Demographics of Japan

From Academic Kids

Japan's population, currently 127,333,002, has experienced a phenomenal growth rate during the past 100 years as a result of scientific, industrial, and sociological changes, but the population has recently decreased because of falling birth rates and almost no immigration. High sanitary and health standards produce a life expectancy exceeding that of the U.S.

Japan is an urban society with only about 5% of the labor force engaged in agriculture. Many farmers supplement their income with part-time jobs in nearby towns and cities. About 80 million of the urban population are heavily concentrated on the Pacific shore of Honshu and in northern Kyushu. Metropolitan Tokyo with approximately 12 million; Yokohama with 3,555,473; Osaka 2,624,129; Nagoya 2,190,549; Sapporo 1,854,837; Kobe 1,513,967; Kyoto 1,466,163; Fukuoka 1,325,611; Kawasaki 1,290,426; Kitakyushu 1,000,211 and for part of this population. Japan faces the same problems that confront urban industrialized societies throughout the world: over-crowded cities, congested highways, air pollution, and rising juvenile delinquency.


Population Density

Japan had an average of 327 persons per square kilometer in 1990, high compared with China (119), the United States (27) or Australia (2) but lower than in some other Asian countries, such as the Republic of Korea (South Korea), which had 432 people per square kilometer.

Japan's population density has helped promote extremely high land prices. Between 1955 and 1989, land prices in the six largest cities increased 15,456 percent. Urban land prices generally increased 40 percent from 1980 to 1987; in the six largest cities, the price of land doubled over that period. For many families, this trend put housing in central cities out of reach. The result was lengthy commutes for many workers; daily commutes of up to two hours each way are not uncommon in the Tokyo area. Despite the large amount of forested land in Japan, parks in cities are smaller and scarcer than in major European or United States cities, which average ten times the amount of parkland per inhabitant. However, despite the high cost of urban housing, more people are likely to move back into central city areas, especially as the price of transportation and commuting time increases. National and regional governments devote resources to making regional cities and rural areas more attractive by developing transportation networks, social services, industry, and education institutions in attempts to decentralize settlement and improve the quality of life. Nevertheless, major cities, especially Tokyo, remain attractive to young people seeking education and jobs.

Age Structure

Like other postindustrial countries, Japan faces the problems associated with an aging population (see Patterns of Development , ch. 4). In 1989, only 11.6 percent of the population was sixty-five years or older, but projections were that 25.6 percent would be in that age category by 2030. That shift will make Japan one of the world's most elderly societies, and the change will have taken place in a shorter span of time than in any other country.

This aging of the population was brought about by a combination of low fertility and high life expectancies. In 1993 the fertility rate was estimated at 10.3 per 1,000 population, and the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime has been fewer than two since the late 1970s (the average number was estimated at 1.5 in 1993). Family planning was nearly universal, with condoms and legal abortions the main forms of birth control. A number of factors contributed to the trend toward small families: late marriage, increased participation of women in the labor force, small living spaces, and the high costs of children's education. Life expectancies at birth, 76.4 years for males and 82.2 years for women in 1993, were the highest in the world. (The expected life span at the end of World War II, for both males and females, was fifty years.) The mortality rate in 1993 was estimated at 7.2 per 1,000 population. The leading causes of death are cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease, a pattern common to postindustrial societies.

Public policy, the media, and discussions with private citizens revealed a high level of concern for the implications of one in four persons in Japan being sixty-five or older. By 2025 the dependency ratio (the ratio of people under fifteen years plus those sixty-five and older to those aged fifteen to sixty-five, indicating in a general way the ratio of the dependent population to the working population) was expected to be two dependents for every three workers. The aging of the population was already becoming evident in the aging of the labor force and the shortage of young workers in the late 1980s, with potential impacts on employment practices, wages and benefits, and the roles of women in the labor force. The increasing proportion of elderly people in the population also had a major impact on government spending. As recently as the early 1970s, social expenditures amounted to only about 6 percent of Japan's national income. In 1992 that portion of the national budget was 18 percent, and it was expected that by 2025, 27 percent of national income would be spent on social welfare.

