J population drops, Internal Ministry converts it into rise, excludes NJ from tally.


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Hi Blog.  Here’s one way to tip any undesirable downward trend in statistics:  change the paradigms.  In this case, the Internal Ministry considers “Japanese population” not only as births and deaths, but also inflows.  That is, inflows of citizens only.  Once again, inflows (or current residency) of foreigners are not considered part of the “population”, even though they pay taxes and contribute to Japanese society like any other living breathing soul.

Know of any other G8 country which refuses to include its foreign population as part of its total population?  The fact is, given that we get plenty more than 45,914 foreigners per year coming in, the main thing keeping Japan’s population in the black is immigration.  But again, that’s a taboo topic in public.  We can’t act as if Japan actually needs foreigners, after all.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Number of citizens residing in Japan rises for 2nd straight year
Wednesday 12th August, 03:08 AM JST



The number of Japanese citizens residing in the country rose for the second year to over 127 million as of the end of March, partly because more people returned to the country than left after Japanese companies pulled back from overseas operations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said Tuesday.

The total number of citizens residing in Japan now stands at 127,076,183, up 10,005 from a year earlier, when calculated based on the number of citizens listed on basic resident registers nationwide, the ministry’s data showed. Japan saw more deaths than births, translating into a net drop of 45,914, but the decline was offset by factors including an increase in the number of Japanese people returning from overseas.


20 comments on “J population drops, Internal Ministry converts it into rise, excludes NJ from tally.

  • Social Science says:

    All ministries & agencies count total population depending on what they want the numbers for. The Ministry of Finance includes foreigners as do the Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, METI and the Tax Bureau. The Ministry of Justice specifically counts foreigners. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications isn’t really hiding anything or fudging numbers since they count population statistics based on the family register system which it is their responsibility to administer. Their also responsible for administering the local and national election apparatus and, as we know, foreigners don’t have the vote. In short, they are looking at the total number of citizens, not residents.

    There’s a fair complaint to be made about how the registry system discriminates against foreign residents but that’s a different issue. As far as other G8 countries are concerned, Italy also regards its total population as the total number of citizens rather than the total number of residents. Britain, on the other hand, makes several population counts but usually includes immigration flows in formal population estimates.

    — Link for the claim about Italy, please?

  • Social Science says:

    There may come a day when everything we want to know is available as a link but we aren’t there yet. You can find population data collected by both Italy and the UK here:


    Neither site details methodology at any great length but you will find full methodology for both described in their respective publications. However, you can get a glimpse on the web of the Italian methodology through this page:


    Notice that there are separate sections for “Resident population” and “Foreign population” where the latter equates to what we would know as “Foreign Residents” in Japan.

    The British and Italian examples were specifically addressed at a meeting of the OECD Statistics Directorate a couple of years ago. Britain, as with many OECD countries, likes to talk up its population numbers but often talks down the immigrant population to a domestic audience which leads to different numbers being used in public discourse because you can count an immigrant population in many ways. However, the UK never counts only “citizens”. It’s the job of the Statistics Directorate to standardize data as much as possible so they are alert to these differences. Italy is more like Japan in that all the numbers are available but, in certain circumstances, the population count only uses residents. Both countries have similar demographic problems so it may make them more alert to the nebulous concept of “core population”. Italy also has a larger diaspora than Japan so returnees could make a major impact. Not that anyone appears to be in a rush to return to Italy.

    It occurs to me you might like to keep an eye on the OECD Statistics Directorate. Here’s the page to bookmark:


    I’ve noticed a couple of times that you’ve made slips when handling population data. Just about everybody does so that’s no heinous sin but you do also like to bag others for “bad social science” so you probably need to be careful about how you interpret data yourself.

    One basic approach you are taught in statistics is this: When a dataset suggests a conclusion to you, take the conclusion and look at it separately from the dataset. Then ask yourself, “What data would I need to prove this contention?” Frequently, it’s not the same data you have just looked at. This ought to suggest to you where else you need to look for evidence as well as possible problems with the conclusion you have just drawn.

    Unfortunately, not everything is available on the web and the OECD charges a lot of money for some of its reports but it is a very useful port of call for comparative data and some of their free reports and extracts might start a chain of thought that you wouldn’t otherwise have had, particularly because the OECD is strongly in favour of international migration which matches your interests. Take for instance this section on International Migration Policies:


    The most recent report is one from last month entitled “Labour Market Integration of Immigrants and their Children in Norway .” A large part of the report is given over to the difficulty of interpreting data which I can recommend. You might also find it interesting to see the issue of immigration addressed outside a American or Japanese context.

    As it happens, the OECD also addressed the issue of the “repatriation bribe” but, unlike most people debating the issue in Japan, they noted similar schemes in The Czech Republic and Spain which make for important comparisons. Elsewhere, they look at the differences between foreign populations and foreign born populations which is an important distinction when addressing immigration policies.

