In 2000, Japan had the ninth-largest population of any country in the world: 127 million, a figure equivalent to 2.1 percent of the global total. Its population density measured 340 persons per square kilometer, for a ranking of fourth among countries with a population of 5 million or more.
From the 1700s through the first half of the 1800s, Japan's population remained steady, at 30 million-plus citizens. However, following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it began expanding in tandem with the drive to build a modern nation-state. In 1926, it measured 60 million, and in 1967, had surpassed the 100 million mark. The annual pace of population growth averaged about 1 percent from the 1960s through the 1970s. Since the 1980s, though, it has declined sharply below the 0.2 percent mark in the 1999. The trend remained unchanged in 2000. At its current growth pace, Japan's population is expected to peak out at 128 million in the year 2007, and then move into a period of decline.
Birthrate Declining and Population Aging
In terms of age composition, Japan was characterized by a standard, broad-based population pyramid in the 1950s. However, the shape of that pyramid began changing dramatically as the nation's birthrates and death rates declined. In 2000, the elderly age bracket (65 years and up) included 22.27 million citizens and constituted 17.5 percent of the total population, its largest scale on record in either number or percentage terms. The elderly age bracket is expected to continue expanding rapidly in the years ahead, topping the 20 percent level by 2006. Although it accounted for only 7.1 percent of the total population in 1970, 24 years later in 1994, it had almost doubled in scale, to 14.1 percent. For comparison, it took 85 years in Sweden and 46 years in Great Britain for the elderly age group to widen in scale from 7 percent to 14 percent of the population. These comparisons effectively highlight the relatively rapid pace of demographic aging in Japan.
By contrast, the scale of the young age bracket (0-14 years) has been shrinking since 1975. In 2000, it measured 18.45 million and accounted for 14.5 percent of the population total: the first below-15 percent reading on record. The productive-age population (15-64 years) totaled 86.00 million, continuing its decline from the year before. In share terms, it accounted for 67.8 percent of the entire population. As a result, in 2000 the dependent population index (the sum of the elderly and young age groups divided by the productive age group) was 47.3 percent.
Births and Deaths
Population growth in Japan has been patterned primarily on a natural rate of increase; immigration accounts for only a marginal share. In 1999, the rate of natural growth measured 1.6 persons per thousand population, down from 2.1 persons the year before and the lowest pace on record since 1899, the year Japan began accumulating data on this particular demographic statistic.
During the second baby boom from 1971 to 1973, the birthrate averaged 19 per thousand. From that point on, though, it followed a steady downtrend, reaching 9.6 per thousand in 1993. In 1994, it climbed to 10.0 per thousand for the first year-on-year increase in 21 years, but then moved back into a renewed downtrend, falling to 9.4 in 1999.
The general decline in the birth rate has been accompanied by an uptrend in the average age at which women bear their first child. In 1999, the total fertility rate (the sum of the live birth rates by age for women aged 15 to 49; the average number of children born to a woman over the course of her lifetime, assuming a consistent live birth rate by age in the future) was 1.34. Additionally, the average age at which women gave birth to their first child trended from 25.6 years in 1970 to 27.9 years in 1999.
The death rate (deaths per thousand population) was steady at 6.0 - 6.3 between 1975 and 1987. Since 1988, however, it has been following a growth track reflective of the increased percentage of elderly in the overall population. In 1999, the death rate was 7.8, up from 7.5 the year before.
Average life expectancy in Japan climbed sharply after World War II, and is today the highest of any country worldwide. In 1999, life expectancy for women was 83.99 years, compared to 77.10 years for men.
