By Edurne Morillo
Nagi, Japan, Dec 4 (EFE).- Surrounded by forests and mountains, the town of Nagi is the scene of a less common image in Japan: numerous babies and children, in a place that has become a national reference in the face of accelerated demographic aging.
While the fertility rate continues to fall year after year in Japan and stands at 1.3 children per woman, according to the latest government data, that of Nagi, in Okayama prefecture, was at 2.68 children per woman in 2021 and had its peak in 2019, when it reached 2.95 children.
For its mayor, Masachika Oku, the key to its success lies in creating an environment in which couples decide to have children and this includes not only financial aid, but also other measures to not isolate families, especially women, and create flexible work opportunities.
“We must focus on creating an environment in which people can live, since the foundation of our town is its people and without them, we will have to give up many services,” he said in an interview with EFE during a press tour.
With a population of 5,578 people, according to 2020 figures, this town has become a benchmark for the rest of Japan.
Nagi has spaces where group parenting is encouraged and both children and mothers and fathers can interact and avoid the ostracism that sometimes occurs in large cities like Tokyo.
In Japan, where it is common for women to abandon their careers when having children, Nagi has created the “Shigoto Conbini” project, which allows anyone in the village to do flexible work, for only a few hours a week and in spaces where they can care for their children.
“We can easily work with our children without having to take them to kindergarten. When they are older, I would like to continue working and this serves as practice for me,” said Kazumi Harada, 31, while she packed some letters from the town hall while his two young children played next to her.
The town also offers aid of up to JPY200,000 ($1,365) for fertility treatments and subsidizes half of daycare costs, half of dining costs, while school supplies and books are free, as is medical care for children up to secondary school.
There is also financial support of JPY15,000 per month for parents who take care of their children at home, JPY54,000 per year for single mothers or fathers and JPY240,000 per year in transportation aid for high school students, who must go to larger cities.
Nagi’s case can also be observed in other cities such as Nagareyama (in Chiba, west of Tokyo), which is following a similar model to allow fathers and mothers to combine their work with parenting, through childcare collection services or from elderly volunteers, since many families do not have the help of grandparents.
Faced with its demographic crisis, Japan launched a new government agency in April in charge of coordinating policies aimed at supporting birth and parenting, and that seeks to create “a child-centered society.”
“If the situation continues, Japan’s population will decrease drastically,” said Koji Takahashi, director of this agency, which employs 400 workers.
Takahashi said he believes the situation is so urgent that coordination with other ministries must be improved, minors must be listened to, and more foreign workers must be allowed.
“Accepting these people is a duty. Japanese society is not possible without foreign workers and this is our last chance to change the situation,” he said.
Last year the number of newborns in Japan fell by 5.1 percent to below 800,000, a historic low, while the population aged 65 or over now represents 29 percent of the total, which places Japan as the second country with the highest aging demographic in the world. EFE