City is doubling birth rate by helping young families | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis – 朝日新聞デジタル | Directory Mayhem

NAGI, Okayama Prefecture — A regional fertility rate of 2.95 sounds unbelievable considering Japan is struggling with a steadily declining birth rate, but it happened here in the small town of Nagi.

The 2019 number is shown on the city’s website, while across the country fewer children are being born each year than the government expects.

The number far exceeded values ​​for regions with larger populations and is more than double that of prefectures with large cities, such as Tokyo at 1.15, Osaka Prefecture at 1.31, Aichi Prefecture at 1.45 and Fukuoka Prefecture at 1 ,44.

The total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime, should be higher than about 2.1 for Japan to maintain its population.

As Elon Musk, CEO of electric car giant Tesla Inc. in the US, recently noted, the spotlight for Japan is on the declining birth rate.

“Unless something changes that causes the birth rate to exceed the death rate, Japan will eventually cease to exist,” Musk wrote on Twitter.

When the national total fertility rate hit a record low of 1.26 in 2005, Nagi, like the rest of the nation, was struggling with the rate of 1.41.

The ratio has now increased to almost 3.0.

Looking for clues about raising the rate nationwide, a reporter from Asahi Shimbun traveled to Nagi to find out what the town is doing right.


Located in northeastern Okayama Prefecture, Nagi is characterized by verdant mountains, expansive skies, and lush paddy fields.

Fireflies can be found there in summer. As a typical rural area in Japan, one cannot expect the convenience of urban areas in Nagi.

How did this small town of fewer than 6,000 people manage to increase its birth rate so dramatically?

An interview with a mother spotted at a facility called the Nagi Child Home provided clues.

Mitsuru Hijiya, 42, attended the children’s education center with two children. Gaku was 2 while Koko will be 1 later this year.

Toys are available at the facility, and parents can consult with staff about childcare and interact with others who have children.

“It feels easier to raise two kids here,” Hijiya said. “I often talk about that with my husband when it comes to this city.”

Hijiya, who takes care of her children at home and occasionally takes them to the Nagi Children’s Home, adds that living in the community gives her an inexplicable sense of security that everything will be fine.

“I’m originally from Shimane Prefecture, so I’m overjoyed to make friends here and have lunch with them,” she said. “My kids play more actively when they’re in the middle, even though we have some of the same toys at home.”

As parents with young children become isolated easily, the Nagi Child Home offers such people a place to build relationships with one another.

Of course, everyone has the right to decide whether they want to have a spouse or children. Some people also want to have children but cannot because of general anxiety about financial and other problems.

Recognizing these and other elements behind the declining birth rate, Nagi began intensifying his unique approaches to helping parents around 2004. It took them 15 years to more than double the fertility rate.

The necessary funds were raised by reducing the number of city officials and city councillors.

The city then began paying all medical expenses for residents high school age and younger who would otherwise have to pay after insurance benefits have been deducted. This means that medical care is available to them free of charge.

In Nagi, the cost of caring for the first child in daycare is about half the national standard. Parents can also receive discounts for the second and all further children.

A subsidy was also introduced to lower the price of elementary and middle school meals. Learning materials are distributed free of charge.

A financial assistance program has been introduced for younger residents so they can live in three-bedroom houses with a living area, dining area and kitchen for a monthly fee of just 50,000 yen (US$345).

Eiji Moriyasu, an official with the Information and Planning Department of Nagi, once dubbed a “miracle city” in a magazine, shared what should be done to improve the fertility rate.

“First of all, people’s fears should be allayed,” Moriyasu said.

Moriyasu said most residents are well-informed about the city’s relief programs to feel safe.

Then he showed the front pages of the city bulletin with children. Young people in Nagi performing at sporting events and elsewhere are equally shown on the pages inside.

“There needs to be an environment where everyone is willing to nurture and care for children together,” Moriyasu said.

The child-friendly atmosphere, combined with ample childcare options, reassures concerned parents that they can have and raise children here without worrying, driving up the birth rate.


In what appears to be a rare effort, Nagi is giving high school students 135,000 yen annually for three years. The money is intended to cover part of the bus trips to visit schools outside the city.

The high school students’ daily bus rides will help preserve local transportation, allowing senior citizens without cars to easily shop and visit hospitals.

“Taking countermeasures against the declining birth rate is one of the best ways to contribute to the well-being of older people,” Moriyasu said.

By making life easier for children and households with children in regional communities, the aim is to enable the elderly and other people at all stages of life to lead a comfortable life at the same time.

While the central government plans to invest twice as much money as it currently does in supporting child rearing in the future, people of different generations can also benefit from the policy.

The developments in the small mountain town offer tips on how to replace worry about having children with an implicit feeling of security. And the advice may apply to other regions as well.

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