Census confirms population shrinkage, vote-value disparities


Staff Writer

Japan’s population shrank 0.7 percent over the past five years and now stands at 127.1 million, the internal affairs ministry said Friday, citing figures from the partial census conducted on Oct. 1.

Population drops have been estimated as far back as 2012, when the ministry calculated that 2011 was the tipping point, but this is the first time a drop has been confirmed by a census. The twice-a-decade counts have been conducted since 1920.

The ministry did not release a breakdown of residents by nationality Friday, but an official said the foreign population is rising. That rise, however, is not large enough to offset the decline in the Japanese.

The ministry plans to release more details in October, including figures for non-Japanese residents.

A full census is held every ten years and a partial one halfway through each decade.

The figures may spur the government to take further action against population decline, but the census results also highlighted the vote-value disparities growing between urban and rural areas.

This difference in the value of votes cast has been eroding the constitutional principle of one person, one vote and has cast doubt on the accuracy of the nation’s elections.

The findings will put more pressure on the slow-acting Diet to pursue electoral reforms. The Supreme Court has already described election results over the past several years as being “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

According to the results of the partial census, Tokyo has the largest population of all 47 prefectures at 13.51 million.

The top nine — Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Aichi, Saitama, Chiba, Hyogo, Hokkaido and Fukuoka — account for 53.9 percent of the nation’s population, underlining a broad migration to urban areas that is still underway.

Eight prefectures, including Okinawa, Tokyo, Aichi and Saitama, had more residents than in 2010, when the last full census was conducted. In all, 39 prefectures saw declines, with Akita logging the sharpest fall of 5.8 percent, followed by Fukushima at 5.7 percent and Aomori and Kochi with 4.7 percent each.

As far as electoral districts go, Miyazaki No. 5 was the least-populated district at 272,077 people. This means one vote there is worth 2.334 times that of a single vote in the Tokyo No. 1 district, which with 635,097 residents is the most populated district.

There are 295 single-seat constituencies in the Lower House.

In all, the disparity was more than double in 37 single-seat constituencies nationwide, the ministry said.

In November, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2014 Lower House election was held “in a state of unconstitutionality” because many districts had a vote-value gap ratio of more than 2-to-1.

The Supreme Court stopped short of invalidating the results, but the ruling means it will declare any vote-value ratio higher than 2-to-1 “unconstitutional” if no corrective steps are taken within a reasonable time frame.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered executives of his Liberal Democratic Party to speed up electoral reform studies, apparently fearing the Supreme Court will declare the next general election unconstitutional if the Diet fails to take action.

The parties remain divided over how to correct the gaps, even though they earlier agreed to “respect” recommendations from a third-party electoral reform panel.

The panel last month submitted a report recommending that Diet seats be allocated based on the so-called Adams’ Method, named after John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. The panel also advised reducing the Lower House by 10 seats to 465.

A distribution based on the Adams’ Method would be more proportional to the population than the current system, which gives at least one single-seat district to each of the 47 prefectures unconditionally.

However, Abe’s LDP, which has more seats in less-populated areas than other parties, has rebuffed the Adams’ Method so far.

If the Adams’ Method is adopted and the results of the new census are acted upon, 9 seats would be added and 15 seats eliminated in the single-seat constituencies of 10 prefectures, NHK has reported.

In this case, Tokyo would be given four more seats and Kanagawa two, while Chiba, Saitama and Aichi would get one more each.

Meanwhile, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Niigata, Mie, Shiga, Nara, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Ehime, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures would lose a seat each.

But the LDP has argued against increasing the number of seats anywhere and for eliminating six, which would retain the current system allocating at least one single-seat district per prefecture.

The panel also recommended that Diet seat distribution be reviewed and reformed every 10 years in response to the findings of each full census.

The LDP’s executives claim the Diet does not need to introduce the Adams’ Method until 2020, when the next such full census is scheduled to take place.

  • Charles Davy

    Personally I think this is a good thing. Frankly Japan is over stretching its natural resources and the rest of the world needs start decreasing their birth rates too. Japan should put a great emphasis on completely automating their economy and moving a majority of their citizens to engineering and R&D. If Japan uses automation effectively they can continue their economic growth while at the same time shrinking their population. Together these things would significantly increase the per capita GDP of the country.

    • Viva75

      Agreed, well said.

    • Tangerine 18

      According to Wikipedia, in 2013 there were an estimated 31,633,000 people aged over 65 in Japan. That’s 24.84%. It would be interesting to hear your ideas on how the Japanese government should “move a majority of their citizens to engineering and R&D” and how they should pay for it.

      • Blair

        How many of those 31,633,000 will live another 30 years? Educating today’s kids for a leaner more efficient Japan which doesn’t rely on an outdated model that requires unsustainable population growth should be the goal…Not looking at ways to maintain an unsustainable system

      • Charles Davy

        They could simply restructure their educational focus to STEM fields which would be relatively cheap and phase out liberal arts education and programs. Then the government could enact policies that encouraged tech companies to move there.

    • Firipu

      If Abe cannot implement simple policies or change the cooporate culture in Japan.. theres little chance of those things happening.