There are further figures released by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication which show that the third largest economy in the world’s population continues to decline. As of October 1 2016, there were 126.93 million people in Japan, down 162,000 from a year earlier and the sixth straight year in which the population declined. The country’s population decline was softened by a record rise in the number of foreign residents living in Japan: there were 136,000 more foreign residents from a year before, taking the total to 1.91 million. This means that the number of Japanese citizens fell by about 299,000 to 125.02 million. This latter figure perhaps highlights Japan’s demographic problem since there is a continued reluctance to admit large numbers of immigrants to replace the ageing native population. And the population continues to age at a rapid rate: over 27 per cent of the population is now aged over 65, while those in the working-age cohort (15-64 years) fell to the lowest proportion since 1951 (60.3 per cent).
These figures are adding to concerns about Japan’s medium and longterm population trend. The Daily Telegraph recently reported that the Japanese health ministry has predicted that the overall population will fall to 88 million within 50 years and to 51 million within one hundred years. By 2063 the proportion of the population over the age of 65 will have climbed to 38 per cent. Each pensioner will be supported by only 1.2 working aged persons, as opposed to the current 2.1 workers per pensioner. The Japanese government is trying to prevent the population falling below 100 million and has even appointed a cabinet minister to prevent this happening before 2060. The current figures suggest that Japan will reach the 100 million mark by 2053.
Aside from the cabinet appointment, the government has also tried to mobilise the elderly into a potential workforce, to increase productivity through the reliance on artificial intelligence and robotics, and to improve the social security and welfare systems. The female workforce is also another area that Japan could increase its economic growth, although there are many barriers in is way, including a shortage of childcare facilities. One further option, and one that many countries have turned to, is to increase immigration. If the number of foreigners in Japan was increased by 250,000 per year, then the country’s population is estimated to be much higher: nearly 101 million in 2065. However, many Japanese are adverse to such a course, wondering what social and cultural issues such largescale immigration would bring in its train. Japan might be prevented from suffering demographic decline, but at what price?