Volume 3(2014)

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Declining Population and the Revitalization of Local Regions in Japan

Hisakazu Kato

Professor, School of Political science and Economics, Meiji University, Japan


The purpose of this paper is to highlight the need to both strengthen policies that promote an increase in the Japanese birthrate and the need for regional administrative restructuring corresponding to a population decline.

The Japanese government recently forecast a population decrease of 40 million within 50 years, which stems from a rapid decline in the birthrate from the 1970s. Comparing birthrates across Japan by prefecture, it is clear that birthrates in urban areas are low compared with rural areas. The low urban birthrates are exacerbated by a shortage of support systems for young families with children, making it difficult for women to balance work with childcare.

On the other hand, the population migration of young people to Tokyo is continuing, with most seeking better jobs and higher education. Many young people who come to the Tokyo metropolitan area will not have children due to a lack of family support. The population in local areas is falling due to this migration, while people in large cities are not reproducing quickly enough. As a result, the population decline in Japan as a whole will likely accelerate.

The Japan Policy Council (JPC), a private think tank, published a report in May 2014 forecasting that 896 municipalities will “vanish” in the near future for the reasons mentioned above. To avoid a population crisis, it is necessary to refocus economic and social investment in local cities and to restructure the administrative framework of municipalities.



The total Japanese population has fallen by about 250,000 every year since 2010. Recently, the growth rate of the Japanese economy has started to increase. It is widely known that the Japanese economy had been suffering from low economic growth and price deflation. Many economists have called this economic situation the "two lost decades," while the government’s economic policies have mainly been aimed at tackling slow economic growth. At the same time that economic growth resumed, the total population begun to decline, which is negatively affecting the Japanese economy. Because of this, the falling population might severely hamper economic growth over the long term.