Japanese Population Politics as Viewed through Fertility Surveys in the 1940s and 1950s

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Kim, In-soo
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Institute for Japanese Studies, Seoul National University
Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 139-171
politics of populationfertility surveyfertility control/birth controlPopulation Policy Establishment Guidelines (1941)General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ/SCAP)Rockefeller Foundationethnic minority groups
This article traces the trajectory of discourses on population through fertility surveys administered in Japan in the 1940s and 1950s and unpacks their political significance. During this period, the frame through which Japan viewed population evolved rapidly from “overpopulation theory” to “declining population society theory/ population resource theory” to “birth control theory.” Until the 1930s, the problem of overpopulation in rural areas was severe, and the Japanese state attempted to resolve the issue through industrialization and overseas immigration. However, the Japanese government did not consider birth control as an alternative measure by which to address the problem. During this era, following the First World War, there was a notion of the period as the “total-war era,” in which populations were identified as a physical resource. Additionally, eyeing European states that had transitioned into societies with declining populations and deeming their powers weakened by this development, Japan endeavored to learn from their perceived mistakes. In 1940, Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare observed differences in fertility across the urban-rural divide, as well as differences between careers, via a fertility survey. The Population Policy Establishment Guidelines (Jinkō seisaku kakuritsu yōkō, 1941) were enacted on the basis of this survey.
However, during the US occupation period, the population discourse in Japan quickly transitioned toward one of population control via birth control. With the return of populations from the Asian mainland and a baby boom following defeat in the Second World War, Japanese society faced the twin problems of unemployment and poverty.
Birth control emerged as a direct means of resolving these problems. Furthermore, birth control was envisioned as a virtue of civil subjectivity that could guarantee the “quality” of the population while also determining a rational family size. By subsidizing the research costs incurred by conducting fertility surveys, as well as expanding scholarly exchanges for Japanese demographic researchers, private US foundations, headed by the Rockefeller Foundation, played a crucial role in the transition of population discourses in Japan. Meanwhile, an obsession with racial “purity” and the supposed superiority of the Japanese national population has always existed as a part of population discourses in Japan. Prior to 1945, the results of Japan’s fertility surveys were subject to comparisons with those in China, the USSR, and India, and utilized in a manner that prompted a security crisis. A sense of crisis concerning high fertility rates among colonized populations was also acute. This spurred attempts by the Japanese state to remove minority populations following 1945. It is necessary to re-examine the grand life-cycle of the Japanese populace from an overpopulated society to a low-birthrate, aging society within the historical context of “population discourse/political constructions of representation.”
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Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원)Institute for Japanese Studies(일본연구소)Seoul Journal of Japanese StudiesSeoul Journal of Japanese Studies vol.5 no.1(2019)
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