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Localities Add Services to Attract Young Couples Starting Families

July 10, 2000
More and more parents are opting to move to communities that are supportive of child rearing.

Recently, an increasing number of households are relocating to areas with local ordinances providing amenities to help ease the burden of bearing and raising children. More and more young couples are moving to districts that provide day-care subsidies and other child-raising support just before or just after having a child.

Fewer Births Pose Population Problem
The decreasing number of children in Japan has reached serious proportions. The total fertility rate--the average number of children each woman gives birth to in her lifetime--has been declining, reaching an all-time low of 1.38 in 1998. The number of babies born in 1999 likewise decreased by 28,000 from the previous year to a record low of 1,175,000. And for the first time, the natural increase in population--calculated by subtracting the number of deaths from the number of births--dropped below 200,000. This is a sign that an actual population decrease may be close at hand.

In response, many localities have begun working to curb this drop in the child population by strengthening support services for people bearing and raising children. The extent to which such services have improved has varied, however, according to the needs and finances of each area. Such disparities have made young couples increasingly choosy about where they settle to start their families.

New Child-Care Initiatives
The Edogawa district of Tokyo provides 26,000 yen (248 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) a month in subsidies across the board to families sending their children to private kindergartens, the highest such amount in the greater Tokyo area, and as a result of this and benefits covering all medical costs for infants the population of children aged five and under in the area has slowly begun to rise.

The head of the Shinagawa district of Tokyo has stated that he wants those starting families to look upon Shinagawa as the ideal place to settle. Shinagawa is being seen by neighboring districts as a pioneer in child-care services due to such initiatives as extending hours for public nursery schools until 10 p.m.

Musashino City in Tokyo has opened Japan's first facility dedicated to providing child-raising support. The center includes a play hall, a yard with a log house and sandbox, a library corner, and a tatami-mat room where mothers can nurse their infants or feed them baby food. There is also a common lounge area adjoined to the play hall where mothers can chat while watching their children at play. Many fathers show up on Saturdays, contributing to lively interaction among parents. The center was originally intended for city residents only, but news of the facility spread through word of mouth, resulting in an increase of visitors from outside the district as well. Neighboring localities observing the success of the center have begun building similar facilities of their own.

In 1995, the city of Chiba opened a wall-less "open" elementary school, which was one of the first to introduce the concept of team teaching, where multiple instructors provide simultaneous guidance to the students. Many families relocated nearby so that their children could attend the school after hearing of its excellent reputation. Other localities are also working to attract child-raising households by installing computer terminals that provide useful public information on child raising in department stores and hospitals and offering information on the availability of nursery schools over the Internet.

On the downside, simply luring families through the introduction of special child-care services may not be enough to keep many of these families from moving on to more appealing districts as their children grow up. Areas that simply provide child-raising support and fail to make long-term efforts toward providing high-quality living environments and education may find it difficult to prevent the continuing drop-off in their child populations.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.