Japan faces a populationcrisis
Since 1963, centenarians –those aged100 years – inJapan have receivedasilversake cupcosting
about$91 and a congratulatoryletterfromthe Prime Minister.
Thisyear the presentationontheir“RespectfortheAged Day” onSeptember15 will probably be the
In the inaugural yearof theirseniors’dayin1963, 153 cups were distributed.Lastyear 29,000 were
handedoutto those whohad reached100 and the cost was more than $3 million. The costthis year
From nextyear,itislikelytobe a far lesscostlypresentation –possiblyjustacongratulatoryletter
fromthe Prime Minister.Some yearsback,the governmenttriedtocontainthe costof the saucer-
like cupsknownas “sakazuki”by shrinkingthe diameterbutthathadlittle financial impact.
The Japanese HealthMinisterhasbeenquotedinlocal mediaassayingthat, “We are reviewing it
butwe havenotmadeany firm decisions.”
Thisyear accordingto official statisticsreleasedontheirseniors’day,the numberof people aged
100 or olderwas61,568, up2,748 in 2014, and a new record forthe 45th
account for87.3% of that total and the oldestmanis112 while the oldestwoman is115.
The total exceeded 10,000 in 1998 and reached30,000 in2007 and 50,000 in2012. Japan hasthe
highestlife expectancyinthe world –the average life expectancyforwomenisalmost87and for
menit isjustover80. There are an amazing282 who had reached110 at lastcount. The government
predictsthata further39,000 centenarianswill be addedby2018.
The nation’scomprehensive healthcare system, supportfromthe community,encouragementto
remainphysicallyactive,asense of beingpartof a familyanda healthydiet traditionallyheavyin
fish,rice,vegetablesandfruithave all contributed.
Today,more than a quarter of the populationis65 or olderandthisispredictedtoincrease to40%
whenthe total populationwillhave shrunkfromthe current127 millionto90 million.Atthe other
endof the age scale,fewerandfeweryoungpeopleare havingbabies –the birthrate isinfree fall.
It ispredictedthatthe populationof Tokyowill halvebythe endof thiscentury.
Japanis notoriouslyaversetoallowingforeignerssettle thereandtheymake uplessthan2% of the
population.Itisprobablythe mostethnicallyhomogeneouscountriesinthe worldand the Japanese
simplydon’twantandsimplydon’tlike foreigners.Whatsome wouldcall racism, the Japanese call
But theyare beingconfrontedwithaproblem –whoisgoingto take care of the ballooningolder
In 2008, the governmentstartedallowingforeignnursesandcare workersin.Howeverthe barisset
high.Havingto passthe national examinJapanese isincrediblydifficultand,sofar,only304 nurses
and carers have managedtomake Japan theirtemporaryhome.Prime MinisterShinzoAbe is
walkingapolitical tightrope –he iskeentoexpandprogramsforforeignworkersbutinsiststhatthey
wouldhave togo home afterthree to five years.He knowsthatallowinglarge-scale immigration
wouldbe political suicide.
One influential andwell-knownJapanese authorAyakoSonohassupportedremovingstrict
requirementstoallowmore foreign workersbutshe insiststhattheyshouldlive inseparate
The head of the Japan ImmigrationPolicyInstitute,Hidenori Sakanakahas saidhiscountryneedsat
leasttenmillion immigrantsoverthe nexthalf century,saying “Whatthegovernmentisdoing isnot
going to addresstheseriouspopulation collapsethatJapan faces.”
“If we educate ouryoungpeople thatJapanneedstobecome more multiracial totackle the
populationproblem,Ithinkthatwe can achieve itwithoutcausingmajorproblems,”he said.
There isa dark side tohavingan increasingolderpopulation.
In 1989, Japanese police startedkeepingtabsof crimesbyage groupand thisyear,for the firsttime,
the numberof people aged65 or oldersubjecttopolice action washigherthan those agedbetween
14 to 19 The rise inthe elderlycrime rate doubledbetween2003 and 2013 whenthe numberof
crimescommittedbythe elderlywassix timeswhatitwastwentyyearsearlier.
Alreadyone infive prisoninmatesare 60 or olderand a governmentstudyin2012 notedthat some
70% of the elderlycrimeswere actsof shopliftingbyimpoverishedpensioners.Evenasmurderrates
overall decline,homicidescarriedoutbythe elderly are rising.
The surgingcost of caringfor the elderlyhasalreadyforcedthe governmenttocutwelfare.
Justhow Japancopeswiththispopulationtime bombisthe biggestchallengefacingitsgovernment.