution is to stabilize the decline and to gradually rebuild the numbers. This problem should be tackled on a national basis, using incentives to increase the birth rates and to stimulate a sensible and manageable degree of immigration. There are many steps prefectures, regions or cities can take to create attractive living conditions. Yet few, if any politicians are prepared to address these issues and our local Joetsu politicians are no exception.

For a start they should focus on improving Joetsu’s image in Japan. At the same time they should pro-actively use incentives to attract people from other parts of the country — Kanto as a prime target — to settle in Joetsu.

部屋の中の象 – スーパーで赤ちゃん用のオムツよりも大人用のそれが多く売られているとしたら、それは問題があるということです。



ビジネスの世界では、約束しすぎてはいけません。これは悪しき慣習であり、自分自身を追いつめることになります。しかし、政治の世界ではそうはいきません。特定の政治家や政党が残るべきかどうかを判断するために、4年以上前の選挙公約を読む有権者はほとんどおらず、代わりに、ほとんどの人が、定期的にポストに届く最新の選挙ビラを読みます。その結果、誰も「*部屋の中の象」を見ることができないのです。(*記事タイトルの「部屋の中の象 (エレファント イン ザ ルーム) 」とは、「見て見ぬふり・誰もが認識しているのに、触れないこと」という意味の英語のことわざ。)







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