In addition, the median age of the elderly population was rising in the late 1980s. The proportion of people aged seventy-five to eighty-five was expected to increase from 6 percent in 1985 to 15 percent in 2025. Because the incidence of chronic disease increases with age, the healthcare and pension systems, too, are expected to come under severe strain. The government in the mid-1980s began to reevaluate the relative burdens of government and the private sector in health care and pensions, and it established policies to control government costs in these programs. Recognizing the lower probability that an elderly person will be residing with an adult child and the higher probability of any daughter or daughter-in-law's participation in the paid labor force, the government encouraged establishment of nursing homes, day-care facilities for the elderly, and home health programs. Longer life spans are altering relations between spouses and across generations, creating new government responsibilities, and changing virtually all aspects of social life.


Between 6 million and 7 million people moved their residences each year during the 1980s. About 50 percent of these moves were within the same prefecture; the others were relocations from one prefecture to another. During Japan's economic development in the twentieth century, and especially during the 1950s and 1960s, migration was characterized by urbanization as people from rural areas in increasing numbers moved to the larger metropolitan areas in search of better jobs and education. Out-migration from rural prefectures continued in the late 1980s, but more slowly than in previous decades.

In the 1980s, government policy provided support for new urban development away from the large cities, particularly Tokyo, and assisted regional cities to attract young people to live and work there. Regional cities offered familiarity to those from nearby areas, lower costs of living, shorter commutes, and, in general, a more relaxed life-style then could be had in larger cities. Young people continued to move to large cities, however, to attend universities and find work, but some returned to regional cities (a pattern known as U-turn) or to their prefecture of origin (a pattern referred to as J-turn).

Government statistics show that in the 1980s significant numbers of people left the largest cities (Tokyo and Osaka). In 1988 more than 500,000 people left Tokyo, which experienced a net loss through migration of nearly 73,000 for the year. Osaka had a net loss of nearly 36,000 in the same year. However, the prefectures showing the highest net growth are located near the major urban centers, such as Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, and Kanazawa around Tokyo, and Hyogo, Nara, and Shiga near Osaka and Kyoto. This pattern suggests a process of suburbanization, people moving away from the cities for affordable housing but still commuting there for work and recreation, rather than a true decentralization.

Japanese economic success has led to an increase in certain types of external migration. In 1990 about 11 million Japanese went abroad. More than 80 percent of these people traveled as tourists, especially visiting other parts of Asia and North America. However, about 663,100 Japanese were living abroad, approximately 75,000 of whom had permanent foreign residency, more than six times the number who had that status in 1975. More than 200,000 Japanese went abroad in 1990 for extended periods of study, research, or business assignments. As the government and private corporations have stressed internationalization, greater numbers of individuals have been directly affected, decreasing Japan's historically claimed insularity. Despite the benefits of experiencing life abroad, individuals who have lived outside of Japan for extended periods often faced problems of discrimination upon their return because others might no longer consider them fully Japanese. By the late 1980s, these problems, particularly the bullying of returnee children in the schools, had become a major public issue both in Japan and in Japanese communities abroad.


Japanese society, with its ideology of homogeneity, has traditionally been intolerant of ethnic and other differences. People identified as different might be considered "polluted"--the category applied historically to the outcasts of Japan, particularly the hisabetsu buraku, "discriminated communities," often called burakumin, a term some find offensive--and thus not suitable as marriage partners or employees. Men or women of mixed ancestry, those with family histories of certain diseases, and atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their descendants, foreigners, and members of minority groups faced discrimination in a variety of forms.

Foreign Residents

If Japanese society is reluctant to readmit returnees, it is even less willing to accept as full members of society those people who are not ethnic Japanese. In 1991 there were 1.2 million foreign residents in Japan, less than 1 percent of Japan's population (if illegal aliens were counted, the number of foreigners might be several times higher than the quoted figure). Of this number, 693,100 (about 57 percent) were Koreans and 171,100 (some 14 percent) were Chinese. Many of these people were descendants of those brought to Japan during Japan's occupation of Taiwan (1895- 1945) and Korea (1905-45) to work at unskilled jobs, such as coal mining. Because Japanese citizenship was based on the nationality of the parent rather than on the place of birth, subsequent generations were not automatically Japanese and had to be naturalized to claim citizenship, despite being born and educated in Japan and speaking only Japanese, as was the case with most Koreans in Japan. Until the late 1980s, people applying for citizenship were expected to use only the Japanese renderings of their names and, even as citizens, continued to face discrimination in education, employment, and marriage. Thus, few chose naturalization, and they faced legal restrictions as foreigners, as well as extreme social prejudice.

