While we often point out the low fertility rates around the world, in most countries the size of the population isn’t actually contracting – yet.  However, that is not the case in Japan any longer.  Japan’s population is decreasing and getting older faster than almost any other country in the world. The country’s national census, conducted every five years, will begin this Thursday and is expected to show the first ever drop in population since the survey began back in 1920.  However, we will have to wait a while to get the actual figures which will be released in February. 

The census will provide basic data needed for various policies, including welfare services and disaster prevention.  The welfare system is expected to become ever more strained in coming years without enough taxpayers to support the increasing elderly.  The median age is now over 46 and people are living longer and having fewer babies.  The many other countries that also have rapidly aging populations are following Japan’s plight closely. Jeffrey Kingston, a demography professor at Temple University’s Tokyo campus, comments that: “We’re sort of the guinea pig. A lot of societies are interested in what aging policies work and which don’t work, and we’re going to be finding out.”

The technology utilised is also a first in this census.  Japan projects that more than 10 million households will submit answers online, including via personal computers and smartphones. This will apparently make it one of the biggest ever online surveys in the world.  It will also be the first measurement of the population change caused by recent national disasters within Japan.  The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent atomic crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant both forced the evacuation of many people in the Tohoku region.

Because of the serious issues involved, Japan is taking this census very seriously and promoting it widely, as well as the demographic issues the country faces. The little man to the right is “Census-kun”, the central census mascot. The fact that they have chosen a baby is to presumably help to further persuade the population of the need for more. 

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...