chapter  6
26 Pages

Indispensable future workforce or internal security threat? Securing Japan’s future and immigration


Japan has entered a new demographic age of shrinking population. Two major demographic trends have led to this fundamental transformation: aging (kōreika) and low birthrate (shōshika). The aging of Japanese society means that the share of old persons among the overall population is increasing rapidly. Due to two main factors, this aging is more rapid in Japan than in any other advanced economy. First, Japan has one of the highest life expectancies worldwide. In recent years, its life expectancy has reached about 86 years for women and 79.5 for men (SRTI 2012: 17). Second, Japan’s first demographic transition has been realized, in comparison to the advanced industrial economies of the West, very swiftly and relatively recently, between 1920 and 1950.1 Hence, very large birth cohorts of these years have in the last few years reached retiring age, thus leading to large cohorts of older people in Japan’s demographic structures. Moreover, the post-World War II baby boomer generation is at the peak of these large birth cohorts during the demographic transformation. They are named the “clumped generation” (dankai no sedai) and compromise birth cohorts between 1947 and 1949 in Japan. In 2007, the first birth cohort of this very large postWorld War II baby boomer generation had reached retirement at the age of 60. The consequences of this mass retirement became known as the “2007 problem” (2007-nen mondai) a major topic in mass media as well as in social science research (e.g., Daily Yomiuri 2006-2007; JILPT 2007, 2008). The dwindling birth rate is the second important demographic trend in current Japan. Since the first oil shock in 1973, Japan’s birth rate has fallen below the reproduction level of a total fertility rate (TFR) of about 2.1 children per women. From the 1970s onwards, Japan’s TFR steadily decreased, reaching 1.26 in 2005. Although this figure has increased somewhat in recent years, TFR in Japan is still below 1.4 (SRTI 2012: 17). Even in comparison to the TFRs of many advanced economies in the West, which nearly all have a TRF below the reproduction level, Japan’s current TFR is very low. In fact, Japan is counted among the among the lowestlow fertility countries (Ochiai et al. 2012: 62). The combination of aging and dwindling birth rate has led to the completion of the so-called second demographic transition, i.e., the birth rate has fallen below the death rate. According to official statistics, Japan’s total population has been falling since 2010 (SRTI 2012: 14). And specialists predict that Japan’s

population will decrease even faster in the coming years. According to the most recent calculations by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR 2012: 13), based on medium-variant fertility and mortality, Japan’s total population is projected to fall to under 92 million in the year 2055, from the current level of over 128 million. The aging and the very low birth rate have also resulted in a completely different demographic structure of the population of Japan. In Figure 6.1, the difference between Japan’s population pyramids in 1935 and in 2006 are shown. In 1935, Japan’s diagram by age and gender had the form of a pyramid, which is generally regarded as normal and typical. However, in 2006, the diagram resembles more a kind of Christmas tree. This demographic transformation will fundamentally alter Japan and puts into question the sustainability of its economic strength and of the current lifestyle level of its population. Moreover, the uncertainty regarding this demographic transformation is further increased because Japan is the forerunner in these developments entering unknown territory. How exactly Japan’s society and economy will change because of its demographic transformation can only be guessed. Hence, it is hardly surprising that this combination of a hyper-aging and low birth rate society has for some years been a recurrent topic in public debate in Japan. In addition, scientific publications on Japan’s demographic transformation and its consequences have boomed in recent years (e.g., Coulmas et al. 2008; Matsutani 2010).