Lower and lower.

Domestic Drop

Japan's population crisis continues to get worse by the year.

New data released on Wednesday by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs reveals that the number of Japanese residents fell by more than 800,000 last year, posting, for the first time, a drop in population felt in all of Japan's prefectures.

This makes 2022 the fourteenth consecutive year that the number of Japanese residents has fallen, after the population peaked in 2009. In total, the population stands at 125.4 million, a drop of over 500,000 from the year before.

Exacerbating the trend, deaths have risen to a record high of over 1.56 million, contrasted by a historically low number of births at 771,000 — the first time that births have dipped below 800,000 since records began, continuing the decade-long trend of deaths exceeding births.

Society at the Brink

As you can imagine, this has left Japan with a rapidly aging population. Though the nation proudly boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the world, it's also saddled with one of the lowest fertility rates, mirroring a problem shared by many other east Asian nations, including South Korea and China.

At a fertility rate of 1.3 births per woman, according to WorldBank data, Japan is significantly short of the approximately two births per woman mark needed to sustain a stable population. Simply put, the young aren't procreating enough.

The economic implications are manifold, but the fact is that as the population gets older by the year, so too does the workforce dwindle. Last year's alarming nadir led to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to stress in January that "Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society," per The Guardian.

The Japanese government has tried to countervail a domestic decline by slightly loosening its closed door immigration policy. Though the population of foreign residents reached a record high of 3 million thanks to a ten percent increase, that influx was still not enough to budge the needle overall.

Turning Point

The Guardian notes some of the worrying ways the population crisis has manifested in Japanese life. As of last year, more than half of all municipalities in Japan have been classified as "depopulated areas" by the internal ministry.

Schools, especially in rural areas, have been shutting down at an alarming rate of around 450 each year. Over 1.2 million small businesses are stuck with septuagenarian owners without a successor, and even the Yakuza are hurting for young blood.

Heeding the writing on the wall, the Japanese government launched the new Children and Families Agency in April to oversee the birth rate and child rearing crisis — but reversing a trend decades in the making won't be easy.

More on population trends: The Population of Europe Now Appears to Be Falling

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