Friday, January 08, 2010

Japan's new realization

We remember back in the 1980's when many Americans feared that Japan was going to buy up all of America's property. Nowadays instead, many Americans fear that China will ask for immediate payment on all of our government's debt.

We bring this up because since the 1980's Japan affluence has shrunk a little bit. Japan is now realizing that some in their population are in relative poverty. For many years the affluence of the Japanese kept this problem hidden. Now with stats saying to contrary and a rash of suicides amongst breadwinners, Japan is beginning to see the need for a social safety net.

From the IPS, writer Mutsuko Murakami details Japan's new realization.

Japan’s rude awakening to the reality of poverty amid seeming affluence in some sectors of its society came about when, for the first time in 45 years, the government released in October 2009 data showing the extent of poverty gripping the country. Health, labour and welfare minister Akira Nagatsuma announced then that 15.7 percent of the Japanese people and 14.2 percent of Japanese children and teenagers under 17 were in relative poverty, citing a 2007 survey.

The first disturbing warning sign of Japanese children living in poverty came in 2006 following the release of the report, ‘Economic Survey of Japan 2006’, by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which undertakes such studies every five years.

Of the 30 OECD member countries, it said Japan ranked second to the United States in terms of children living in relative poverty, with 13.7 percent, up two percent from the l990s. Until then the Japanese public had long distanced itself from the notion of poverty, especially where it involved children.

The Japanese, along with the government, used to view poverty in absolute terms, that is, as a critical state of hunger or survival. It was only in 2006 when the East Asian country began to recognise the idea of "relative poverty."

"For a long time the Japanese had maintained a firm belief that everyone was more or less in middle class, with no one having anything to do with poverty," says Dr Abe. Children in poverty were often viewed as isolated cases, notes the author of a widely acclaimed book, ‘Poverty of Children’.

The seeming affluence of Japanese society belies images of children starving on the streets or children unable to go to school. After all, the law provides for compulsory education for children aged six to 15, and more than 90 percent of junior high school graduates belonging to the middle class are able to move on to senior high school. The nation’s medical insurance system covers everyone – in theory, at least – and millions of Japanese tourists are known to go each year on shopping sprees abroad with children in tow.

Yet, there are subtle yet very real indications of poverty, which afflicts children in particular. These are based on findings that have pointed to increasing poverty and widening economic disparity in Japan, based on the latest available data generated in 2008. Thousands of contract workers and part-time workers lost jobs, as the manufacturing industry cut production and the service industry shrank.

The local media, for instance, reported that 33,000 children across the nation did not have health insurance. There have also been reports that many parents could not pay for school lunches, bringing the total unpaid bills nationwide to two billion yen (23 million U.S. dollars).

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