The population of Japan - currently around 127 million - decreases by over 300 people each day. This
is because there is a chronically low birthrate - far below replacement value - and an aging population. So the birthrate is declining while the death rate is rising. Demographers have seen the current depopulation coming decades in advance, and politicians had decades to grapple with the issue. But they procrastinated until now the situation has become a ‘crisis.’ At least, according to the politicians who fret about the negative effects of an aging and declining population on economic productivity, Gross Domestic Product, and Japan’s economic standing in the world. Personally, I see the situation less as a crisis than as a return to an historically ‘normal’ birthrate. The forced modernization of Japan in the late nineteenth century saw an abnormally high birthrate and population rise, which conservatives today use as their baseline measure of all things demographic. But that is a mistake demonstrating historically illiteracy.
By comparison the population of Canada currently rises by about a thousand people every day and has done for years. I have always taken great satisfaction about Canada’s population increase as I have said before first, because as a male it might be said that I have a thing about size; and, second, from a political and nationalistic perspective I worry that under population negatively impacts our claim to sovereignty. I mean, if we lack the ability to physically occupy our land then our claims to sovereignty over it are compromised. This will become an increasing headache as various nations rush to exploit the Arctic region after the icecap disappears, and - as I have already warned two Canadian Prime Ministers - I expect a war with America over fresh water before the end of this century. As the U.S. population grows and they begin to run desperately short of fresh water they will look north, see largely unoccupied land, and then try to claim it. They will call it a national security measure. They will frame it as a preventative step to ward off aggression from other powers. They will spin it as a benevolence.
For a country of our size Canada urgently needs a population of about a hundred million people. Right now. Or course, my idea is that those people should spread out across the country, increase the size of small and mid-sized cities, and also settle and develop currently undeveloped land. The reality, though, is that population increase will affect the current population centers rather than the periphery, and the big cities will just get bigger while the countryside remains stagnant. In Canada population distribution is all about transportation and almost not at all about climate. Idiots too quickly opine that the reason most Canadians live in the south and close to the international border with the United States is because it’s so cold in the rest of the country. The truth is that the Canadian population today lives exactly where it has always lived even before European settlement: along the rivers and lakes, the transportation routes. In addition, Canadian settlement patterns follow what has been called the ‘garrison mentality’ compared to America’s ‘frontier mentality.’ In America the pioneer population settled the land with farms and ranches. But in Canada, first military garrisons established the peace and then pioneers followed, settling around the garrison towns. Hence Canada still features cities and towns separated by wide areas of wilderness or relative wilderness. In Canada we settle together in groups and there is no reason to expect that a large population of a hundred million or so would behave any differently.
Japanese also naturally tend to bunch together in dense groups. Currently about 80% of the population lives on only 20% of the land (the coastal plains), but that is more a feature of geography than anthropology. Nevertheless, there is an unmistakeable anthropological element to it. If the geography was less mountainous and friendlier to widespread lateral settlement I believe Japanese would still settle in dense communities.
The sight of empty parks and neglected swing sets makes me feel sad.
When I visit my hometown on vacation I love seeing how it is growing. Sure, worries about the viability of local artesian wells, the water supply and the state of the local landfill, plus complaints about the ugliness of the suburban sprall that has been spreading like mushrooms for decades and the loss of greenland - e specially agricultural land - are legitimate. But there are benefits to the growing population: the city’s budget and its ability to provide services; the number and nature of migrant students that the local university attracts; the corresponding cultural diversity (and depth) of the community.
By comparison, the problem with Japan is shrinkage. Even in the two decades I have been here I have seen changes. First, with over 300 people disappearing every day the government’s tax base is shrinking all the time. Ever smaller budgets to pay for public services - especially the ever growing need for social welfare by the retired elderly. Fewer readers of books, newspapers and magazine. Fewer drivers. Fewer homeowners. Fewer consumers all round. More and more elderly patients receiving expensive end-of-life medical care. There is an end-of-life economic boom as taxes and health insurance are all finalized. Then funerary expenses are met. Finally, inheritance taxes are paid, all of which are a windfall for government. But when it’s over … nothing. Then comes the drop off in revenue, and the net effect is less all around. Fewer people, less money. Shrinkage everywhere. In the future the population will stabilize at a lower level, but that will be a different world from the one we know now.
For the time being, I see empty parks with no children using the play equipment. I have worked in schools built decades ago for a thousand students but now only one third full. I see condominium towers being built everywhere here and wonder who will live in them, or whether or not they will enjoy full occupancy. The elderly are inescapably everywhere. But maybe that’s a good thing. Still, the sight of those empty parks and neglected swing sets makes me feel sad.