In 1966, after years of stable fertility rates, Japan experienced a sudden drop in the number of children being born; but what exactly happened in 1966 that would lead to that?
The blame falls on “Hinoe-Uma”, which translates to “Fire Horse”, but what exactly is “Hinoe-Uma”?
Hinoe-Uma is one of the many Japanese superstitions, and one that people have historically followed. Hinoe-Uma happens every 60 years, being the 43rd combination of the sexagenary cycle. The superstition dictates that a woman born in a Hinoe-Uma year will have a very strong personality, which will eventually lead her to kill her husband.
While it might sound strange and even stupid to some, this superstition led to people deciding not to have babies in 1966. It would be interesting to have statistics showing how many of those born in 1966 actually ended up killing their husbands and how that compared to other years, but I digress.
The bigger question is whether parents actually believe that a daughter born in a Hinoe-Uma year will be cursed with that strong personality and murderous qualities. The most likely scenario is that parents were more worried about their daughters’ chances of getting married than their personality.
For many decades, arranged marriages were the norm in Japan. Families would meet, bringing photos of their sons and daughters in hopes of arranging a marriage. This practice has been in decline, arranged marriages totaling less than five percent of total marriages in Japan; but in previous decades, people could have been worried that a birth certificate showing that a daughter had been born in 1966 would have resulted in more difficult chances of finding a husband.
The weight of this theory will be tested in the upcoming years when Hinoe-Uma occurs again in 2026. Japan has evolved a lot since 1966, but superstitions, no matter how silly, can still have a very strong effect on people’s behaviors, just like individuals in various countries who are reluctant to to run the AC at night because they believe that doing so would make them sick, or the South Korean superstition that leaving electric fans on at night will lead to the person sleeping dying.
Another variable to take into consideration is Japan’s efforts to boost fertility rates. Fertility rates in Japan have been among the lowest in the world, which is already leading to major problems and headaches in the country like a lack of care workers for the elderly, a pension system that is being spread thin, and the decisions to increase consumption taxes. Japan does not take in as many immigrants as it needs despite encouraging immigrants to come to the country to work as care workers, and Japan’s refugee acceptance rate is among the lowest in the world.
With 2026 not so far away, it’ll be interesting to see if the number of children being born that year actually plummets, and if the Japanese government changes its stance on certain issues or enacts better policies to encourage people to have children. However, everything is still speculative.