Demographics of Japan, Japanese people, and Ethnic issues in Japan
Japan’s population is estimated at around 127.3 million, with 80% of the population living on Honshu. Japanese society is linguistically and culturally homogeneous, composed of 98.5% ethnic Japanese, with small populations of foreign workers. Zainichi Koreans, Zainichi Chinese, Filipinos, Brazilians mostly of Japanese descent, and Peruvians mostly of Japanese descent are among the small minority groups in Japan. In 2003, there were about 134,700 non-Latin American Western and 345,500 Latin American expatriates, 274,700 of whom were Brazilians (said to be primarily Japanese descendants, or nikkeijin, along with their spouses), the largest community of Westerners.
The most dominant native ethnic group is the Yamato people; primary minority groups include the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan peoples, as well as social minority groups like the burakumin. There are persons of mixed ancestry incorporated among the ‘ethnic Japanese’ or Yamato, such as those from Ogasawara Archipelago where roughly one-tenth of the Japanese population can have European, American, Micronesian and/or Polynesian backgrounds, with some families going back up to seven generations. In spite of the widespread belief that Japan is ethnically homogeneous (in 2009, foreign-born non-naturalized workers made up only 1.7% of the total population), also because of the absence of ethnicity and/or race statistics for Japanese nationals, at least one analysis describes Japan as a multiethnic society, for example, John Lie. However, this statement is refused by many sectors of Japanese society, who still tend to preserve the idea of Japan being a monocultural society and with this ideology of homogeneity, has traditionally rejected any need to recognize ethnic differences in Japan, even as such claims have been rejected by such ethnic minorities as the Ainu and Ryukyuan people. Former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has once described Japan as being a nation of “one race, one civilization, one language and one culture”.
Japan has the longest overall life expectancy at birth of any country in the world: 83.5 years for persons born in the period 2010–2015. The Japanese population is rapidly aging as a result of a post–World War II baby boom followed by a decrease in birth rates. In 2009, about 22.7 percent of the population was over 65, by 2050 almost 40 percent of the population will be aged 65 and over, as projected in December 2006.
The changes in demographic structure have created a number of social issues, particularly a potential decline in workforce population and increase in the cost of social security benefits like the public pension plan. A growing number of younger Japanese are preferring not to marry or have families. In 2011, Japan’s population dropped for a fifth year, falling by 204,000 people to 126.24 million people. This is the greatest decline since at least 1947, the first year for which government data are available. The 204,000 deaths included 15,844 people killed and 3,451 left missing by the tsunami.
Japan’s population is expected to drop to 95 million by 2050, demographers and government planners are currently in a heated debate over how to cope with this problem. Immigration and birth incentives are sometimes suggested as a solution to provide younger workers to support the nation’s aging population. Japan accepts a steady flow of 15,000 new Japanese citizens by naturalization per year. According to the UNHCR, in 2012 Japan accepted just 18 refugees for resettlement, while the US took in 76,000.
Japan suffers from a high suicide rate. In 2009, the number of suicides exceeded 30,000 for the twelfth straight year. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people under 30.