‘Now or never’: Kishida says Japan has to act on population drop

Kishida says government will take steps to tackle the slowing birth rate, which fell to a record low in 2021.

People crossing the road in Tokyo, Japan. Most are men in suits but there are a few women.
There are fewer and fewer Japanese workers to support an ever growing proportion of older people [File: Toru Hanai/Reuters]

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Japan must take urgent steps to address the country’s declining birth rate, and that it was “now or never” for the world’s oldest society.

“Our nation is on the cusp of whether it can maintain its societal functions,” Kishida said in a policy speech on Monday at the opening of this year’s parliamentary session.

“It is now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing – it is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer,” he added.

Kishida said a new government agency to tackle the issue would be set up in April and that he would submit plans to double the budget on child-related policies by June.

Japan saw a record low number of births in 2021, the latest data available, prompting the biggest-ever natural decline in the population.

Adding to the problem, about 28 percent of Japanese are over the age of 65.

For years, the country has maintained strict immigration policies limiting the number of people able to settle in Japan, and experts say it needs to relax its approach in order to offset the rapid ageing of its society.

In recent years, the government has been tinkering with the laws to allow more foreigners to live and work in the country along with their families.

Japan has a population of about 126 million people. While largely homogenous, there are about one million people of Chinese descent as well as hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters