Critics are already calling the idea shortsighted.

Japan’s birth rate has been in decline for a long time, and the coronavirus didn’t make the situation any better in 2020. It’s hard to decide to take your relationship to the “let’s get married and start a family together” level during social distancing, and while couples cohabiting ostensibly had more time to spend together as they shifted to stay-home lifestyles, the pandemic was a major contributor to another reason couples in Japan often delay, or choose not to, have children.

While gender expectations are a much discussed factor in Japan’s low birth rate, another key concept is Japan’s strong cultural sense of familial responsibility. Japanese couples tend to be very cautious about starting a family unless they’re completely certain they can provide financially for their expanding family. With the pandemic having a negative impact on job and income security, Tokyo’s birth rate fell even lower in 2020. Only about 60,000 pregnancies were reported between April and October, roughly a 10-percent drop compared to that period the previous year.

But there’s a new plan to boost births in the capital: start paying people in Tokyo to have kids. A new proposal would award couples who give birth to a baby in Tokyo with 100,000 yen (US$966) per newborn child.

▼ “I earned this milk.”

If approved, the initiative would run for two years, allowing households with multiple pregnancies carried to term within the period to receive the award more than once. Parents wouldn’t be handed a stack of cash at the hospital though. Instead, the program would award them with credit to be redeemed, via a website, for childcare items and services. The 100,000-yen amount was chosen after research showed that average hospital costs for having a baby in Tokyo are 100,000 yen more than for the rest of Japan.

However, it stands to reason that it’s not just having a baby that’s more expensive in Japan’s most costly city, but raising a child there too. It won’t be long until that 100,000-yen grant is used up, and it’s really a pretty measly drop in the bucket compared to the child’s total financial needs, as many online commenters have been quick to point out with reactions such as:

“100,000 yen isn’t enough,”
“I can’t, in any way, imagine a scenario where someone says ‘All right! We can get 100,000 yen, so let’s pop out a baby!’”
“What a bunch of cheapskates. Give us 500,000 yen.”
“Total tightwads. Why not give us 1 million yen?”
“Do they just want to help people make babies, or help them actually raise them?”
“I’m kind of suspicious about how they’ll choose which companies the credit can be redeemed with.”

And that’s to say nothing of all the couples who don’t feel comfortable getting pregnant or bringing an infant into the world in the current health climate regardless of how much money they have, and whose stance is that a viable coronavirus vaccine is an absolute requirement for starting a family.

On the other hand, it’s not like promising people 100,000 yen is going to make them less likely to have kids, and the proposal at least sounds more realistic than trying to pump up the birth rate by having artificial intelligence programs pick out spouses for people or simply relying on parents to nag their adult children into procreating.

The proposal is scheduled to be introduced at a meeting of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (it’s equivalent to a city council) in February, and if approved would go into effect this spring.

Sources: TBS News via Golden Times, Livedoor News/Tele Asa News, Yahoo! Japan News/Abema News, YouTube/ANNnewsCH, Twitter/@tbs_news
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso
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