There has been a lot of discussion over the shifting demographics in Japan with the average age steadily rising and birthrate slipping year by year. These changes leave people wondering what will happen in the decades to come.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun website posted an interactive map of Japan which provides among other information the changes in the female population in Japan 26 years into the future. If you can’t tell by the scorched Earth color-coding used above, it doesn’t bode well for the country. In fact, it’s causing some analysts to predict the “annihilation” of 896 municipalities (a little over half of them) by 2040 due to depopulation.

There are four types of statistics available for this map. We’ll start with the good news first. These maps indicate the number of schools and medical facilities. Here we can see that the country seems abundant in educational and health institutions.

Next here is a map showing the change in population from 2010 to 2014. Although the pale off-white coloring for most of the country appears worrying, it indicates that there was a change between 0% and -10%. Not great, but not frightening either. There are even some pockets of green here and there indicating a growth between 0% and 10%.

And finally we have the projected change in population between 2014 and 2040. Mind you this is only the population of women ages 20 to 39. That’s not to say that men don’t count – we do open pickle jars after all. But these women in particular are relied upon to have babies.

Fewer babies mean fewer future people especially when fewer women are choosing to have fewer babies. Going by the dark red and purple hues, much of the country will experience a drop of over 50% in the number of child-bearing aged women.

The expected worst hit is Kanra County in Gunma Prefecture who may see an 89.9% plunge in young adult women by 2040. From there, it would seem to be a hop, skip, and a jump to no people at all. While this data is often accompanied by alarms of “entire cites being wiped off the map” the reality is far less dramatic.

The population decline is probably not exaggerated in this map, but it’s also not as bad as it may seem either. Obviously with a smaller population less independently governed jurisdictions will be needed and these municipalities will amalgamate rather than be “annihilated.”

Also to put things in perspective, Japan’s population density is generally ranked from 35 to 40 out of some 200-plus nation states and territories. If it’s entire population (not just young women) were to suddenly be halved now it would still rank around the mid-70’s and above countries such as China (82nd), France (94th), and the USA (180th).

Sure the transition will be a rocky one, but more than likely Japan will emerge with the potential to become a more comfortable place to live with fewer people. Best of all the population decrease won’t be the result of any tragedy like famine, disease, or war – simply a gradual change in society.

In the end, maybe it’s time for Japan to learn to stop worrying and love the impending space.

Source: Nihon Keizai Shimbun via NetLab (Japanese)