Postwar family life in Japan as Seen from the Catholic Viewpoint

Anthony Zimmerman
SVD, STD, and the Family Life Discussion Club
(Katorikku Kyogi Kondan Kai)
Pamphlet No. 1 of The Family Life Bureau
National Catholic Committee
Tokyo, 1964.

Imprimi potest: Herman Bertelsbeck, SVD, Regional Superior.
Imprimatur: Petrus Matsuoka, Epps. Nagoyaensis, July 15, 1964
Reproduced with Permission

A limited number of English language copies was produced. It was published in a Japanese version by Kajima Kenkyujo Publishers, with a translation by Nagamine, Haruo, and later by Chuo Shuppansha. Only Chapter One is presented here, because the other subjects are treated elsewhere on this home page, or are outdated.

C 0 N T E N T S

General Observations

This writing was composed in answer to the request of a Government Official for information on three points:

1) As seen from the Catholic Viewpoint what caused the sad deterioration of family life in Japan since the end of the War?

2) Again as seen from the Catholic Viewpoint, what steps ought to be taken to improve the situation?

3)What is being done for families in other nations?

The request was lodged with the Family Life Discussion Club (Katei Mondai Kondan Kai) of the National Catholic Committee, which discussed the problems under the leadership of Father Joseph Emi of the Social Welfare Department, and Father John Sasaki of the Catholic Migration Commission. Father Anthony Zimmerman of the Catholic Population Research Association was entrusted with the task of drafting the report. His completed draft was then presented to the Kondan Kai, which made recommendations. Mrs. Sumiko Sekiba translated the manuscript into Japanese. Father Peter Tsukamoto, Assistant Secretary General of the National Catholic Committee, and Father Andrew Matsumura, Director of the Family Life Bureau, helped to revise and polish. Special thanks are due to Augustine Sugano for his valuable help and suggestions.

Tokyo, National Catholic Committee, Family Life Bureau, August 1st, 1964


This paper concerns itself with postwar family life problems in Japan as seen from the Catholic Viewpoint. The purpose is to arrive at a better understanding of root causes of recognized troubles, and to suggest basic remedies.

The paper is presented in the spirit of Pope John XXIII whom the world learned to love as the champion of all that is genuinely human and good in man. And in the spirit of Pope Paul VI, who spoke as follows to the Corps of Diplomats in the first official audience of his reign (June 24 1963): TheHoly See does not intend... to intervene in affairs and interests pertaining to temporal powers. It aims to favor everywhere the profession of certain fundamental principles of civilization and humanity... and to make them penetrate minds and hearts."


Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) observed that wars tend to cast family life into confusion, and that much time and effort are required for a restoration to a normal state. He said in a discourse of November 26, 1951: "The damages caused by the first World War were far from having been fully repaired when the second even more terrible conflagration came to augment them. Much time will be needed yet, and many labors on the part of men, with even greater divine aid, before the deep wound inflicted on the family by two wars can begin to heal properly."

If this be true of Western countries, it is probably even more true of Japan, where more profound changes occurred after World War II. Defeat in the War suddenly swept away one ideal for which families had made great sacrifices, namely national expansion and victory. The Militarists' slogan of "Ume yo, fuyase yo" (Increase and multiply) suddenly sounded hollow. People wanted no more of it. New ideals were find, and people were bewildered. Occupation Forces showed a regrettable spirit of license, and many Japanese mistook the behavior of these soldiers for the ordinary spirit of home life in the West. It became fashionable to reject Japanese traditions of reserve in sex matters and to allow almost everything under the slogan of "democracy."

The Japanese Government was rather powerless and indecisive at the time. The police force no longer had a clear mandate nor desire to prosecute pornography in printed matter and films. Parents hardly knew what to say to their children. The standard of' morality, no longer supported by firm leadership, sank to a depth where the behavior of worse elements in the nation could pass as acceptable.

A powerful movement arose out of the seething confusion which soon gained popular support; this has since become the dominant characteristic of Japanese family life, namely the birth control movement. In a few short years all forms of birth control became not only legal, but popular and acceptable with astonishing suddenness; the nation switched from the traditional large family system to the small family system. A more profound upheaval of family traditions in so short a span of time is not recorded in world history.