All non-Japanese are required by law to register with the government and carry alien registration cards. From the early 1980s, a civil disobedience movement encouraged refusal of the fingerprinting that accompanied registration every five years. Those people who opposed fingerprinting argued that it was discriminatory because the only Japanese who were fingerprinted were criminals. The courts upheld fingerprinting, but the law was changed so that fingerprinting was done once rather than with each renewal of the registration. Some Koreans, often with the support of either South Korea or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), attempted to educate their children in the Korean language, history, and culture and to instill pride in their Korean heritage. Most Koreans in Japan, however, have never been to the Korean Peninsula and do not speak Korean. Many are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and discrimination in a society that emphasizes Japan's homogeneity and cultural uniqueness. Other Asians, too, whether students or permanent residents, face prejudice and a strong "us-them" distinction. Europeans and North Americans might be treated with greater hospitality but nonetheless find it difficult to become full members of Japanese society. Public awareness of the place of foreigners (gaijin) in Japanese society was heightened in the late 1980s in debates over the acceptance of Vietnamese and Chinese refugees and the importing of Filipino brides for rural farmers.

A small but noticeable number of Brazilian immigrants also live in Japan, particualrly those of Japanese descent.

Hisabetsu Buraku

Despite Japan's claim of homogeneity, two Japanese minority groups can be identified. The largest is known as the hisabetsu buraku, "discriminated communities". These descendants of premodern outcast hereditary occupational groups, such as butchers, leatherworkers, and certain entertainers, may be considered a Japanese analog of India's Dalits. Discrimination against these occupational groups arose historically because of Buddhist prohibitions against killing and Shinto notions of pollution, as well as governmental attempts at social control. During the Tokugawa period, such people were required to live in special buraku and, like the rest of the population, were bound by sumptuary laws based on the inheritance of social class. The Meiji government abolished most derogatory names applied to these discriminated communities in 1871, but the new laws had little effect on the social discrimination faced by the former outcasts and their descendants. The laws, however, did eliminate the economic monopoly they had over certain occupations.

Although members of these discriminated communities are physically indistinguishable from other Japanese, they often live in urban ghettoes or in the traditional special hamlets in rural areas. Some attempt to pass as ordinary Japanese, but the checks on family background that are often part of marriage arrangements and employment applications make this difficult. Estimates of their number range from 2 million to 4 million, or about 2 to 3 percent of the national population.

Ordinary Japanese claimed that membership in these discriminated communities can be surmised from the location of the family home, occupation, dialect, or mannerisms and, despite legal equality, continued to discriminate against people they surmised to be members of this group. Past and current discrimination had resulted in lower educational attainment and socioeconomic status among hisabetsu buraku than among the majority of Japanese. Movements with objectives ranging from "liberation" to encouraging integration have tried over the years to change this situation. As early as 1922, leaders of the hisabetsu buraku organized a movement, the Levelers Association of Japan (Suiheisha), to advance their rights. After World War II, the National Committee for Burakumin Liberation was founded, changing its name to the Burakumin Liberation League in the 1950s. The league, with the support of the socialist and communist parties, pressured the government into making important concessions in the late 1960s and 1970s. One concession was the passing of the Special Measures Law for Assimilation Projects, which provided financial aid for the discriminated communities. Another was the closing of nineteenthcentury family registers, kept by the Ministry of Justice for all Japanese, which revealed the outcaste origins of families and individuals. These records could now be consulted only in legal cases, making it more difficult to identify or discriminate against members of the group. Even into the early 1990s, however, discussion of the liberation of these discriminated communities, or even their existence, was taboo in public discussion. In the late 1970s, the Sayama incident, which involved a murder conviction of a member of the discriminated communities based on circumstantial evidence, focused public attention on the problems of the group. In the 1980s, some educators and local governments, particularly in areas with relatively large hisabetsu buraku populations, began special education programs, which they hoped would encourage greater educational and economic success for young members of the group and decrease the discrimination they faced.


