Even before Sanger landed in Yokohama, the publicity generated by her trip had not only sparked a broad discussion in the Japanese press about birth control, but led to extensive reporting on Japan's rising birth rate and population-related problems, as in this newspaper article. Although the birth rate had declined slightly in the 1910s, it spiked dramatically in 1920 to over 365 per thousand, a peak that would not be approached again until after World War II.
Japan and Birth Control.
The authorities have given Mrs. Sanger the finest advertisement in their power and every newspaper reader in Japan will shortly know more about birth control than he or she would have known if no effort had been made to hush it up. Officials of the smaller-minded sort say "Hush, hush" as naturally as a nursemaid, and the birth control movement arouses a first movement of instinctive opposition in many people. Yet what is it except an effort to do consciously in a humane and civilized way something which nature, so careful of the race, so regardless of the individual, does blindly and cruelly?
Population cannot be increased indefinitely. It depends on the supply of food. A high birth rate means a high death rate. In times of great expansion of wealth, such as Europe enjoyed after the invention of steam-power and Japan after the opening of the country, population increases by leaps and bounds. America furnishes even a more striking example, for she not only found room for her own rapidly rising population but for scores of millions of the surplus children of Europe. When something like equilibrium is reached between population and resources the increase slows down and stops. The question is whether the check is to be applied by nature or by man. Nature's way is the high death rate, famine and disease. It means general poverty, with the ignorance, narrow life and national inferiority which poverty involves. It is an infallible method of keeping population within the numbers that can be supported, and nature never fails and never delays to put it in operation. But if there is a way of attaining the same end without the suffering and degradation why should we not try it?
Baroness Ishimoto effectively and persuasively stated the point for the individual parent. The child has rights. The latest issue of the Japan Year Book shows that the death rate for infants under five years of age reaches the monstrous figure of 356 per 1,000. That is, of all the children born in the country, one in three dies before reaching school age. In China the figure is estimated at seven out of ten. Think of the grief and suffering involved. Even in mere expansion of numbers, the countries with a low birth rate have the best of it. Russia, with an enormous birth rate, increased more slowly before the war than Australia and New Zealand. Their increase, justifiable in unoccupied countries, was accomplished with far less misery and friction and human wastage than in the case of the prolific and short-lived Slavs. If the soldiers are opposed to birth control, as is sometimes said, fearing for the supply of cannon fodder, they might reflect on the fact that in the late war the countries with a high birth rate broke up in the order of their relative fecundity, while France, with the lowest birth rate in the world, stood like a rock. Or let them compare France with China or India. Which is stronger, the self-supporting country with a rigidly limited birth rate, or the countries of reckless procreation?
Japan's own history furnishes a remarkable example of the close connection between population and resources. During the two and a half centuries of the Tokugawa Shogunate the population of the country increased by only some 900,000--an increment which Japan now accomplishes every 18 months. The opening of the doors to foreign trade and invention, the introduction of machinery and the organization of modern industry, increased the wealth of the country with astonishing rapidity, and population kept pace with the increase of resources, as it always does. The same phenomenon was witnessed in England which increased its population from 8,890,000 in 1801 to 32,530,000 in 1901. New Japan has been able to give all those extra boys and girls a better life than Old Japan was able to give her smaller number, but there are signs that the increase can no longer go on at the same rate without danger to the state. An expert says in the new Japan Year Book that the birth rate is falling and the death rate is rising. He gives the following figures:
|Year||Birth rate per 1,000||Death rate per 1,000|
The death rate of the United Kingdom in 1912 was 13.8 and even in 1918, when war restrictions were at their worst, only 17.6. The Japanese statistics are those of the time when the census was not taken by scientific methods and they cover too short a period to be conclusive, but if they are approximately correct, that rising death rate is nature's warning that population is being pressed up to the margin of subsistence.
The questions that arise when one attempts to forecast the effects of an excessive birth rate are too complex to be discussed in a short article. It is very doubtful if emigration is a remedy. The immense increase in the population of Great Britain coincided with the period when she was sending out swarms of her children to the British colonies. It is questionable if the Japanese people care to colonise new countries. In the half century that Japan has been in contact with the world she has, according to Baron Ishimoto, only sent out 590,000 people--less than a single year's increase. It is true that some countries already settled by the white race are closed but Manchuria is open. Even Hokkaido is less than half populated and it takes only a tenth of the annual increase. The Japanese appears to be reluctant to leave his homeland and face the hardships of colonizing a new country, even when that country is under his own flag and at his own door. It is possible that the food production of the islands might be improved. The fetish of rice has caused potential agricultural wealth to be neglected. Hills which if they were cleared would support vast flocks and herds lie waste, covered with coarse bamboo grass which no animal can eat. "The New Zealand bush," writes Mr. C. Bogue Luffman, in The Harvest of Japan, "offered more natural obstacles to the square mile than is presented by the worst score of square miles in Japan. But it has given place to scenes as fair and prosperous as the eyes and heart of a farming man may know, and all within 30 years." Japan, however, with her Buddhistic tradition of semi-vegetarianism and her belief that rice is the staff of life, makes no sign that she recognizes the unused wealth of her hills.[A]
Emigration being impracticable and further food supplies at home not in process of development, can Japan's industries expand with sufficient rapidity to enable her to buy food for 600,000 additional mouths every year with the product of her factories? Not while her prices remain as high as they are now. Last week a prominent newspaper was advising Japanese manufacturers to transfer their factories to China where labor and living are cheaper than in Japan. That might put dividends in the capitalists' pockets but it would not help to solve Japan's problem. One comes to the conclusion that Japan is in a position where birth control might prove a valuable palliative, easing her social problems and at least delaying, possibly averting altogether, a revolt of labor. Multiplication at the present rate cannot go on much longer without involving social danger and personal hardship. Nature will check it in nature's way and ignorant people will check it in their way, but why should not a nation of educated people face their problem frankly and see if science and reason can aid them?
A. Luffman actually wrote: "The dense and almost perpetually wet native forests of New Zealand, and Gippsland in the State of Victoria offered far more natural obstacles to the square mile than is presented by the worst score of square miles in Japan. But the New Zealand bush and the Gippesland bush have given place to scenes as fair and prosperous as the eyes and heart of a farming man may know, and all within the space of thirty years." (Charles Bogue Luffmann, The Harvest of Japan [London: T.C.& E.C. Jack, Ltd., 1920], p. 250.)
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