Why is it acceptable in Japan to leave even small kids home alone?

Being a (soft) Sapir-Whorfist, I have long thought that it was at least partly due to how easy and reasonable-sounding it is to say to a kid “O-rusu-ban o-negai shimasu” (something like “Please look after the house while I’m out”) as you leave, as it sounds a lot less neglectful than the English “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes” or “Be good while I’m gone”. This nugget of information from East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History that I’ve just come across might also have some relevance though if the habits have long outlasted their roots (as is common in any culture):

“For reasons of etiquette and security, old-style houses had required that someone always be home to greet guests and guard the premises. Western-style front doors made it easy for the housewife to lock the door and go shopping, visit friends or see a movie” (page 480)

Then again, some Japanese parents also seem happy to let their kindergarten-aged kids take the train home without any adult supervision, so maybe it is something more general.

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Why does Japan have the world’s fastest aging population?

It’s a combination of the old people living for ever and the young people not doing their duty in the sprogs department. The first is due to getting almost everything you need for longevity- being married, keeping busy, close family ties, a healthy diet and an okay health service. The latter is a combination of the difficulties of getting married and having kids (expensive accommodation and education,difficulties in meeting people and hooking up) and an extreme version of a self-sacrificing generation spawning a self-indulgent one. Other factors include very low rates of pre-marital birth and unmarried couples, women who have babies still being expected to stop work, the difficulties of obtaining credit,and the even more risk averse younger generation not making a move without the increasingly rare permanent contract, mortgage and stack of savings.

Why are the Japanese so obsessed with their kids being genki (energetic, lively)?

Thailand is quite similar. It could it be an inherent trust in the good nature of kids due to Buddhism having no concept of original sin, or an understanding that lots of energy (more than lots of original ideas) is what they are going to need in their future educational and working careers. Alternatively it could be because rebellion and mental health problems in Japanese tend to come out as being lethargic and withdrawn

More on Japanese families and education on pages on the right