Japan’s decline has no historical parallel. It is a current fed by two streams — economic and demographic. Economically, barring an unforeseen upsurge, gross domestic product is forecast to fall 16 percent by 2025, 42 percent by 2050. Demographically, in 50 years there will be 40 million fewer Japanese than there are now. That, notes the weekly Shukan Gendai, is the equivalent of losing a city the size of Niigata (pop. 800,000) every year. The research foundation Nihon Keizai Chosa Kyogikai, in a recent report cited by the magazine, says, “This degree of population decline, apart from a major war or an epidemic, is a first for the human race.”

What will Japan look like in 50 years? It will, first of all, be elderly, as no nation on Earth ever has been. Forty percent of its shrinking population will be 65 or over. Sixty-five today, thanks to advances in medical science, is not the same as 65 a generation ago. The old are healthier and more vigorous than they were. Very likely this will continue, and old age will grow increasingly youthful. But youthful old age is not youth. Declining vigor can be slowed but not reversed. Shukan Gendai’s scenario is “a nightmare for Japanese business.” Reduced demand pinches production and sales. Manufacturers wither, department stores die, the stock market tumbles, banks fold or merge into bloated mega-banks. Regional depopulation accelerates. Train service is reduced. Schools close for lack of students, and are converted into facilities for the elderly. School playgrounds become gateball courts.

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