In the wake of the prevalence of birth control throughout the nation, economic and social life gradually hardened around the small family, so much so that it has become nearly impossible for most parents to raise a large family. The next step was to accept the small family as not only necessary but as preferable and more ideal. Today few parents even want a large family. In the 1959 Survey of Mainichi Newspapers, 57.7 percent of the couples indicated that they want no more than the existing two children, and an additional 25.5 percent indicated that they wanted only one more - three in all. They preferred other things to children.

In the meantime the number of abortions arose to a high plateau of perhaps 40 times the former level. Instead of being considered a crime, abortion is looked upon as a lesser evil, a necessary escape route from a troublesome situation. In general, parents tend to welcome children if they are not an economic burden nor an inconvenience to health, but not otherwise. An indication of this exists in the fact that orphans are not adopted into families as much as formerly. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in America, where couples are very anxious to adopt children; many wait for years until a child becomes available; they adopt babies from foreign countries, and sometimes buy them from a black market ring.

Children, on their part, lack respect and love for parents in comparison to former generations. This may have been indicated in the questionnaire which was given to a sampling of Japanese children and foreign children age 11-12. A question put to them read: "Otosan ya, okasan wo tasukeru tame ni, jibun wa do nattemo kamaimasen ka?" (Would you do all you could to save your father and mother, no matter what happens to you?) Only 56.6 percent of the Japanese children answered "Hai" (Yes) whereas in Germany 91.5 percent answered yes, in England 97.7 percent, and in France 97.7 percent. (1)

Fortunately, the picture is not all black, Japan is still a children's paradise by many standards of measurement. The deep spirit of parenthood and the fine Japanese traditions, which made it a paradise cannot be uprooted all of a sudden. There is a growing trend to return to normal family life, and to get away from the worse tendencies of the postwar. With the hope of strengthening this healthy trend, and to rectify some of the confusion of family life brought on by World War II, the situation will now be reviewed in the light of Catholic principles.


Catholic teaching holds that families are the first and most essential cells of society; individuals and families form the State in order to further their own welfare through common effort. The State, therefore, has no rights which are not related to individual and family welfare. Opposed to this concept is the idea that the State has its own rights and purposes, which are completely independent of the welfare of the citizens; citizens, in fact, should subordinate their own good to that of the State. The citizens are regarded as parts of the State, much as the different organs of the human body are parts of the whole; the organs of the body have no purpose of their own, but only exist to serve the whole; so also the citizens exist only to promote the purposes of the State. This is called totalitarianism, an idea which has been condemned again and again by the Catholic Church.

The reader may be wondering what relation this abstract principle has to the subject on hand, namely the postwar family troubles of Japan. The relevance may not be apparent at first sight, but if the analysis of this paper be correct, the violation of this principle is the main source of the infection of Japanese family life. By insisting heavy-handed on universal birth control, the Japanese Government has to some extent placed arbitrary ends of the State above the welfare of families. It pressurizes families into suppressing their own natural good in order to promote a more rapid development of the national economy.

During the prewar and war periods, the Government urged families to have many children; its purpose was probably to provide soldiers and laborers in order to allow the State to expand and to obtain victory. Although the Government's purpose may have had little to do with the welfare of families, at least the means used - the promotion of good family life - benefitted families at the time.

Now the Government urges families to bear only a few children. In the immediate postwar years the intention may have been the good of families, since there was widespread fear that families would eventually destroy their own means of livelihood by overpopulating the nation hopelessly. In addition, women were undernourished and in poor health; some of the authorities thought it necessary to teach methods of spacing births.

As the economy improved, however, and the above reasons for birth control faded into the background, the government nevertheless continued the campaign in favor of birth control. Its purpose was no longer the pure good of families, but national economic development. The means used - birth control under pressure - are poisonous to family welfare. This violates the principle that the State exists to serve families, and not vice versa.

No law forces Japanese couples to limit family size through birth control. However, the Eugenic Protection Law makes all forms of birth control legal. Pressure applied by official promoters and through mass communications by persons of influence and authority does the rest. The Law is therefore a key factor in making the situation possible. People could hardly be persuaded for long to comply with a policy of birth control for national economic development if contraception, abortion, and sterilization were illegal.

