Japanese Leaders Lament Baby Deficit

JAPAN'S largely male political leadership, often charged as being sexist, has stepped up its lament that young women are not having enough babies to ensure the survival of the Japanese race. ``There is a mood [in Japan] to enjoy life, rather than giving birth and suffering,'' said Hideyuki Aizawa, director-general of the Economic Planning Agency, at a private meeting of politicians last week.

``Many Japanese women have entered university and taken a job and that will lead them to marry late and have a shorter time for having babies,'' he added.

In June, feminists both in Japan and abroad criticized a remark allegedly made by Finance Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto that the nation's declining birth rate was caused in part by allowing women to go to university. He denied having made the comment.

Officials had predicted that a steady decline in the fertility rate, the average number of children that a woman bears in a lifetime, would end in 1987. But it has continued to drop, reaching 1.57 children.

That rate is below the level needed to keep the population from falling.

Earlier this year, the Health and Welfare Ministry predicted that if the present low rate persists, the number of Japanese would drop to only 45,000 by the end of the next millennium.

``At every wedding reception that I have attended,'' said Mr. Aizawa, ``I speak out and say that if this excellent Japanese tribe is on its way to becoming extinct, then I cannot die easily.''

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is considering a tax break on on the costs of giving birth, but officials doubt that such incentives will be enough to persuade people to start having more children.

Rather than citing women as the problem's cause, many experts have said that high housing costs and the rigors of Japan's education system have discouraged young people from having families, and that people no longer rely on children for care in their old age.

Government officials feel constrained from taking action because residual memories among Japanese of a prewar propaganda campaign that almost ordered women to have children.

``The issue of a declining birthrate is up to each person's life desires, and so it is very difficult to come out with any policies,'' says Takeo Nishioka, chairman of the LDP's general affairs council and a former education minister.

He contends that Japan would be better off if married couples had five children each, but that ``may be impossible, so three may be better.''

Mr. Nishioka also worries that as more and more women enter the work force, mothers are not attending enough to the home education of their children. ``It's time for people to think about raising children by themselves,'' he says.

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