Courtesy Reuters


The spectacular story of the decline in Japan's population growth continues with that regularity in the extraordinary which has characterized the country over the past hundred years. Death rates are low, but so are the birth rates. Growth continues slowly, but only because the age structure is inherited from a period when birth rates were higher. Official views remain pessimistic-no longer because of excessive growth, however, but because growth itself may cease late in the century and might then be replaced by a decline that eventually could reach 10 percent a generation. Quiet inquiries are already being made concerning the pursuit and the timing of policies to increase birth rates.

Feelings of wonder merge into awe as one watches this transformation in an Asian country. The Japan whose industrial potential was presumably destroyed only 17 years ago has rates of economic growth that exceed 10 percent a year. Present economic targets involve a doubling of national income within a decade, together with a shift of two million people away from agricultural occupations. Already the limited land provides most of the rice needed for 95 million people, and hybrid varieties, improved fertilizers and mechanization threaten to add food surpluses to Japan's many problems of foreign markets. There is no problem of surplus population here, though, for the movement off the land is so massive that in 26 of Japan's 46 prefectures the population declined between 1955 and 1960. The Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area contains 15.8 million people, that of Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe 10.2 million.

There are, of course, unanswered questions about this fabulous tale. In itself that is not surprising; periods of pessimism and grandiose delusion have succeeded each other in Japan's history. Projections of Japan's future now are probably as hazardous as they were in the past; and we see today just how hazardous the earlier ones were, for it may be stated categorically that no students in or outside Japan predicted either the sharp drop in the birth rate or the high rate of economic growth. We study the Japanese phenomena, though, not

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