In 1952 the Welfare Ministry stepped up promotion of contraception, alleging that this was advisable in order to reduce the health- damaging abortions. But by 1954 the reason of national economic development was stated forthrightly. The Ministry of Welfare's Advisory Council on Population Problems passed a resolution on August 24 which reads in part: "In view of the present situation, where the heavy pressure of population is detrimental to the successful accumulation of capital as well as to the rationalization of industries, it is necessary for the Government to adopt policies to curb the population increase." The Minister of Welfare reported this statement to Chiefs of Prefectural Health Departments on October 25 with the recommendation that, in view of the above decision, the dissemination of the practice of contraception should be the basic principle of Japan's population policy, and that this is in addition to the purpose of protecting maternal health. "It is hoped that all of you will cooperate in this matter along this line," he said. (2) Through mass communications, thousands of extension workers, and Eugenic Protection Consultation Offices in over 800 health centers, the Ministry brought pressure to bear on the entire nation to avoid children in order to cooperate with the government's economic program.

The word "Government" has been used rather loosely in the text above; as used here, it does not refer to a strictly defined Government policy in a technical sense, but to the weight of authority as the people feel it. In the end, the Government must take the responsibility for the impression it gives to its citizens. And the masses seem convinced that those in power want them to avoid births, as this passage from Mono Iwanu Nomin illustrates:

After all, villagers are saying: "During the war the birth regulation policy was promoted from above (including newspapers and magazines) by the slogan 'Increase and multiply." But now "Don't bear, don't increase" is in style. What's the big idea! Formerly we were told to have many children, now we are told to avoid them. It is supposed to be shameful to have many children, as though it were something bad.

One also hears things like the following from villagers: "Over there, in that house, they are having one child after another although the family is poor; and that despite the fact that the authorities told us exactly what to do; what kind of people are they, that they pay so little attention to orders?". Such an atmosphere must be increasing abortions beyond necessity. (3)


The sad consequences of a policy of birth control under pressure in order to promote national economic development now invites our attention.

Historically, the Japanese people, as most other peoples, have credited the marriage union with a strong religious character. The contract is made in a religious surrounding, and the couple somehow senses that their act is sacred, that it has direct reference to God, that when the two unite for the propagation of offspring they dedicate themselves to a holy service . The use of the sex faculty is permitted in this state alone, and there its use becomes nature's most sacred act. They are permitted to release the forces which can give rise to new life, and nature must develop its course and bring it to completion. The couple is deeply thrilled to be at the service of life, of nature, and of God. Once they have performed their part, and put into motion this wondrous evolution of life, they feel a deep urge to respect its progress religiously, and not to arrest the work of nature or hinder its natural development. By thus respecting the intentions of nature and of God, they also respect each other, and this becomes the basis of a tender and lasting love. By leaving to nature the possibility of developing an offspring, husband and wife reveal how much they esteem each other, and implicitly pledge to share their entire lives in order to care for the child. When there are many children, and sacrifices increase, the faith and love of parents are put to many tests; from superficial and selfish characters they slowly but surely develop into mature persons dedicated to the service of life. They feel a deep peace because their lives are in harmony with nature and with God, and their characters develop as nature intends.

When the state declares that couples should avoid having children in order that the national economy may develop better, the essential sacredness of married life is denied. Money is made to be more important than the intentions of God and nature, than the development of character of married couples. To make its policy succeed, the State must generate a kind of hostility towards large families; it must practically urge the people that they should enjoy the pleasures of married life selfishly and to avoid the responsibilities which nature has attached to the pleasure. This opens a breach in the dike which surrounds morality in family life, and an ocean of evils pours in. Abortions are made to appear as a lesser evil than disobedience to State purposes. The child or two is treated more as a pet than as a person entrusted to parents by God. The bond of marriage is loosened, because children no longer hold the family together. Pleasure takes precedence over principles; this may lead to infidelity to one's marriage partner, and may influence juveniles to take liberties. This compromising spirit in matters of sex easily passes over into national social and business life, since one department of man's character cannot be sealed off from the rest of his personality. Crass hedonism and materialism become rampant in the nation.

