After years of paying limited attention to academic and media warnings about the declining birthrate, aging population and complaints from the rest of the country about the overconcentration of people and resources in Tokyo, political and corporate leaders in Japan were jolted by the conclusions of a 2014 book by Hiroya Masuda, a former Iwate prefectural governor and head of a government committee on local revitalization.

"Local Extinctions," Masuda's detailed report of population changes, used the latest official figures from the government's National Institution of Population and Social Security Research to show that 896 cities, towns and villages throughout Japan were facing extinction by 2040. At first glance, the book simply repeated what earlier reports had concluded. However, it also included the percentages by which child-bearing women between the ages of 20 and 40 were expected to decline in each and every city, town and village.

The latter figures, in particular, caught the eye of a large number of people, especially politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders who were, predominately, elderly men already worried about the declining birthrate. The grim predictions forced everyone, though, to ask old questions with new urgency: As the population shrinks, who will give birth to the next generation of voters? Without new mothers, where will the next generation of taxpayers, business leaders and customers come from? And if too many localities become extinct, what will happen to all of those Tokyo-based firms that rely on the rest of the nation to stay in business?