Infant and Maternal Mortality

Japan has successfully reduced both infant and maternal mortality rates; with the mortality rates for infants falling further than that for mothers. In fact, the infant mortality rate fell dramatically from 61.7 per 1,000 live births in 1948 to 30.7 in 1960, 13.1 in 1970, 7.5 in 1980, and 4.6 in 1990 (National Institute of Social Security and Population Research, 2008). The maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births decreased from 156.7 in 1951 to 108.2 in 1961,42.5 in 1971, 18.3 in 1982, and 8.6 in 1991 (ibid.). According to statistics cited by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2005), Japan’s infant mortality rate in 2005 was the second lowest among 176 countries, together with Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Singapore, Slovenia, and Sweden, compared to a ranking of 16 in its maternal mortality ratio among 164 countries, the same as Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Causes of Death

There was no sex difference in the top three causes of death in 2007, namely malignant neoplasm (cancer), cardiac disease, and cerebrovascular disease (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2007a). However, one cause of death that does exhibit sex differences is suicide, levels of which are higher for men than women (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2007b). The fact that suicide-death rates peak at ages 55-59 could be interpreted as men choosing to commit suicide when suddenly confronted with dismissal from or lack of advancement at the workplace, having since childhood pursued the goal of what Osawa (2007) calls the “breadwinner model,” or, to put it another way, men falling victim to Japan’s cultural norms. To make things worse, men do not readily go for counseling or seek advice to relieve their anxieties about mental and physical health, although this situation is slowly improving (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2007b, 2007c).

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