    I would treat all OECD data and reports with caution – I can see some odd things already in that Norway report – but since they share some of your agenda and have mountains of free data and reports over the last 10 years or so, there ought to be a lot there to get your teeth into. You also get to see fun charts like this one which you could probably use in a presentation pack sometime:

    http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/17/3/43113956.xls (Excel file)

  • Hello,
    I’m a sort of regular reader, but first post here. Referring to social science comment, after a quick search I would like to share some link to official data from Italy.

    In Italy the national institute for statistics (ISTAT) has data divided in those categories:
    – resident population
    – resident foreigners
    – demographic balance


    It seems to me that they include foreigns residents in the total count: (page 6) http://www.istat.it/english/italyinfigures2009.pdf

    Anyway inside an official press release (italian only at http://www.istat.it/salastampa/comunicati/in_calendario/bildem/20090623_00/testointegrale20090623.pdf) they claim:

    “Al 31 dicembre 2008 la popolazione complessiva risulta pari a 60.045.068
    unità, mentre alla stessa data del 2007 ammontava a 59.619.290. Nel 2008
    si è registrato un incremento della popolazione residente di 425.778 unità,
    pari allo 0,7 per cento, dovuto completamente alle migrazioni dall’estero.”

    At december 31 2008 total population was 60,045,068 units, in 2007 was 59,619,290. During year 2008 an increment in resident population of 425,778 or 0.7% has been observed, caused entirely by migrations from abroad.

    Sorry for my english skills, but I hope the meaning is clear.

  • quote(I pay taxes over here so why am i not counted as part of the population?)
    Because they count your taxation but not your rights as a taxpayer.
    Very convenient…

  • “Know of any other G8 country which refuses to include its foreign population as part of its total population?”

    The article is mentioning a statistic that measures “the number of Japanese citizens residing in the country”. In order to measure this statistic, which is as different from “population” as GNP is different from GDP, you have to exclude the alien residents, I would think.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that Japan “refuses” to include its foreign population. I have seen population statistics for the city ward printed up and sent in the ward newsletter. In the table they print, the numbers break out those accounted for in the family register and those accounted for in the non-Japanese register. They are added to form the total “population”. I for one appreciated that the population statistic is broken down into two components like that.

    However, the statistic that you are getting bothered about is measuring something specific that has nothing to do with the number of non-Japanese residents. Mixing that up with total population makes it look like you are charging at windmills.

    — Whatever. If you think foreigners don’t contribute to a country’s GDP, you really need to study economics.

  • It is because “kokumin” does not include “gai-kokumin”. That is why they do not count foreign residents as a part of Japanese population. In this case does the Constituation of Japan, full of “kokumin”, protect the rights of foreigners?

  • What I ‘think’ is that foreigners don’t contribute to a country’s *GNP*.

    (and I majored in economics, thank you.)

    Anyhow, Debito, it was an analogy.

    The point is that GDP measures (roughly) the total value added by whomever, citizen or non-citizen, within a country’s borders. GNP measures the “value of all goods and services produced in a country in one year, plus income earned by its citizens abroad, minus income earned by foreigners in the country.”

    The point being that if a statistic is not meant to deal with foreigners, don’t complain that it doesn’t. You are making an argument about “population” when the statistic in question is not total “population”, but something dealing only with Japanese citizens.

    — Sorry about the catty remark last night. Was tired. Capitulate on that point.

    As for the pop. statistic, I’m making the precise argument that one should not *leave out* foreign residents when talking about the *total population* of a country. They can separate them, sure, for statistical purposes when necessary. But if we’re talking about a country’s *population growth*, under basic demographic science you not only must count births, deaths, and outflows, but must also include inflows, i.e. foreigners too. Having the official agency report to the press that the total population has risen or fallen just by dint of having or not having Japanese blood, that is willful (and unscientific, not to mention ungrateful) exclusionism that should not pass without comment or protest.

  • “– Whatever. If you think foreigners don’t contribute to a country’s GDP, you really need to study economics.”

    Peter did not say or imply that he thought “foreigners don’t contribute to a country’s GDP,” or that he didn’t recognize NJ’s contributions to Japan’s economy. I believe he was simply pointing out that the article you cited, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ report, was addressing another statistic entirely, which reflects a subset of Japan’s total population. I thought the same thing as I was reading this topic.

    Debito, on the other hand, seems to be suggesting that any and all discussions of Japan’s population must refer to the NJ population therein, and that any reference to other data subsets is prohibited and invalid per se. He seems to be looking for an ulterior motive where there may be none.

