KYODO — While the country’s rapidly graying demographics again headlined the internal affairs ministry’s latest census, the annual report also highlighted the fact that only the Tokyo area is seeing significant population growth, due primarily to an influx of younger people.
At the same time, a larger presence of foreign residents was observed in all but one prefecture.
According to the census released Wednesday by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the country’s population as of Jan. 1 declined from a year earlier at its fastest pace since 1968, the year the survey began.
The population, excluding foreign residents, stood at 125,209,603, a record drop of 374,055 from a year earlier and the ninth straight year of decline. The number of registered foreign residents, however, rose to 2,497,656, up 174,228 from 2017.
The report showed the number of foreign residents increased with students and technical trainees from overseas heavily contributing to the rise. Kumamoto Prefecture logged the greatest increase at 16.64 percent, due primarily to the prefecture’s active recruitment of foreign trainees to large-scale farms.
Only Nagasaki Prefecture saw a decline, likely due to the completion of a shipbuilding project that had employed many foreign workers.
The number of foreign residents is expected to increase further in the coming years, in view of a policy approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government last month to welcome more foreign workers to address labor shortages resulting from the shrinking population.
The number of births nationwide fell to a record low of 948,396, below the 1 million mark for the second straight year, and deaths totaled a record high 1,340,774 in 2017, with deaths outnumbering births for the 11th consecutive year. People age 65 or older accounted for 27.66 percent of the population, up 0.49 point from a year earlier. Reflecting the country’s graying demographics, the proportion of people aged 14 or younger stood at just 12.57 percent.
Takanobu Nakajima, professor of economics at Keio University, said Japan needs to thoroughly examine factors behind its aging society in order to find “fundamental solutions” for population decline.
“The birthrates in Southeast Asian countries have also been falling and they cannot keep an abundant workforce in the long term. (Japan) could scramble to secure more workers in competition with China,” which is also dealing with a rapidly graying population, he said.
Among Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas, only Tokyo and its vicinity — which includes Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures — saw an increase to its population. The survey showed the region was home to 35,443,084 people, or 28.31 percent of the national population. In Tokyo itself, the population jumped by 72,000, most among the country’s 47 prefectures, despite the Abe administration’s attempts to curb excess concentration in the capital.
The population dropped in 41 of 47 prefectures, with Hokkaido recording the biggest overall decline by 34,805.
Among the six that showed population growth, births outnumbered deaths only in Okinawa, while the rest — Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Aichi — saw their populations increase on the back of migration.
Even large regional cities saw continued population decline, with half of 20 such cities seeing year-on-year drops in the number of Japanese residents. For example, the Japanese population in Kobe dropped about 5,000 from a year earlier to 1,496,055, continuing a downward trend that began in 2012.
With deaths outnumbering births and many young people moving to Tokyo and Osaka in search of jobs, a Kobe Municipal Government official said, “It is difficult to make (Kobe) stand out from other areas, although we have been promoting our city to attract young entrepreneurs.”
In Niigata, those aged 15 to 24 moving out of the city outnumbered those moving in, with many going to the Tokyo area for school or work.
On the other hand, 187 cities in the country bucked the trend and succeeded in increasing their population, with some of them providing strong support for households with kids. Among the municipalities that saw population increases was the town of Hayashima, Okayama Prefecture, which offers free nursery services for some children ages 4 to 5 and weekly English conversation classes run by native speakers for elementary and junior high school students.
“The entire community has been promoting education for children and I believe those interested in raising their kids in such an environment have moved in,” a Hayashima official said.
In the city of Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, about 30 minutes by train from the capital’s Akihabara district, the population grew some 30,000 from 2005 to 183,083, thanks to the completion of the Tsukuba Express Line the same year.
“The population has been growing in cities that have good transportation accessibility for commuters and reasonably priced real estate,” said a ministry official.