The children who are keenly perceptive of what is genuine and what is artificial in the character of their parents, experience profound disappointment when they lean on the parents to build their own characters. If they find basic selfishness, hollowness, and immaturity, they tend to become cynical and to go their own way. No wonder that Pius XII once said that it was one of the most harmful mistakes made by modern man to come to think of fruitfulness in marriage as a kind of "social sickness" which must be cured by birth control. (4)

Because the Japanese nation has decided to solve overpopulation through birth control, it will be difficult to reverse the decision, and to pull out this deepest root of family troubles. The nation cannot eat its pie and keep it at the same time. It must choose to hold to its present course and thus continue to coexist with a hostility towards large families and a spirit of profaning what is sacred in married life; or it must abandon the idea of solving overpopulation by means of a national birth control policy. Efforts of the Welfare Ministry to improve family life and morality in the present situation may yield various fringe benefits, but they will leave the essential sickness of family life uncured. Perhaps this opinion is overly pessimistic, but it represents the considered view of the present compilers.

The Catholic Church has always opposed the idea that birth control be imposed upon citizens for national purposes. Couples are allowed by nature to space the birth of children when this serves reasonable and serious family purposes through such means as employing the rhythm system. But authorities err when they urge birth control for national objectives, unless there is a real and unmistakable crisis which cannot be solved in any other way. We are very slow to say that couples must sacrifice their most fundamental rights or the use of them for the good of society, unless it is a good of society which is in some way connected with their own, and is fully proportionate to the effort expended.

We can imagine that a time might come when population becomes so concentrated in the world that a decent human life would become impossible if population growth were not checked. In such a case couples would see the need to avoid excessive births through self control, since this would be necessary for their own good. Many sincerely thought that this was the case in Japan in the immediate postwar years. The highest authorities in the Catholic Church, however, consistently held that nations must solve their problems in other ways than by imposing national birth control policies. A few passages from official documents make this clear.

Pope Pius XII held that a policy of national birth control to achieve State objectives smacked of totalitarianism. In the Christmas Message of 1952 he stated that the totalitarian state is at fault because it subordinates man to mere things, because it presumes to determine just how many people a national economy should support now and in the future. In so doing it comes into conflict with individual persuasions of what is right and wrong; it tries to mechanize consciences, to bring them into line with its own purposes, to impose systems of birth control. This is an extreme departure from the plan of God, he said, and represents the nadir of society's efforts to help man. He continued:

Certainly we would not deny that this or that region is at present burdened by a relatively excess population. But the desire to solve the difficulty with a formula that the number of inhabitants should be regulated according to the public economy, is equivalent to subversion of the order of nature and the entire psychological and moral world which is bound up with it. (5)

When the present Pope, Paul VI, was pro-Secretary of State under Pius XII, he wrote as follows concerning this problem:

"If a deep understanding of the common good is the soul of a healthy and strong State" the Holy Father (Pius XII) warned in his radio address to the Swiss people on 20th September, 1946, "then the dignity and the holiness of married life and family life are, as it were its backbone. When, therefore, this latter is gravely wounded, the State's strength is finished, and its people fall sooner or later into ruin." For this reason when addressing obstetricians he inculcated "the apostolate of appreciation and love of the life that is being born," and defined as being "opposed to the mind of God and to the words of Sacred Scripture and, for that matter, to sound reason and to the sentiments of nature" that modern way of thinking, which is hostile to the ideal of a numerous family (Discourse of 29th October, 1951). (6)

A semi-official document in the form of a news release of Fides News Service, Vatican, March 181 1952, makes this precise statement:

The organizations that recommend birth limitation on a large scale, it does not matter under what form, are relying upon the erroneous opinion that the family is for the State. It is the contrary that is true: the State is for the family and it cannot be admitted that the family must, in its most intimate life, submit itself to considerations of a demographic nature.

The State, on the contrary, must assure all families of the country of the possibility of providing a becoming livelihood and education, not only for one or two children, but for the normal family as willed by God.

The Representative of the Vatican in Japan, His Excellency Archbishop Mario Cagna, wrote as follows in a message to the Catholic Population Research Association on March 30, 1963:

Japan should prize her growing population as one of her greatest assets and, rather than artificially limit its growth, find ways and means whereby her people can effectively exert their influence on the betterment of the world as a whole.


