The number of Japanese citizens hit a record low 20 last year as the country’s workforce dwindled and a generation growing up with tepid growth, low inflation and zero interest rate policy has reached official adulthood.
The latest government figures showed that the number of Japanese aged 20 on January 1, 2022, fell by 40,000 from the previous year to about 1.2 million, the lowest level since the survey began in 1968.
This decline reflects Japan’s continued inability to reverse the trend in the birthrate. The birth rate was 1.34 children per woman of childbearing age in 2020, with only 840,000 children born in Japan that year.
The country’s population had fallen to 126.6 million by the beginning of last year, continuing a steady decline since its peak in 2008 of about 128 million.
The drop in the number of 20-year-olds reduced the country’s “new adults” group to just 0.96 per cent and cast a shadow over Monday’s Coming of Age Day. National Day is marked by celebrations for welcoming twenty-year-olds into the joys and responsibilities of adulthood.
“I am looking forward to the party…[but]”I’m not sure if I could be too excited about becoming an adult,” said Rina, who was renting a kimono for the occasion in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood. “Japan seems to have a lot of problems that were never resolved and I think they are my problems now.”
It added that it was uncomfortable that the number of Japanese reaching the official age of majority this year would rise as the legal age of majority – allowing people to buy a mobile phone and apply for loans without parental consent – for the first time in 140 years, is lowered, from 20 to 18.
Studies of young Japanese attitudes toward work and business indicate that the country’s relentless demographic problems have fueled the desire for stability above all else. Several young people in their 20s told the Financial Times that their central ambition was to join a company and avoid risk. Many said that starting a business represented a terrifying leap into the unknown.
For similar reasons, support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party among young people is higher than among other generations. Junji Nakagawa, a professor at Chu Gakuen University, said this reflects a view among young adults in their 20s that the political landscape is unlikely to change at all.
“They don’t think the economy will improve in the future because the economy is growing at a very low pace as far as they can remember. The number of students who want to become local public servants has increased recently because they want stability,” said Nakagawa.
The 19-year-old student, who will be newly considered an adult from April, said he voted for the Liberal Democratic Party candidate last October. “We are literally in an emergency with Covid-19, so how can I suddenly entrust my will to another party? That’s why I want things to stay the same,” said the student, who asked not to be named.
A report from market research group Macromill last week revealed that 20-year-olds were less interested internationally and more locally focused than previous groups, a trend that may have been exacerbated by prolonged Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Compared to the previous year, the survey showed a decrease in the number of people who want to work, study abroad, work with foreigners in Japan, and learn foreign languages. In particular, the proportion of those who wanted to “use English for a job” fell from its peak in 2020 by 10.6 points, to 38 percent.
Above all, the mood among Japan’s younger adults was one of low-key desperation, said Yuki Murohashi, representative director of the lobby group at the Japan Youth Conference.
“They no longer have the feeling that Japan will rise because they haven’t seen growth since they were born,” Morohashi said. “But they don’t think it will go down much either. There are no high expectations or disappointments.”