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Editorial: Stop turning blind eye to Japan's accelerating depopulation in general election

Japan's shrinking population has not received much attention in the campaign for the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election. It appears many political parties are turning a blind eye to the problem.

    Japan's population is around 125 million, but according to government estimates, the number will dip below 100 million around the year 2050. The number of births will decrease and the population will age, bringing about great societal change.

    The coronavirus pandemic has added insult to injury. The number of births declined to 840,000 in 2020, but may even fall below 800,000 this year. And to think that it was just five years ago that the number dropped below 1 million.

    The low number of marriages -- which affects birth numbers -- has been striking since last year. Younger generations' fears about the future have led to hesitation toward marriage and having children.

    Depopulation has more serious effects on regional areas than it does on large metropolises. There has been a slowdown in the flow of people into Tokyo from regional Japan since last year. But avoiding Tokyo is seen as an effect of the coronavirus pandemic, and we do not know if this trend will stick.

    The regional revitalization policies of the previous administrations of prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga to stop regional depopulation did not bear significant fruit. The government aimed to cultivate local municipalities such that they could "make money," and tried to make that happen by relying on foreign tourists. But the coronavirus pandemic made that impossible.

    We would like to make two points.

    First, we would like to point out that for many young people, it has become financially very difficult to get married, raise children, and live out their golden years. There needs to be a safety net throughout the lifecycle that supports people who are raising children, and helps with education expenses and post-retirement life costs.

    Second, the government must squarely face the fact that depopulation will continue, and accelerate preparations to sustain regional communities.

    It will have to anticipate having fewer public servants, so collaboration with nonprofit organizations and residents' organizations to provide administrative services will become necessary. A review of the division of roles between prefectural and municipal governments will also be crucial.

    The Suga administration, which drove competition among regional areas to "make money," is no longer in power. This would be the perfect time to rethink diverse measures to revitalize regional Japan. But a sense of urgency regarding depopulation is missing from the campaign pledges of both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

    If anyone intended to deal with this issue seriously, they would have put out a strong message with the full-on mobilization of various measures. If politicians leave this issue unaddressed, the Japanese public will surely be forced to pay a price in the future.

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