But if Tokyo somehow seems even more crowded to you, you’re not mistaken.

Many people in Japan were recently surprised to learn that, by certain geographic measures, the country is as big as Europe. On the other hand, perceptions about the country’s diminishing size in terms of population have been once again confirmed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

On Wednesday, the ministry released the results of its annual population census, with a total tally of 125,209,603 people residing in Japan as of January 1 of this year. That’s 374,055 less than last year, the ninth consecutive annual drop and the biggest dip since the organization began keeping such records in 1968.

If that has you wondering why downtown Tokyo feels so crowded, it’s because the nation’s capital actually saw its population rise by 0.55 percent, with smaller gains also reported for the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba, as well as Aichi (which includes the city of Nagoya) and Okinawa Prefectures. On the other end of the spectrum, despite a large number of young city dwellers saying they’re thinking of giving up big city life and moving to the country, the largest population drop, 1.3 percent, occurred in mostly rural Akita Prefecture.

But while Japan’s overall population continues to shrink, its foreign population is now larger than ever. The number of foreigners residing in Japan (classified as those with visas with durations of over three months) rose by roughly 7.5 percent to 2,497,656 people. Increases in the foreign population were observed in 46 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, with the sole exception being Nagasaki, ironically one of the first regions of Japan to have historically significant contact with other nations.

One of Japan’s foreign residents

As for non-immigration-based methods of increasing population, less than a million births took place in Japan for the year, with the 948,396 babies being born representing the lowest figure since 1979, which is as far back as the ministry’s records go. Okinawa was the sole prefecture to have more births than deaths for the year.

▼ If you’ve ever struggled to get a screaming baby to fall asleep, 948,396 seems like a lot, but on a nationwide scale, it’s really not.

The low number of births, naturally, is also shifting the population towards being older as a whole. The ministry’s data showed 74,843,915 people between the ages of 15 and 64 (the block between the end of compulsory education and the common retirement age in Japan), which calculates to 59.77 percent of the total population, the first time on record that demographic has dipped below 60 percent. Children 14 and under accounted for 12.57 percent of the populace, with those 65 and over making up the remaining 27.66 percent.

With no change to these trends in sight, Japan’s population is likely to continue to become smaller and older as time goes by. Hopefully the country’s elderly care workers will be prepared to give them the medical and emotional support they need, or to at least stop them from getting into street fights with bladed instruments.

Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications via Nihon Keizai Shimbun via Jin
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