President de Gaulle hopes that France will have a hundred million people. People are for him the most important form of industrial and political capital. Dr. Bruno Hecht, Minister of Youth and Families in Western Germany, aims to raise family allowances high enough (70 marks per month for every child after the fourth) so that Germany can catch up with other European nations which are in the forefront of a "Family Renaissance." America's net reproduction rate is now as high as it was in Japan in the peak year of 1948. But in Japan people desire a reduction of population. Many say that the nation would be better off with only 40 million. Dr. E. Ackerman of Chicago University said in 1948, after completing a survey, that only if the nation holds its population at about 80 million can it hope to maintain a balanced economy and enjoy a moderate standard of living. (7) Few seem to realize what such a reduction of population would do to Japan. For example, to hold the population even at 97 million, would make it necessary to allow less than one baby per married couple for some decades. This would be unfair to these children, who would later have to support a disproportionate number of old persons. The process would make a kind of old folks home of Japan, dislocate the economy, deprive the nation of strength and ambition, and reduce her to a position of less and less importance among the nations of the globe. As Pius XII said: "History makes no mistake when it points to violation and abuse of the laws governing marriage and procreation as the primary cause of the decay of peoples." (8) Happily, leading lights in the nation have a positive and refreshing view on this subject, quite in contrast to the negative attitude of the masses and of the birth control promoters. Prime Minister Ikeda had this to say on New Year's Day 1963:

The hitozukuri (human development) I speak of is not confined to improving people who already exist in this world. It is also important that fine babies be born. It goes against the order established by God to restrict by artificial means the entry of yet unborn children into the world. I wish that people would realize that when the population is increasing the nation is moving prosperously forward. I believe there are other ways of solving the overpopulation problem. (9)

If this thinking prevails in Japan, one can hope for a much improved family life and a brighter future for the nation.

Dr. Ryutaro Komiya of the School of Economics, Tokyo University, advised the present writer that immediately after the war, the opinion which feared for Japan's future because of overpopulation was fairly influential; however "among professional economists, there is practically no fear now of overpopulation; therefore we can say that there is practically no opinion that birth control is cause of economic prosperity. Such an opinion is held only by people who are not Japanese, who do not know Japan too well." He himself believes that the present danger in Japan is not one of overpopulation; rather, the sharp decline of population growth is unbalancing the population age composition and may cause a serious problem of labor supply within the decade. (10)

Thoughtful reflection indicates that young people are a help, rather than a hindrance, in solving overpopulation problems. For example, the metropolitan areas to which Japan's young workers flock, are riding the crest of the nation's economic surge, whereas the rural areas from which the workers are emigrating, are in a state of comparative depression.

The problem of overcrowding in Japan has been much exaggerated. Even crowded Tokyo, for example, has only one seventh as many persons per square kilometer as has Manhattan Island of New York City. If the entire population of the world were to move into Japan and there multiply four times over, the density of population per square kilometer would not yet equal that of Manhattan Island. Yet the level of living on Manhattan is such that some of the wealthiest people of the world choose to live there. (These statistics indicate residents not commuters. If commuters are included, the daytime density of population rises, of course.)

Many arguments can be advanced against a further continuation of the birth control policy in this nation. These should be examined. The situation has changed very much in the last sixteen years, but the law still remains as then. This brings us to the first recommendation of this paper:



The Committee should report its findings to the Government. At least some of its members should be drawn from ranks, which have no previous commitments to the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Secondly, since the promotion of birth control for the sake of national economic development violates natural principles, and is the deepest cause of Japan's present family troubles; and since promotion of this policy by a Government agency creates misunderstandings and exerts harmful pressures on the population, a second recommendation is presented:



This would require no change of law but only a declaration of policy at the top, and a change of guidance activities in publications, mass communications, and at Health Centers. This would bring Japan's policy a giant step closer to Catholic thinking. The latter was expressed as follows by the present Pope when he was still Monsignor Montini:

Efforts to reconcile the equilibrium between growing population and means of livelihood are therefore not to be directed towards violation of the laws of life or interference with the natural course of family life. Such an attitude of renouncement of life kills the noblest aspirations of the spirit; while a declining birth rate aimed at by such systems, has always proved sooner or later to be, in the history of the nations, a sign of defeat and doom. (11)



August 17, 2000. The Government has indeed stopped its advocacy of birth control to achieve national prosperity long ago, but the media-induced fashion of small families has only gone from bad to worse. As Father John Nariai just informed me, official statistics published by the Welfare Ministry indicate that if the population replacement rate continues at the then current rate of 1.38, there will be will be only 500 Japanese on the Islands in the year 2500. Since then the replacement has dropped further, to only 1.34 children replacing the two parents. How will it be in reality? We will observe from heaven. May the Lord bless Japan and turn the hearts of fathers toward their children.