Marriage and Divorce
The number of marriages per year topped the million-couple mark for the first time in the early 1970s; the marriage rate at that time averaged above 10.0 (per thousand population), highlighting signs of a marriage boom. Although the marriage rate and the marriage total both headed downward thereafter, in 1988 they embarked on a renewed uptrend. Since 1993, they have been relatively unchanged year on year. In 1999, 762,028 couples were married, the marriage rate was 6.1, and the average age at which men and women first married was 28.7 and 26.8 years, respectively. Although the average age for men on their first marriage has been relatively steady since 1987, the corresponding average for women has been climbing since 1992. The decline in the marriage rate and the relatively older age at which couples now get married on average are considered to be two factors behind the downtrend in the birthrate.
Divorces by contrast followed an uninterrupted uptrend in the 1970s. Although they turned downward after registering a peak of 179,000 in 1983, since 1991 the number has been trending back up. In 1999, 250,529 couples were divorced, for a divorce rate of 2.0 (per thousand population): the highest levels on record for the divorce total and rate alike.
(1) Household Size
The Population Census shows that Japan had 46.38 million households in 2000. Of that total, 59.2 percent were nuclear-family households, and 26.5 percent were one-person households. Because the size of the average household has been shrinking, it is anticipated that the number of households will continue multiplying even after the Japanese population begins to decline.
From the 1920s to the mid-1950s, the average Japanese household had about five members. However, reflecting the progressive decline in the birthrate through the 1960s, in 1970 that average was down significantly, to 3.41 members. The size of the average household continued to shrink thereafter as a manifestation of the shift toward household units based on the nuclear family in the 1970s, and the steady growth in the number of one-person households since the 1980s. In 2000, the average household had 2.69 members. By current projections, this average will continue trending downward in the years ahead, reaching 2.49 in 2020.
(2) Household Composition
In terms of household composition by the number of its members, nuclear families accounted for the largest share of the total. One-person households have contributed to a steadily growing share since 1975.
(3) Elderly Households
Elderly households (defined as households consisting of individuals aged 65 years or older, with or without unmarried dependents below the age of 18) numbered 1.1 million in 1975, representing 3.3 percent of the household total for that year. By comparison, in 2000 there were 6.26 million elderly households, accounting for a sharply increased share of 13.7 percent. The number of one-person elderly households burgeoned more than fivefold between 1975 and 2000: from 0.61 million to 3.08 million. Of that total, about 80 percent were women.
Population Density and Regional Distribution
(see Administrative Map of Japan)
(1) Population Density
In 2000, Tokyo had the largest population of any of Japan's 47 prefectures: 12.059 million citizens. It was followed, in decreasing order, by the prefectures of Osaka, Kanagawa, Aichi, and Saitama. These five prefectures each had a population of 6 million or more, and together accounted for more than one-third of the national total (34.1 percent). The population rankings for the top five prefectures have not changed since 1983. Also, in terms of population density, the average 5,514 per square kilometer for Tokyo was the highest, and almost 16 times the national average (340 per square kilometer).
In 2000, 12 cities in Japan had permanent resident populations of 1 million or more. Together, their populations topped 26 million, a figure equivalent to 21 percent of the national total. The largest single city was the 23 wards (ku) of central Tokyo, with 8.13 million citizens. It was followed in decreasing scale by Yokohama (3.427 million), Osaka (2.599 million), and Nagoya (2.171 million).
(2) Population Distribution
The percentage of the population living in urban zones has been climbing since the latter 1950s. In 1980, 42 percent of the total population was concentrated within a 50-km radius of the three top metropolitan centers: Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Although the share of the total population has steadily grown in the Tokyo area and at a more relaxed pace in Nagoya, it has been declining in the Osaka area. In 1995, 43.7 percent of the entire national population was concentrated within the three major metropolitan zones (each spanning a 50-km radius from the city center, and together comprising 5.9 percent of the nation's total land area). Population density measured 3,917 per square kilometer in the Tokyo area, 2,198 per square kilometer in the Osaka area, and 1,181 per square kilometer in the Nagoya area, all significantly higher levels than the national average (337 per square kilometer).
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(C) 2001 by Statistics Bureau MPHPT, JAPAN