Residents of Japan, this country is counting on you! Or, to be more precise, counting you.

We are currently in the middle of the 国勢調査 (kokusei chōsa, national census), which takes place 5年に1回 (go-nen ni ikkai, once every five years).

Unfortunately, we’re also in the middle of the コロナ禍 (korona-ka, coronavirus crisis), and that’s presenting the 総務省統計局 (sōmu-shō tōkei-kyoku, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ Statistics Bureau of Japan) with a new set of problems.

The ministry is hoping that an online version of the 国勢調査 will reduce instances of census takers having to interact with the 回答者 (kaitōsha, respondents). The online version was introduced during the last 国勢調査 in 2015, and it achieved a 36.9 percent response rate. 今年は、50%以上の回答率を目標としている (Kotoshi wa, gojuppāsento ijō no kaitōritsu o mokuhyō to shite-iru, The ministry wants the response rate to reach over 50 percent this year).

In addition to taking place during the pandemic, 国勢調査が始まって今年で100年の節目となる (kokusei chōsa ga hajimatte kotoshi de hyaku-nen no fushime to naru, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the national census). The first census took place in 1920. Coincidentally, the world was just getting over another pandemic at the time, and the スペインかぜ (Supein kaze, Spanish Flu) claimed a reported 470,000 lives in Japan.

At the end of the 1920 census, there were a recorded 55,963,053 people living in Japan, including about 80,000 外国人 (gaikokujin, foreign people). For comparison, the 2015 census counted 127,094,745 people and among that number were roughly 1,752,000 外国人. つまり2015年の調査では、外国人の割合は全人口の1.38%だった (Tsumari, nisenjūgo-nen no chōsa de wa, gaikokujin no wariai wa zenjinkō no itten san pāsento datta, In other words, 1.38 percent of the population in Japan in 2015 was foreigners).

One group of people who won’t be counted accurately, however, are LGBTQ couples as the census doesn’t recognize 同性結婚 (dōsei kekkon, same-sex marriage). While an unmarried straight couple living together can list a 世帯主 (setainushi, head of the household) and their partner as 配偶者 (haigūsha, spouse), a 世帯主 with a partner of the same sex is meant to list them as 他の親族 (ta no shinzoku, other relative). This issue has been raised by groups advocating equality in Japan.

Controversies aside, the 国勢調査 is available in several languages online. If you want to attempt the Japanese version, however, you’ll have to decipher the 16 questions that are on the 調査票 (chōsa-hyō, questionnaire).

First thing’s first, 調査票は、黒の鉛筆で記入してください (chōsa-hyō wa, kuro no enpitsu de kinyū shite kudasai, please fill in the questionnaire with a black pencil). The choice of a 黒の鉛筆 is similar to test instructions overseas that ask you to use a No. 2 pencil, but the Japanese is literally translated as “black pencil.” Question No. 1 and 2 are 世帯について (setai ni tsuite, about the household): What is the number and gender of ふだん住んでいる人 (fudan sunde-iru hito, the people who usually live [in your place of residence]), and what is your 住居の種類 (jūkyo no shurui, type of dwelling)? Choose 持ち家 (mochiie) if you own your own home, 民営の賃貸住宅 (min’ei no chintai jūtaku) if you’re renting an apartment managed by a real estate company, and その他 (sono ta, other) if you’re living in a retirement home, hotel, hospital or other such facility.

From Question No. 3 the 調査票 moves on to focus on the people residing where you live. For this, you’ll have to identify who the 世帯主 is and everyone’s relationship to them. Are you the 子の配偶者 (ko no haigūsha, spouse of a child)? That’s a technical way of saying 義理の息子 (giri no musuko, son-in-law) or 義理の娘 (giri no musume, daughter-in-law). It’s important to note that most of the vocabulary on the census isn’t what is used in 日常会話 (nichijō kaiwa, everyday conversation).

On the second page, you’re asked about your 教育 (kyōiku, education) before going into detail about your employment status.

This is the part in the 調査票 where what you answer will send you to a question that’s not necessarily in numerical order. For example, Question No. 11, which asks if you had a job between Sept. 24-30, may tell you 記入おわり (kinyū owari), which means you’re done writing, or 12欄へ (jūni-ran e) go to column/line 12.

外国人として (Gaikokujin to shite, As a foreign resident), it will be interesting to see whether or not Japan has continued to become more diverse in the past five years, though we’ll have to wait until February 2021 for the results. Looking at the questions and answers in the 国勢調査, however — from those who work on the high seas, to those who live in shrines and the multigenerational households — it’s just fascinating to see just how diverse Japan actually is.

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