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Political Vocabularies and Localized Discourses on Demographic Transition: The Emergence of the 'Syousika' Problem in 1980s Japan (RC06-VSA Conference, Oct 2019, Hanoi)

Paper title: Political vocabularies and localized discourses on demographic transition: the emergence of the 'syousika' problem in 1980s Japan

Author: TANAKA Sigeto (Tohoku University)


Policies and political discourses depend on historical contexts and local languages. The vocabulary to define social problems represents and leads the focus of public opinion. This paper reports on the result of a literature survey on the Japanese word “syousika” (or “shôshika”), coined through discourses on demographic transition in Japan, which literally means a decreasing number of children. Today, this word occupies the central position in Japanese political discourses on low fertility and shrinking population.

It is believed that this word made its first appearance in the early 1990s. However, it was already in literature in the early 1980s, although its meaning was different. In those days, the word simply meant a decrease in the number of siblings. It had nothing to do with the country's fertility or population. The word was used in a conservative perspective to express the worry that a smaller family could restrict socialization of youths, making them too individualistic. Such usage was by government officials in the Ministry of Education as well as by researchers in educational sociology.

In the early 1990s, the country's record-hitting low fertility attracted public attention. Within a few years, the word “syousika” gained a new meaning to symbolize that phenomenon. Demography researchers borrowed the word and authorized its use as a technical term to indicate below-replacement fertility. Nonetheless, the word has varied connotations, not limited to low fertility, serving as a magic term to cover various problems related to population. This paper traces the transformation of the meaning of the word to explore how it has impacted political debates on population.

Keywords: language, discourse, policy, population, fertility

Conference: RC06-VSA International Conference "The Family in Modern and Global Societies: Persistence and Change" (October 17-19, 2019, Hanoi)
Status: Accepted for oral presentation [2019-06-11]


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