New census figures in Japan show the population has shrunk by nearly one million in the past five years, in the first decline registered since 1920. As of October last year the country has 127.1 million people, 0.7% fewer than in the last census.
Demographers have long predicted a drop, citing Japan's falling birth rate and a lack of immigration. The rapidly ageing population has contributed to a stagnating economy and worries of increasing health costs.
Japan now has 947,000 fewer people than when the last census was conducted in 2010, figures released by the internal affairs ministry show.
Only eight prefectures, including the capital Tokyo, saw a population increase, national broadcaster NHK. reported. The remaining 39 all saw declines, including Fukushima which saw the largest drop of 115,000 people. Fukushima, site of the doomed nuclear power station, was hit especially badly by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
You have to hand it to the demographers at the United Nations, who (of course with help from demographers in Japan) came very close to mark on this. Their estimates and projections suggested that Japan's population peaked at 127,341,000 in 2009, dropped slightly to 127,320,000 in 2010, and they projected that by 2015 the population would be down to 126,571,000. Thus, they projected a decline of 749,000 in the intercensal period between 2010 and 2015, whereas the drop was just a hair more than that, according to these reports.
I've mentioned numerous times that the Japanese government would like the birth rate to rise a bit--to get closer to replacement level. In my view the main impediment is the continuing gender inequality in Japan. Lack of equality keeps the birth rate too high in less developed countries--as I discuss in a blog post on Population Matters--while keeping it too low in richer countries such as Japan.