How Demography Is Changing Japan
Image Credit: Flickr (nicnoh)

How Demography Is Changing Japan


Over the past few months, I have published two articles in The Diplomat that explore some of the issues related to the population decline Japan has started to experience over the past couple of years.  Whether or not this is a problem that needs a solution is open to debate.  Population decline has many benefits, but the fact is that population decline in Japan will also present problems—and very significant ones—as both the Japanese government and its people respond to a very different demographic environment. 

It is interesting to take a look at some of the consequences of population decline that may lie ahead for Japan, particularly since, while Japan may be at the forefront of this trend, it is only one of many countries that will experience population decline over the coming decades.  In East Asia, Korea has a total fertility rate (TFR)—estimated at 1.23 for 2012—that is roughly similar to Japan’s and China’s TFRs, which are estimated at 1.39 and 1.55 for 2012 respectively.  All of these are well below the replacement rate of 2.1 that is needed to simply maintain the current population size.  This problem is not limited to East Asia; many European countries have very low TFRs and even parts of the developing world are experiencing declining TFRs.

Because Japan is at the forefront of this international trend, it is useful to explore how population decline is already affecting the country, and a particularly good place to look is rural areas, which already are experiencing depopulation often at a striking rate.  The reason rural areas are of particular importance is that in addition to low birth rates, they also tend to experience significant outflows of young people who move to urban areas or abroad.  As John Knight, an anthropologist at Queen’s University in Belfast has noted, rural depopulation in Japan is partly driven by young people being drawn to the life, education, and employment opportunities of urban areas even as they are eager to escape rural areas, which they perceive as offering little in terms of social activities and employment (this is not necessarily the case, as there are many rural areas in which there are large factories that provide jobs, but it is a common perception among the youth).

In his research, Knight has explored the environmental consequences of rural depopulation.  One of these is that as rural areas experience population decline, wildlife (both animal and plant) begins to move back into areas from where it had previously been displaced by human occupation. In many rural areas, particularly in mountain villages, animals such as bears have moved into populated areas where they may pose a risk to residents.  Bears also present problems in farming areas and it is not uncommon to find farmers erecting electrified fences to keep them out of their fields, thus generating expenses related to protecting crops that until recently were not necessary. Knight argues that encroachment by wild animals may further deter people from remaining in the rural parts of Japan.

February 20, 2014 at 21:09

POT MEET KETTLE. (the only logical, liberal statement possible).

[...] How Demography Is Changing Japan (The [...]

John Chan
March 2, 2013 at 04:50


You are proving Japanese unrepented war criminals beyond reasonable doubt; Japanese are amoral pirates; they will repeat their forebears’ war crimes and atrocities against humanity again. Japanese is a poisonous cancer of humanity; they must be eradicated for the good of humanity.

In according to your logic the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also made up by the Japanese revisionists, atrocity deniers like Abe and Ishihara; there is no proof.

March 2, 2013 at 04:06

@Samurai X

I was going to write almost the same comment that you did, thank you for doing it before me. I would add though, that one of the things we see happening in rural or smaller urban areas of Japan right now is that privately owned surplus buildings are being torn down to spare the owners of the tax expense. The now free land is then put on the market as sales tax in many cases (especially for business owners) is far cheaper than the inheritance tax they would be slapped with after the owner dies. 

Thank you for the best comment on a slightly better than average article on a subject (Japan) that very very few foreign commentators understand). 

March 1, 2013 at 18:07

Finally someone who has commented on the substance of the article instead of flying off on bitter diatribes and flights of fancy.

A Berman
February 28, 2013 at 20:33

Immigration has drop precipitously over the last ten years. Mexico's economy has grown significantly, reducing incentives to immigrate to America.  Furthermore, they are going through their own birth rate drop.  Supposedly, net immigration from South America over the last ten years is zero.  So immigration won't save America.

February 28, 2013 at 19:04

Rape of Nanking? Did you know that it was made up in Tokyo Trial? with no proof?

[...] How Demography Is Changing Japan. [...]

