FIRST DROP SINCE 1945

Japan’s population declines by 19,000

by Reiji Yoshida

The total population of Japan, including everyone who has been a resident longer than three months, fell to 127.76 million as of Oct. 1 for the first drop in the postwar period, the government said Tuesday.

Census records have been kept since 1920, and the only other decrease — in 1945 — is considered an exception by statisticians.

The total population figure “represents a decrease of 20,000 people compared with one year ago,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said. “We can consider that our country is now entering a phase of population decrease.”

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, with the exception of 1945, it was the first fall in the population since the government began taking a national census and giving annual population estimates.

The figure of 127.76 million is a preliminary result of October’s 2005 national census. Abe was comparing it with the government’s estimate for the population last year.

The census is conducted every five years. It includes foreign residents who had been living here for more than three months as of Oct. 1 of the reporting year.

According to the preliminary 2005 figures, there were 62,340,000 men and 65,420,000 women, which translates into a ratio of 95.3 men to every 100 women. This indicates the gender gap in terms of average life span has widened from the previous census in 2000.

Thirty-two prefectures posted falls in population since the 2000 census.

The 15 prefectures that posted increases include Tokyo, Kanagawa, Aichi and Okayama.

On Dec. 22, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry gave a separate population estimate that shows the first natural decrease of Japanese nationals on record. That figure is an estimate of the total population of a given year based on the number of births and deaths only of people with Japanese citizenship.

Using the latest data released by the health ministry and the more wide-reaching data from the census, the government adjusted its estimate of the population as of October 2004, which turned out to be 19,000 more than the figure for Oct. 1 this year.

Abe said there is no cure-all for the problems that can be expected to result from a shrinking population caused by fewer births.

“We have to combine policy measures in a comprehensive manner,” he said, adding that an advisory panel will submit policy recommendations to the government in June.

In general, if there is no increase in productivity, the size of a country’s economy will shrink in accordance with its population.

In addition, an aging society combined with fewer births will increase a country’s welfare costs.

If the current population continues to fall and everything else remains constant, the size of the population is projected to drop to 64 million in 2100 from 127.7 million in 2006, according to a 2005 annual paper on the declining birthrate.