Today is Children’s Day, a national holiday in Japan. To mark the occasion, the health and welfare ministry always releases statistics about the state of the country’s birthrate, which continues to be dire. As of Apr. 1, there were 17 million Japanese between the ages of 1 and 14 years, accounting for 13.4% of the total population. That is the lowest rate in the world for any country with a population of at least 30 million. One of the prime reasons Japanese people are not having children is the country’s housing situation, though it’s considered merely one of many reasons (women’s “position” in society tends to get the most notice). Japanese housing policies since the war have been intrinsically bad for kids, creating residences and neighborhoods that are expensive, cramped, and, most of all, dangerous in ways that you might not expect.
Between 2005 and 2008, 162 children in Tokyo aged 12 or less were transported to hospitals by ambulance after falling from a high place in a tall apartment building, according to the Tokyo Fire Dept. Among these 99 required hospitalization, with six in critical condition. At least two children have died under such circumstances in the past few months. In March, the media reported the case of an 11-year-old girl who fell from a higher floor of an apartment in Edogawa-ku. At first, it was suspected that she might have committed suicide, but it turns out she was playing on the corridor railing. In another case, a three-year-old child climbed up on a stack of discarded PET bottles on the balcony of her apartment and fell over the railing. The apartment was a residence for police officers’ families.
A professor at Tokyo University has studied this matter and says that more and more Japanese children are growing up without developing a natural fear of heights due to the rush to build highrise apartments and condominiums throughout Japan. The gradual loss of playgrounds adds to the problem. When children play on swings or slides, their excitement is based on a slight thrill of fear having to do with coming down from a high place. Children who grow up in highrises think high places are the norm.