Japan’s latest census has confirmed the harsh reality that the population is shrinking. Current census figures show that the population has whittled down by over one million in the last five years.
As BBC News reports, in October 2015, Japan had 127.1 million people, down from 128.1 million in 2010. Demographers have long since expressed fears that the diminishing birth rate, aging population, lack of immigration and increasing health costs would take their toll.
Only eight prefectures, including Tokyo, received a population boost and 39 others witnessed declines, with the largest drop — 115,000 people — found in Fukushima, a place that was badly hit by an earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.
The 2015 census shows that the Japanese population has simply stopped growing, with a drop in the working population unbalanced with a rise in the number of senior citizens.
According to the United Nations, Japan’s population will shrink even further by 83 million by 2100 with only 35 percent of the population being older than 65. Economists fear doom for the world’s most indebted economy if there is no solution toward expanding the labor force.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it top priority to stem this decline by improving the national birthrate of 1.4 children to 1.8 children per woman, and offering tax incentives and better healthcare. Lawmaker Katsunobu Kato was appointed “minister for 100 million active people” by the Prime Minister.
Population experts say Abe’s target of 1.8 children for every woman from the current 1.4 birthrate is far from the solution. Michael Cucek, a professor of social sciences,said it was simply not doable.
“They have a goal of 1.8 births per woman. But to maintain a population of 100 million would require 2.1 births per woman.”
Cucek also sees the fact that only two percent of births take place out of wedlock in Japan as a factor.
“Unsurprisingly, throughout East Asia, out-of-wedlock births are frowned upon, no matter where you go they have extremely low levels of childbirth.”
Cucek predicts a fall to 108 million people by 2050, and 87 million by 2060, if there is no boost in birth rate and if the government fails to relax their immigration rules.
Tokyo continues to attract residents more than any other place, and is home to 28.4 percent of the Japanese population. The census shows that Tokyo’s population grew by 2.7 percent from the last year to over 13.5 million people.
Everywhere else in the country is different; a visit to other regional cities will reveal abandoned blocks and closed shops. Rural areas have been overtaken by weeds, and transport services have closed down due to low patronage.
The population growth rate of Japan peaked in 1950, but has fallen continuously since 1975. As the latest census shows, it has hit zero.
Japan may be at the forefront of this demographic change, but the rest of Asia is not far behind. China, South Korea and other countries are witnessing falling birthrates, shrinking labor forces and a looming number of senior citizens.
Japan’s economy has stalled for over two decades because companies have refused to invest in a market where a third of its citizens are above 65 and the market continues to shrink.
The Prime Minister took over in 2012, with promises to facilitate growth through sweeping economic reforms. Only a few of those reforms have succeeded, and have hardly made the impact required to move the country forward.
Meanwhile, companies continue to stockpile cash overseas in vibrant markets instead of improving wages and building more industries. Richard Katz, of The Oriental Economist, forecasts that by 2045 there would be 13 percent fewer workers per person. This means that each worker will need to produce 13 percent more in terms of socio-economic value to maintain current living conditions and make up for the thinning labor force.
[Image via Shutterstock/Cebas]