John Chan
February 28, 2013 at 13:55


You need to watch the video in the following link; it is about an amazing story about a nation that is identical to the model of western nations and cultures. You will be the model citizen of that nation.

[...] Submitted by John W. Traphagan of The, [...]

John Chan
February 28, 2013 at 12:15


The Westpac has been fabricating “China Threat”, “Tiananmen Square Massacre” “Currency Manipulator,” … countless bad names thru the thin air to demonize China for their insidious purposes, whatever you can fabricate is just another dirty drop in the westerners’ stinky bucket.

The Westpac is a contradiction, a two sides of the same coin, and a double think; one side they carry out democracy internally, on the other side they are the evil empires that conduct most horrible atrocities against those not their kind in a manner that has never happened in the human history; yet they insist others only see their good side and regard them as a gentleman so that they can lecture others with moral authority; in fact they are a bunch despised by the gospel, the hypocrites.

In the past the Westpac can impose their façade on the rest of the world with their superior organized violence, but nowadays they must realize that the rest of the world has risen, they will be rebutted severely if they try to lecture others without looking in the mirror (their ugly past) first.

John Chan
February 28, 2013 at 11:39


Japan is an unapologetic war criminal and an American lackey. It is a fact and nobody can deny it, anybody cannot recognize this simple fact is ridiculously stupid and uneducated.

Kim's Uncle
February 28, 2013 at 04:15

@ Be Way,

You’re so funny! Since when has comrade John Chan ever debated anyone? :). All he does is post robotic and repetitive comments over and over and over again using the same vocabulary like imperialist, fascist, war criminal, neo con, etc.!!!! LOL.

If I was a red Chinese I would be embarrassed by his antics! He makes your china look ridiculous stupid and uncultured but then again red china has no sense of self respect! I guess if you can’t respect yourself, then it is hard for others to respect red china, eh? China’s 5000 years of civilization can only produce the likes of John chan! LOL

February 28, 2013 at 03:16

I see Chinese people are very aggressive seeing the comments posted…love to escalate the historical issues with the Land of Rising Sun. In country with no possibility to search on history, prejudice is easily  grown.

February 28, 2013 at 00:20

@ John Chan


Your racism against white people needs to stop right now, unless you want to be labeled as an intolerant red-facist which seems to be a fitting title for yourself. If The Japanese and white people need to be reminded of their crimes, then the Chinese must also constantly be reminded of their crimes as well, it is only fair.


"Chinese do not practice what they preach" is a very true saying it seems, because they are always quick to label others and find fault in others but never in themselves. At least I have the honesty to admit that the natives had been abused at one point in history, you however deny all the crimes that the barbaric chinese have committed. If the Chinese want to show they are honest and not hypocrites then they must leave the poor tibetan monks in peace and stop their cultural genocide against them. They should also be paying reparations to those poor Chinese farmers who have had their land polluted by the greedy Chinese 1% feudal lords. Look at what the barbaric chinese officials have done to a poor farmer who wanted to speak out against the pollution in China


The Chinese should also be labelling Mao a war criminal and the entire CCP party accessories to war crimes as well. During WW2 the cowardly CCP had let the nationalist party do most of the fighting against the Japanese so that they could seize power when the war was over. If those cowards had the bravery to stand up and fight, the amount of Chinese women raped in Nanking wouldn't be so high. In fact Chinese shouldn't be blaming the Japanese for the rape of nanking but rather the CCP for doing nothing to stop those rapes.

John Chan
February 27, 2013 at 23:47


This is internet, we are practicing freedom of speech here, expressing divergent opinions is the essence of freedom of speech which is one of the pillars of democracy; because people expressing opinion not to your liking, you use demonization to supress dissident’s opinion, it is behaviour of dictatorship, authoritarian and totalitarian.

You should not label others arbitrarily, it is rude and a sign of uneducated who cannot debate with reasons.  If I behaved like you I could label you Chinese traitor, Japanese running dog…

February 27, 2013 at 21:01

"How do you know there's no rape in Japan?  Are you aware of the rape of nanking?  It was a terrible historical event."

(Scratches head)-Uh, contemporary Japan?  Nanking was 70 years ago. 

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