It’s not easy to predict what kinds of trends we might see this year, but many recent investigations have shed some light on various aspects of Japanese society. They might be based on information from a few years ago, but there has been a lot of research into recent crime trends, innovations in business, and changes in society. Let’s take a look.
There were some disturbing trends in the last few years, such as the number of kidnappings of children under 13 exceeding 100 for the first time in 9 years (reaching around 200). There’s also the increase in domestic violence for previous investigations, at a record high in 2009, only to be beaten by an increase of 20% in 2010 (around 33,000 reported cases that year). And unfortunately, the number of foreigners arrested for crimes rose by 8% in 2013, almost half of which were from Chinese people (perhaps because US military and foreign people with permanent residency status were not included).
As far as schools go, it’s also a bit disconcerting to see that there were almost 4000 teachers penalized for corporal punishment in the 2013-2014 school year, which of course means there were many more than 4000 cases (because not all cases are reported or held to account, and one teacher may have been responsible for multiple cases). To add to the transgressions by educators, sex abuse by teachers rose 40% from 1999 to 2011.
However, It was reported a few years ago that Japan had only half the reported amount of crimes in 2012 as it had in 2002, which is a pretty massive leap in just a single decade. Furthermore, the overall crime rate has continued to go down over the years. While there will always be crimes to report – if for nothing else, then at least the more innocent crimes (such as negligently staying in a foreign country a day longer than you realized your visa is valid for) – Japan remains one of the safest places in the world.
Perhaps it’s the plunging birth rate that’s brought employers to lower their standards for accepting students, but regardless of the reason, we haven’t seen this many Japanese high school students able to secure jobs after graduation for two decades. But if they can’t get a secure job, maybe they can secure a spot at a top business school? Not of it’s at Harvard University, where there are now about 4 or 5 Japanese applicants to Harvard Business School every year. That’s not accepted students, that’s just the number of applicants.
Of course, not aiming for one of the best business schools in the world isn’t necessarily a problem that needs to be solved; but I consider it a bad thing that over 40% of Japanese students believe that they will rarely use English in the future. Hopefully efforts like the increase in many middle schools to demand higher standards of English just to be accepted make a positive difference. (I don’t actually think putting more English on an entrance exam is actually going to solve the national English problem, but at least the sentiment means they’re valuing English more).
Considering the dwindling numbers of Japanese people, it’s probably a good thing that Japan is beginning to widely adopt self-checkout counters. Instead of cashiers, more Japanese people can spend time in other jobs. As long as it’s not a used-car salesman, of course, because the sale of used cars hit a record low last year, from the time records were kept in 1978.
In general, it seems on the surface that the Japanese working population has lots to be optimistic about for 2015. As companies’ profits recover, they’re willing to hire more workers. The availability of jobs rose last month to its best level in 22 years, and the unemployment rate fell 0.1 point to 3.4%. It is being reported that there are now about 115 positions for every 100 job seekers.
On the other hand, Japan Today reports that companies are actually doing more firing than hiring, and that “more than half of Japanese who are laid off will still be out of work a year later.” A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) mentioned that “a significant fraction of Japanese workers are laid off each year and then face long periods of joblessness before finding work, often at much lower wages.” Considering how many companies are still willing to wait for the “perfect candidate” before lowering their standards to actually fill a vacant position, it’s easy to understand why the recruitment industry is doing so well in this economic climate.
Hoping for 2015
As you can tell by the fact that I brought up the plunging Japanese population a few times, one of the hot topics in Japan now is the demographics. I’m sure you will be hearing about the fact that Japanese people aren’t having nearly enough children, and the population is rapidly shrinking. Some have been suggesting that immigration is the answer, but I would say, anecdotally, that this is not a widely-accepted opinion.
In the end, if there’s any trend I’d like to see, it’s the one predicted by Reuters – that the economy will improve a lot this year. Maybe when the economic environment is better, the demographics may come around as well.