Census first to confirm shrinking of population


A census has confirmed the hard reality long ago signaled by shuttered shops and abandoned villages across the country: The population is shrinking.

The population stood at 127.1 million last fall, down 0.7 percent from 128.1 million in 2010, according to results of the 2015 partial census, released Friday.

The 947,000 decline in the population in the past five years was the first since the count started in 1920. Full surveys take place once a decade, with a partial count after five years.

Unable to count on a growing market and labor force to power economic expansion, the government has drawn up urgent measures to counter the falling birth rate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made preventing a decline below 100 million a top priority. But population experts say it would be virtually impossible to prevent that even if the birth rate rose to Abe’s target of 1.8 children per woman from the current birthrate of 1.4.

Tokyo’s rush hour trains are just as crowded as ever: Japan’s biggest cities have continued to grow as younger workers leave small towns in search of work. The census showed Tokyo’s population grew to 13.5 million, up 2.7 percent since the 2010 census.

But a visit to any regional city will find entire blocks of small shops shuttered, the owners usually either retired or deceased. In rural areas, even just outside Tokyo, villages are mostly empty, fields overgrown and bus and train services intermittent thanks to scant demand.

The rate of population growth peaked in 1950 and has fallen continuously since 1975. By 2011 it had hit zero, the census figures show.

Though Japan is leading this demographic shift, the rest of Asia is following. In South Korea, China and elsewhere in Asia, improved life spans and falling birthrates are raising worries over how to provide for the rapidly expanding ranks of seniors with shrinking labor forces.

A World Bank report issued late last year forecast that health and pension spending will rise sharply at a time when elders can count on less support from their families.

“The rapid pace and sheer scale of aging in East Asia raises policy challenges, economic and fiscal pressures and social risks,” the report said.

It recommended that governments facilitate more participation in the labor force by women and seniors, provide better child care and elder care, and revamp their pension and health systems to cope.

For Japan, the demographic crunch is one of the biggest challenges to a postwar economic model based on rising incomes and consumption.

Nearly a third of all Japanese were over 65 years old in 2015. By 2050, almost 40 percent will be older than 65, according to projections by the National Institute of Population and Social Securities Research.

Richard Katz of The Oriental Economist forecasts that by 2045 there will be 13 percent fewer workers per person in Japan. That means each worker would need to produce 13 percent more in terms of economic value to offset the decline and maintain current living standards.

The economy has stagnated for most of the past two decades partly because companies are reluctant to invest in a market they are convinced will continue to shrink.

Abe took office in late 2012 vowing to spur growth through massive stimulus and sweeping reforms to improve Japan’s competitiveness. So far few of the reforms have been realized, though corporate profits soared thanks to the resulting weakening in the yen against other currencies.

Meanwhile, Abe’s growth agenda has stalled, as companies have opted to invest their cash piles overseas, in faster growing markets, instead of upgrading factories and raising wages — moves that might stimulate demand inside Japan.

  • kinchanphotography

    Wow I wonder if even this awful news will make the Japanese government relax their immigration policies? I wonder whether its all abit too late and that this decline will now become a self perpertuating trend.

    • Charlie Sommers

      Those in America who oppose a liberal immigration policy need to read this. A population which increases with hard working immigrants seeking a better life trends toward a favorable economy for everyone.

      • What do you mean by “liberal immigration policy”? America is out of control!! Undocumented immigrants in the country is NOT something I would want in Japan or anywhere else.

      • Charlie Sommers

        Undocumented immigrants and a liberal immigration policy are nowhere close to synonymous. America was built by immigrants who included my grandfather. As a matter of fact America was built into the country we celebrate today by the hard work of immigrants and their descendants. The policy today is anything but “out of control”. Barrack Obama has deported more people than any president in American history. The vetting process for immigrants takes an average of two to three years before allowing entry. Please explain how we are “out of control.”

      • Tangerine 18

        The only thing “out of control” here is Kirt’s brain, unfortunately.

      • Blair

        It’s time for a new leaner Japan…The old economic model that relies on population growth is unsustainable

      • Steve Jackman

        “It’s time for a new leaner Japan”. No, that should read, “It’s time for a new flabbier Japan”. A country where almost one-third of the people are over 65 (soon to be 40 percent) and is so parochial and xenophobic can only be described as “flabbier”, not “leaner”.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Ah, the old “parochial and xenophobic” bit again. Never gets old.

      • Blair

        40 percent of the population dead within 30 years…leaner

      • Blair

        40 percent of the population dead within 30 years…leaner

  • Matt Owen

    Naturally the population will continue to shrink until many things happen, perhaps the most important is Men in Japan will have to wake up, stop the unequal treatment of certainly one of Japan’s most precious assets—The Women of Japan!!

    • Blair

      It’s natural that the population will continue to shrink until the generation that was spawned by the generation that had 5 kids or more dies out…


    JAPAN is heaven on earth unable to adjust to the fast changing scenario. JAPAN is way ahead (50 years) of rest of the world in technology attitudes. All the nations will face same crises in the near future (maybe 50 years). Japan America Canada Australia New Zealand Singapore should allow foreigners (Indians) to work on short-term maybe 1-2 years Work /Tourist Visas and earn and contribute to The Japanese economy. It will benefit both nations. Indians can work on the agricultural fields Dairy sector teachers nurses gardeners baby sitters. Japan has no choice left. Highly educated ladies in JAPAN will not listen to leaders. They are in Comfort Zone of spinsterhood Childless mothers . Naturally who wants life long responsibility with future so uncertain. JAPAN should allow Indians VISA-on-Arrival to offset the lack of human population. It is already too late

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Oh, so loads of people in India can speak Japanese, can they?

  • Philosopher

    It’s interesting that so much oxygen is giving to the population problem when the centralisation problem hardly gets any attention. It’s sad to think that so many wonderful country towns and remote islands are losing their young people to the cities.

  • I think the high birth rate and rapid population growth in Japan from the Meiji-to-Showa eras were probably an anomaly. So now the Japanese population is slowly correcting itself to a more ‘normative’ condition. People forget that, so they wrongly think of the current shrinkage as the anomaly – and an apocalyptic one at that. Look at it from a wider perspective. There are many benefits to a smaller population, and the position that Japan is over-populated is a cogent one. Or not.

  • Ahojanen

    The real problem is not a declining trend of the entire population but its growing proportion of elderly people relying on social security (pension & heath care).

    Let’s overhaul the current pension system which is almost a pyramid scheme burdening young generations. Elderly, retire aged guys should work to make ends meet until their deaths. Of course the government’s primary job is to secure employment for them. Notice that the constitution stipulates that working is an obligation to all Japanese citizens, along with tax payment and provision of education (to their kids). This being the case, the Japanese can never retire in their lifetime unless they die or renounce their citizenship