Last Census - 2010
Japan, the island nation in East Asia, is a fairly sizable archipelago of 6,852 islands, although the four largest islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shitoku) account for 97% of its population. The last set of official figures pertaining to Japan’s population were released at the time of the 2010 census and the final statistics showed there were 128,056,026 people here, which would make Japan the tenth largest country in the world. Though in decline, it still holds that position in 2014 with an estimated 126,757,591 people.
The commonly held view that the population of Japan is in line for a sharp decline is backed up by its estimated 2013 population of 126,981,371, which is down again from its estimated 2012 population of 127.9 million.
Japan Population 2014
Japan is comprised of more than 6,800 islands, although its largest four claim 97% of its population. The 2014 estimated population of 126,757,591 represents a major decline from its official 2010 census, and this is a major problem that Japan will need to face in coming years.
As we’ve seen, the final census figures for 2010 showed a final count of 128,056,026 people with a population density of 336 people per square kilometre, thereby making Japan the 36th most densely populated country on the planet.
Unlike many other countries around the world today, the population of Japan appears largely homogenous with the final population statistics comprising of a 98.5% contribution from ethnic Japanese people. In addition, there is a very small proportion of foreign workers living here, largely made up of Koreans, Chinese, Peruvians and Brazilians.
The largest native ethnic group in Japan is the Yamato people, although large minority groups include the indigenous Ryukyuan and Ainu peoples. While Japan may seem homogenous in terms of ethnicity and culture, this may be due to Japan's absence of racial and ethnic statistics for Japanese nationals. The country has traditionally rejected the need to recognize ethnic differences in Japan, and Former Japanese Prime Minister Aso once described the country as one of "one race, one civilization, one language and one culture."
Japan is currently the world's oldest country, and it's set to get even older. In 50 years, it's estimated by the government that 40% of Japan's population will be over 65. In the last few decades, the country's social security budget has increased 15%. While 5 decades ago there were 12 workers for every retiree, there will be an equal 1:1 ratio in 50 years. This is one of any demographics problems Japan must address.
Reasons for Falling Numbers
Some reports claim that Japan’s total population could fall by as much as 30% to around 87 million by 2060 and the reasons, quite simply, point to a disparity in the birth and death rates. In addition, it’s impossible to rule out the part that the March 2011 Tsunami and Earthquake played. 19,000 people lost their lives at the time, and it’s widely accepted that the incidents will have a ‘knock-on’ effect of reducing overall life expectancy.
The difference between rising death rates and lower birth rates is also clearly a factor with low fertility rates among women shouldering part of the blame. Experts attribute Japan's low growth to the high cost of raising children in the country, the growing number of women who choose to work longer and have a career rather than have children, and Japan's reluctance to accept immigrants.
Another statistic that doesn’t help the population decline is the alarming number of suicides in young people.
Unfortunately, Japan has one of the world's highest suicide rates, and suicide is the leading cause of death for people under 30. Factors in suicides in the country include social pressure, depression and unemployment, and the National Police Agency found that suicides linked to job loss increased 65.4%. There is a suicide in Japan every 15 minutes, with close to 33,000 reported in 2009. This is just one of the many problems Japan will need to control to see its population and economy grow into the future.
The Future of Japan
Overall, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world even though it is expected to fall slightly in the near future. However, with low birth rates, the population is rapidly aging but in 2007, the country announced its first significant birth rate increase in many years, so could the predictions be false?
Incentives to have more children are also being announced, but as a whole, the country is just starting to feel the effects of a post-war baby boom, many of whom are now nearing the end of their years.
It's expected that Japan's population will drop to just 95 million (from 2013's 126 million) by 2050, and the country as a whole is involved in serious debate about how to fix this problem. While birth incentives and immigration incentives are often suggested as the solution to bring the young workers necessary to support the country's aging population, time will tell if this is enough.
Japan's population growth rate in 2011 slowed to just 0.02%, a record low. This rate was actually higher than expected, according to an internal affairs ministry official.
Slowing population growth and an aging population are creating more than a headache for the island nation, as this problem is shrinking its pool of taxable citizens, causing the social welfare costs to skyrocket, and has led to Japan becoming the most indebted industrial nation with public debt that is double its economy.
The next countrywide census is due to take place in 2015 and by then, the world will see just how far the population has fallen and whether the experts’ gloomy forecasts for the future of Japan are likely to come true.