Local Japan Leaders Deeply Concerned Over Population Decline

The Yomiuri Shimbun

More than 90% of local government leaders consider their declining population to be “serious,” according to a nationwide survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun ahead of the unified local elections in April.

Over 60% of the leaders also cited child-rearing support programs and measures to tackle the declining population as key issues in the upcoming election races, indicating that they regard the chronically low birthrate as a pressing matter. As to the measures they seek from the central goverment, the largest portion of respondents wanted more support for education expenses to combat the low birthrate.

The questionnaire was sent in February to the heads of 47 prefectures, including Tokyo, as well as the leaders of 1,741 cities, wards and other municipalities. Answers were received online from 1,606 local governments, or 89.8% of the total.

Of those who found the declining population in their municipality to be serious, 65% described the situation as “extremely serious” and 26% “somewhat serious.”

Among respondents from municipalities with populations of less than 5,000, the decline was said to be serious by 98%. The same answer was given by 95% of the leaders from municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 10,000.

By prefecture, Iwate Prefecture had the highest percentage of leaders who found the decline to be “extremely serious” at 94%, followed by Fukushima Prefecture and Akita Prefecture, both at 91%. Iwate Prefecture was severely hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and Fukushima Prefecture is home to the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. nuclear power plant that was stricken by the earthquake and tsunami.

The results highlighted the fact that these prefectures are still largely affected by the 2011 disaster and the nuclear accident.

Asked about the initiatives they are particularly focusing on to combat the low birthrate and declining population, 83% selected child-rearing support measures, followed by regional economic promotion measures at 54%. Multiple answers were allowed.

Regarding why these measures have not been effective, a number of respondents cited “a lack of places for young people and women to work” and “an unstoppable exodus of the younger generations to seek employment or further education.”

Local leaders were also asked what issues would dominate the unified elections. With multiple answers allowed, 66% chose “improving child-rearing support measures and the educational environment,” while 62% chose “measures to combat the declining population.”

Regarding the steps they want taken by the central government to address the low birthrate, 56% of the respondents chose “expanding measures to support education expenses, such as eliminating tuition fees,” while 35% chose “improving the employment environment for young people.”

“Low wages and unstable employment environments are behind the exodus of young people from rural areas as well as the decline in people’s motivation to have children,” said Takumi Fujinami, a senior researcher at Japan Research Institute, Ltd. “It is important to create high-quality jobs in regional areas.”