In the final installment of her series "Health and Nutrition the Japanese Way," NY1's Erin Billups surveys how Japan supports its mothers and their children in an effort to preserve its future.
Japan's fertility rate has remained low and stagnant over the past decade as the number of adults over the age of 65 grows rapidly. In response, national and local governments have unleashed robust initiatives to encourage marriage and child birth.
"The future will be carried by our children," Sakae Yamanaka, a Family with Children Section Chief in Musashino City, says through an interpreter. "By prizing them, we can break this phenomenon of less children. Such is the underlining philosophy."
When Soichiro and Mariko Matsuda conceived both of their daughters, the pregnancies were closely monitored.
"When pregnancy is reported to City Hall, they give you this maternity appointment notebook. If you have insurance from your job, you file an application to get money for childbirth expenses," Matsuda says through an interpreter.
The government gives parents money for each child born, regardless of income level. Health care for children aged 0 to 15 is completely covered by the government. This level of access is costly, especially as parents take their kids to the doctor too frequently.
For the Matsudas, though, it means no worries, even when both daughters, born premature, were in neonatal intensive care for weeks.
"For such a long stay, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 would have been the cost. But it was free. I can now focus on child-rearing with my heart at ease," Matsuda says through an interpreter.
Government funded resources for mothers continues after childbirth with access to places like "0123 Harappa."
"For parents, this serves as a great learning place," Yoko Komiyama, director of Musashino City "0123 Harappa," says through an interpreter. "If there's something you don't know, you can ask other parents. More importantly, you can observe many other children besides your own."
"0123 Harappa" was created more than 20 years ago as officials began to recognize an alarming consequence of the breakdown of the traditional multi-generational household in Japan.
"Mothers couldn't get help. They had no information. They're at a dead-end," Komiyama says through an interpreter. "Not knowing what to do, they have an emotional breakdown or end up hitting the child, and in extreme cases, the mother chooses death together with her child."
The center has been such a success, though, that the government now funds similar community spaces for parents and their babies in most local municipalities in the country.