Japan’s Declining Population from Cause to Remedy


Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications released results of a survey on August 5, 2020.
According to this survey, the number of Japanese as of January 1, 2012 was 124,271,318, a decrease of 500,000 from the previous year.

This is the largest decline since the survey began and the 11th consecutive year of decline.

Of Japan’s 47 prefectures, only three – Tokyo, Kanagawa and Okinawa – experienced population growth.

In contrast, the number of foreigners living in Japan has increased dramatically.

The number of foreigners increased by 7.5 percent to a record high of 2,286,715.

85.3 percent of foreigners living in Japan make up the working-age population, those between 15-64, thus they are an important part of the labor force.

The number of foreigners increased in 46 of the 47 prefectures, with the exception of Shimane Prefecture.

I have lived in or near Tokyo for most of my life, except for a period of about a year when I lived abroad for work.

So I have been able to witness the visible increase in the number of foreigners living in the Tokyo metropolitan area, on trains and in the streets even now, despite the world’s current circumstances.

If country borders are opened and travel increases again, the number of foreigners migrating to Japan should be expected to increase.

This article highlights the causes of Japan’s declining population, the problems it faces, and what can be done about them.

Causes of Japan’s Population Decline

Causes of Japan's Population Decline

As economic prosperity increases there is a tendency to have fewer children. Today, birth rates are beginning to fall throughout most of the world, including Italy,the UK,South Korea, where birthrates are decreasing.

Japan is no exception. However, for some reason, only Japan is experiencing an exceptionally severe decline in population.

One of the main contributing factors is the result of “non-marriage, later marriages and later childbearing”.
Then, why is Japan experiencing the “trend of non-marriage, late marriages and late births”?

Very long working hours


Some of you may be familiar with Japanese work culture and the word “Karoshi”, which can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Karoshi” is defined as “to work too hard and die”.

Recently, working environments such as this are becoming more known and improving.

Working very long hours in fact seems to be a characteristic of East Asian cultures as China and South Korea have similar work culture. Have you ever heard the term “996”?

It’s a Chinese term meaning working from nine in the morning to nine in the evening,six days a week.

A decade ago, Japan had a striking division of labor in which men worked outside the home and women did the housework and child-rearing.

Naturally, however, this system was criticized as being unequal between men and women, and women were encouraged to advance in society.

And although both men and women began to work together, unfortunately, the culture of long work hours remained.

If both men and women are working long hours, it’s hard to think about having more children, isn’t it?

A dramatic increase in the number of young people in non-regular employment

This may be a global trend, but the number of young people in Japan who are part-time or freelance is increasing.

It differs from person to person, but in general, Japanese people tend to be more stability-oriented, especially women, who say they don’t want to marry someone with part-time work.

Of the 56.6 million people employed in Japan, 21.65 million are non-regular workers. That’s nearly 40 percent of the entire employed population!

Even though society is changing, there are still many people who hold the idea that “I can’t marry a person with non-regular employment.

There is a 58.5 million yen difference in lifetime income between part-time and full-time employment, which may be the reason for their hesitation.

Feelings of insecurity due to the economic recession


Japan experienced a major economic downturn between 1991 and 1993.

Since then, the economy has been in a prolonged period of stagnation, known as the “lost 20 years”.

The economy is depressed due to a variety of factors, including sluggish investment growth due to stagnant innovation and the increasing use of information technology, which doesn’t cost a lot of money for initial investment.

It is difficult to have children when there is no telling when the economic situation will improve.

Diversification of values

Diversification of values

This is simply due to the fact that our values are becoming more diverse. There are various ideas such as:

  • “I want to be free”
  • “I don’t see the benefit of marriage”
  • “I want to enjoy my work and hobbies”
  • “I want to be involved with a number of different people, not just one”

Problems with a declining population

Many of you may be wondering “why is a declining population a bad thing?”

The number of “the buyers” in the country will decrease

The number of "the buyers" in the country will decrease

The first impact of this is that the country’s goods and services will not sell enough within the country to continue successfully .

As the population decreases, there are fewer customers. For this reason many Japanese companies are accelerating their globalization with an eye on overseas markets.

Shortage of labor force and decrease in productivity

 The ability to produce goods and services is a multiplication of the number of people working, the number of hours worked, and productivity. Unless productivity increases dramatically, a decrease in the working-age population will lead to a decline in the production of goods and services.

The pension and insurance systems are in jeopardy

The pension and insurance systems are in jeopardy

In 1961, when the national pension system was established, the aging rate (the percentage of people aged 65 and over) was about 6%, a significant difference from the current rate (as of August 1, 2016) of 27.2%.

The current pension system gives premiums paid by working-age people as a pension to the elderly.

As the number of working-age people contributing to premiums decreases and the number of older people receiving pensions increases the funding will become a challenge.

The burden is likely to fall on the working-age population to support the ever-growing population of elderly.

So, to sum up, the Japanese economy is going to take a huge hit.

A few young people will have to support a large number of old people.

Countermeasures for the Declining Population

Create an environment conducive to child-rearing


As a measure to stop the decline in birthrates, companies need to change their long working practices.

It is mentioned that it needs to be possible to have a flexible work style that allows people who are raising children or caring for elderly people to continue working without quitting their jobs.

Making the most of the strengths of foreigners, women and the elderly


There is also a movement to compensate for the dwindling labor force by making use of foreigners, women and the elderly.

Compared to the past, the number of foreign nationals and women entering the Japanese workforce is increasing.

Innovation, increased productivity


Some argue that the decline in productivity due to population decline can be compensated for by increasing productivity through technological innovations such as robotics and AI.

In addition, other countries that have already succeeded in doing so should be consulted.

There are several countries abroad that have succeeded in stopping the decline in birthrates.

One of the best examples is France.

In France, there is a system where the more children you have, the better off you are.

I could spend a couple of hours on the issue of population decline in France, but I won’t bore you with the details, so broadly speaking, they are as follows:
A really good family allowance, income tax relief for large families, and a 10 percent pension add-on is given if families raise three children.

All maternity expenses are free, and as a general rule, there are no tuition fees through high school.

The father’s maternity leave is also compensated at 80 percent of his wages, as is the mother’s, so if I were born in France, I’d have 10 kids with my wife.

You want to be able to take maternity leave consistently.

Japan and France have very different social systems, etc., so you can’t imitate all of them, but you can use them as a reference.


There is no definitive solution that can rapidly turn things around.

Meanwhile, the current declining birthrate, the aging and the shrinking population continue to deal heavy blows to the Japanese economy and are quite serious.

A review of the social security system, including the public pension system, is inevitable.

We need to gradually create an environment where it is easier to raise children, and make use of the strengths of foreign nationals, women and the elderly.

We need to take measures to “increase innovation and productivity”.

Japan’s declining population may be “good news” for more and more foreigners looking for future opportunities to live and work in Japan.