Akemi's Anime World

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Money To Breed

Within Japan what is considered one of the most serious long-term problems facing the country is a lack of young people. A combination of factors ranging from expensive education to ingrained social systems have resulted in a generation for whom having one or two children is the norm. The result is a population that is actually shrinking and aging, without enough young people to man the workforce or care for the elderly.

The government has been trying to figure out a way to encourage folks to have more children, and now private industry is getting involved as well.

The latest example is The Japan General Estate Co., Ltd. (J). On March 5th, they announced (J) a drastic new measure against the declining birth rate in Japan: “The Support System For Third Children.”

Starting April 1st, any employee who has a third (or more) child will have all child-rearing expenses covered by the company. This includes everything from hospital bills for the birth to education until the child graduates from Junior High School. This will, apparently, include even the astronomical costs associated with private schools, and the company is said to be considering medical expenses as well.

This is not the first effort the company has made to improve Japan’s declining birthrate; They have already upgraded and expanded their maternity leave system, as well as introduced a plan to help customers who are raising children.

Why are they doing this? They claim it’s part of an altruistic desire to contribute to the national effort to fight the decline in Japanese birth rates. Further, they say that it will motivate employees and inject energy into the work environment.

As far as it making business sense, some company spokespeople have said during interviews that the real estate business depends on there being people to sell homes to, so if you take a long enough view it’s a form of self preservation.

This is far from the only example of companies paying their employees to have more children.

According to an Asahi.com article (J), SoftBank (English site) will begin supporting children of employees born after April 1st with a sort of baby shower bonus.

The third child will receive 1 million yen (about US$8,500), the fourth 3 million, and the fifth and further children 5 million yen each. Even the bonus for first and second children will increase to 50,000 and 100,000 yen, respectively (US$425 and US$850).

Although these sorts of congratulatory gifts are not uncommon, payouts of 1 million yen or more are unusual even for large companies. Up to this point the “birth bonus” was based on how long the employee had been with the company, with amounts ranging form 3,000 to 15,000 yen (US$25-125) per child.

As for how the numbers work out, the benefit is available to any full-time employee who has worked at the company for at least one year, including employees of SoftBank’s three wholly owned subsidiaries, which ads up to 12,000 employees.

Currently, only 360 of their employees have three children, 53 have four, and a mere five have five children; they are apparently estimating that it will cost about 100 million yen (US$850,000) during the first year.

Still not convinced? When an employee’s child enters Middle School, SoftBank’s cellular phone subsidary will give them a smartphone of their own along with basic service for as long as the employee remains with the company.

The idea is being credited to Masayoshi Son, the company president. As for why, Asahi.com is reporting that the company believes it will improve the work environment and attract good employees.

Real-Life Letters From Iwo Jima Find Home Six Decades Later

In a heartening case of life taking a cue from art, Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film Letters From Iwo Jima inspired an aged veteran to return letters he took from that Pacific island over half a century earlier to the family of their owner.

As reported in this Times Herald-Record article (English), a Times Herald-Record video report (also English), TBS News (Japanese), and a variety of news sites carrying an AP story.

Vic Voegelin was an 18-year-old sailor in the U.S. Navy during the Allied assault on Japanese-occupied Iwo Jima. After the fierce battle was over, Voegelin found a small bag on the beach containing 108 letters and post cards belonging to one of the many Japanese soldiers killed in the attack that day. He kept the letters when he returned home.

TBS News quoted Voegelin as saying that while keeping the letters initially seemed like a good idea, as he grew older he began to look at it differently. He realized that the owner of the letters had people whom he loved, and wanted to somehow return the letters to them.

62 years later, the now 80-year-old Voegelin said that he was spurred by Clint Eastwood’s film to try and find the family of the soldier to whom the letters were addressed. He first tried contacting the film’s production company, then the Japanese embassy in New York, but neither had any desire to help. He then contacted a local newspaper—the Times Herald-Record—which passed the story on to Japanese news services.

Masaji Matsukawa reads letters
he wrote 62 years ago
during a media event.

The story received national attention in the Japanese media, and the family was found almost immediately. The letters were written by a young Masaji Matsukawa—still alive today—to his older brother Tadashi, who was a First Lieutenant in the Japanese Army.

The Matsukawa family had been informed of Tadashi’s death by the Japanese military, but they never knew where he had been killed. Although it took 62 years and a man who had been an enemy reaching out in a gesture of peace, Masaji finally was able to find a sort of closure knowing where his brother had died.

Voegelin was unable to bring the letters to Japan personally, but after a month of logistical arrangements they were finally delivered to Tadashi’s younger brother, who spoke with Voegelin by phone through an interpreter. Masaji reminisced in front of cameras as he read the words he had written so long ago. Although the letters were formal in tone and the content subject to strict censorship before being delivered to the front lines, the younger brother’s concern for his older brother is evident and they offer a glimpse at the circumstances in Japan during the war.

Some excerpts as published by TBS News (story no longer available online):

“We couldn’t sleep well last night because we were so excited about news of the war. We ate oseki-han [a festive red bean and rice dish].”

“I will work like mad this year. I’m not going to let you outdo me, older brother. I’m going to follow you [to war].”

“The weather turned terribly cold today. My hands and feet are numb from the cold. Please do not fret since both father and mother are doing well. I am relieved now that I know you are also well. Mother is pleased. Well then, take care of yourself and keep your chin up.”

TBS News noted that Masaji said that the post-war for him had finally come to an end. For his part, Vic Voegelin said told the Times Herald-Record that his small gesture was for once a story about peace, not war.