Sorry to disappoint, but today will feature news not of the Wuflu variety. Instead, I wanted to bring you another update in Japan’s steady population decline. Perhaps it is no surprise, but for the ninth year running the Japanese population has declined.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, at the beginning of October last year there were 126,167,000 people living in Japan, a figure 276,000 lower than the year before.
This population decline of 0.22 percent is the largest decrease on record, but the decline would have been even worse if the number of foreign residents living in Japan had not increased by over 200,000 in 2019.
This means that the number of Japanese citizens is decreasing by nearly half a million people a year (to 123,731,000) but around half of that number is being replaced by foreigners each year. This is slowly changing what has been an historically homogenous culture: now nearly 2 per ent of the population is made up of foreign residents.
While this seems like a very small amount overall (for example in New Zealand about a quarter of the population was born overseas) the growth in the number of foreign residents in Japan is significant: the country has traditionally been opposed to large scale immigration and the topic has always been politically DOA.
But as the Japanese population shrinks and ages, the country is slowly but surely becoming increasingly reliant on foreign workers. The working-aged population of Japan (those aged 15 to 64 years old) decreased by 379,000 people in 2019 and now accounts for less than 60 percent of the total population – the lowest proportion on record. The number of those aged 65 and older rose by 307,000 to nearly 36 million people – 28.4 percent of the population – and more than half of these 36 million people are 75 or older!
Japan’s population decline and its ageing are showing no signs of abating. They will be part of the global story for years and decades to come. This will have an impact on its position as the third largest economy in the world. It will also be vitally important in a geostrategic sense: Japan is a key ally for the US and is geographically close to China as Cold War II between the two superpowers becomes more apparent.
Japan is also the canary in the coalmine: how it reacts and manages its population changes will be watched with interest throughout much of the rest of the world.