Is Japan “Going, Going, Gone?”

Ms. Merle Okawara with fellow JASH Director Ms. Jean Rolles

Ms. Merle Okawara with fellow JASH Director Ms. Jean Rolles

On Wednesday, August 8, Japan-America Society of Hawaii Director and Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation Trustee, Ms. Merle Aiko Okawara, spoke to JASH members about the current social trends in Japan and how they will affect the country’s future. Ms. Okawara is the chairman of JC-Comsa Corp. and pioneered the pizza and ethnic foods industry in Japan. 

Japan has a large elderly population with a declining birthrate (1.3%) which is leading to a declining economy. Many people are choosing to postpone marriage or not marry at all so that they can have a free and comfortable lifestyle. More women are seeking higher education leading to later marriage. Many “parasite singles” choose to live off of their parents, using their own earnings as a disposable income. Despite the downward social trend, Ms. Okawara expressed many options for Japan to work to overcome this, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. For starters, Japan will need to continue to relax immigration laws. Ms. Okawara currently uses Brazilian workers in some of her factories. Increased female population in the workplace would help to expand the workforce and change the current Confucius way of thinking. Most men still feel that a Japanese woman’s place is in the home and it is still difficult for a woman’s opinion to be heard in a boardroom or the workplace. Ms. Okawara also noted in the question and answer portion that if the government gave more incentives to have children, more people might oblige. However, if the population of Japan did decrease, perhaps it would decrease the density as well (currently greater than China) and lead to a better quality of life for many.

JASH would like to thank Ms. Okawara for taking time out of her Hawaii visit to give a presentation to our members. We would also like to thank former Tomodachi Co-chair Kazuko Love for introducing Ms. Okawara and being the MC for the afternoon.