The second largest minority group among Japanese citizens is the Ainu, who are thought to be related to the Tungusic, Altaic, and Uralic peoples of Siberia. Historically, the Ainu (Ainu means human in the Ainu language) were an indigenous hunting and gathering population who occupied most of northern Honshu as late as the Nara period (A.D. 710-94). As Japanese settlement expanded, the Ainu were pushed northward, until by the Meiji period they were confined by the government to a small area in Hokkaido, in a manner similar to the placing of native Americans on reservations. Characterized as remnants of a primitive circumpolar culture, the fewer than 20,000 Ainu in 1990 were considered racially distinct and thus not fully Japanese. Disease and a low birth rate had severely diminished their numbers over the past two centuries, and intermarriage had brought about an almost completely mixed population.

Although no longer in daily use, the Ainu language is preserved in epics, songs, and stories transmitted orally over succeeding generations. Distinctive rhythmic music and dances and some Ainu festivals and crafts are preserved, but mainly in order to take advantage of tourism.

Basic facts

Population: 127,333,002 (July 2004 est.) people in 47,062,743 households, 78.7 percent in urban areas (July 2000). High population density; 329.5 persons per square kilometer for total area; 1,523 persons per square kilometer for habitable land. More than 50 percent of population lives on 2 percent of land. (July 1993)

Population growth rate:

0.08% (2004 est.)
0.11% (2003 est.)
0.18% (2000 est.)

Birth rate:

9.56 births/1,000 population (2004 est.)
9.61 births/1,000 population (2003 est.)
9.96 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate:

8.75 deaths/1,000 population (2004 est.)
8.55 deaths/1,000 population (2003 est.)
8.15 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 14.3% (male 9,337,867; female 8,876,996)
15-64 years: 66.7% (male 42,697,264; female 42,196,835)
65 years and over: 19% (male 10,169,190; female 14,054,850) (2004 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female
total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2004 est.)

Infant mortality rate:

total: 3.28 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 3.54 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3 deaths/1,000 live births (2004 est.)
total: 3.91 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 81.04 years
male: 77.74 years
female: 84.51 years (2004 est.)
total population: 80.7 years
male: 77.51 years
female: 84.05 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate:

1.38 children born/woman (2004 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:

less than 0.1% (2004 est.)

HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:

12,000 (2003 est.)

HIV/AIDS - deaths:

500 (2003 est.)


noun: Japanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Japanese

Ethnic Groups: 99.4 percent Japanese and 0.6 percent other, mostly Korean (40.4% of non-Japanese) and some Chinese. Ainu, Ryukyuans and hisabetsu buraku constitute native Japanese minority groups. Japanese people are considered to be a homogeneous race but recent studies have shown that the Japanese race is very mixed. It consists of Chinese, Korean, Malay and proto-caucasoid blood which explains the variety of Japanese facial structures.

Foreign Citizens: More than 2.5 million (possibly higher because of the illegal immigrants), 14.9% up in five years. North and South Koreans 1 million, Chinese 0.5 million, Filipinos 0.5 million, and Brazilian 250,000 with others like Peruvian, American/Canadian, British, Indonesian, Thai, African and other nationals.

Marriage Status:

Over 15: Married Male 61.8%, Female 58.2%. Never married Male 31.8%, Female 23.7%.
25 - 29: Never married Male 69.3%, Female 54.0%.
30 - 34: Never married Male 42.9%, Female 26.6% (July 2000).

Religion: No reliable statistics exist since census does not have questions regarding religion. See Religions of Japan.

Net migration rate:

0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2004 est.)

Language: Japanese. Emphasis on English as a second language.

Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 99% (2002 est.)
male: NA%
female: NA%

See also


fr:Démographie du Japon ms:Demografi Jepun


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