    I see no problem in discussing other data subsets, as long as one is clear about what statistic is being made and why. Here, the report clearly stated that it applied to “The number of Japanese citizens residing in the country” (including Mr. Arudo himself), a statistic that was increased by Japanese citizens returning to the country from posts abroad. That’s all it said. The report did not make any statements along the lines of “Don’t worry. The Japanese native population is increasing, so we’ve got nothing to worry about and don’t need foreigners here.” Such a statement would be a false one, of course, but the report did not make or imply such a conclusion.

  • “Having the official agency report to the press that the total population has risen or fallen just by dint of having or not having Japanese blood, that is willful (and unscientific, not to mention ungrateful) exclusionism that should not pass without comment or protest.”

    I’m sorry, but where does this article, or “the official agency report,” make any comments about the total population of Japan having risen or fallen? It seems that the article made very clear that it is talking about “the number of Japanese citizens residing in the country” and nothing else.

    Maybe I’ve missed something? If you can tell me where this article or the agency report is making the assertion that the total population within Japan has risen while excluding foreign residents (or willfully is attempting to falsely turn an overall population drop into a population rise, as the chosen title of this topic alludes to), I’d really appreciate it.

    This topic has been categorized under “bad social science” and it seems to me that people on this end may be the ones guilty of committing an error. Reading into a report that which it doesn’t say (or assuming it’s making a conclusion that it isn’t), equally, is bad.

    — Look, we have a government agency (the Interior Ministry) making a pronouncement about the state of Japan’s population (even if you’ve shift the paradigms, as I noted, to say “citizens only”; this is a common tactic in the past when talking about Japan’s population — even some local government population tallies only count citizens).

    Why is this news, worthy of translation even into English, moreover without analysis? Because it’s somehow a bucked trend. Japan’s population is in fact going up, the ministry avers, despite the constant news feed that it’s going down. (Whereas rarely if ever are there stories about how NJ immigration is in fact plugging the fall in the population.)

    When we get this constant a flow of information about citizens only, I doubt most readers in the vernacular will have the sophistication to see this as anything more than a report on Japan’s “total population”. For most people, “total population of citizens” is the same as “total population”, period.

  • Paul, thanks for clarifying my point.

    Ultimately, the article never once mentions “total population”, and it appears to me that the meaning of the statistic they do mention is to indicate that Japanese citizens are repatriating more than they are ex-patriating, which is significant in its own right.

    The contribution of foreigners to total population would be a different data set, and thus a different article altogether.

  • My inclination would be to let the statistics cited speak for themselves, without jumping to conclusions about what the motives of those disseminating the statistics might be, if there was any motive at all.

    I looked at the Japanese versions of the Ministry Report, and indeed it does appear to be a general presentation of population statistics based on the Basic Resident Register in Japan (住民基本台帳に基づく人口) as well as a report on Demographic Movement and Number of Households (人口動態及び世帯数). Since, as you’ve noted, foreign residents in Japan are not included in the Juminhyo, foreign residents are not counted in this tally. Foreign residents are counted in other reports put out by the same ministry. Why does Japan segregate foreign residents in its tallies of general population? I don’t know. Should they? Quite Possibly. Are they trying to hide the facts or confuse the common man? I don’t think so. It approaches a conspiracy theorist to believe so.

    I don’t think anyone in Japan actually believes that the natural citizen population (births minus deaths) is increasing. This report acknowledges and states clearly that it is not. If the Ministry of Affairs wanted people to think that the Japanese citizen population is increasing, why would they have included this figure (the fact that births minus deaths is decreasing) in the report at all? If their goal was to make people think the opposite, wouldn’t they have avoided mentioning that “birth minus deaths” is in fact a negative number? The report is clear enough with the facts. If you give common people credit and assume people take a moment to read the report and realize its implications, I don’t see how you can conclude that the Japanese Government is willfully distorting the facts and trying to make the public think that its natural citizen population is on the rise. We all know it’s not. This report acknowledges that it’s not.

    I think the message of the article is “Recently, a bunch of Japanese citizens who were working and residing abroad returned and starting living in Japan.” As another poster stated already, that’s an interesting enough statistic in itself. One could always complain that the article should have said more, but to say that the Japanese government is lying, distorting, or trying to fool its citizenry is a real stretch.

    But, with that said, I think our respective positions are clear. I understand what you’re saying too.

  • This struck me as odd when I read it in the Yomiuri earlier this week. At least they made an effort to reword their use of language this year. Last year it was a decrease in the “natural population” and an increase in the “overall population.”

    Haven’t read through prior posts, but it seems the author of the original article may have nixed the facts. I did research this issue last year as I was irritated about the “natural population.” The 127 million figure seems closer to the number of people residing in Japan.

  • Same issue last year ~

    Saturday, August 09, 2008
    A nation’s population questioned

    It is highly peculiar that a governing body would make public the fact that foreign residents are not included in figures for a nation’s population as Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is made out to have done in “Population rises 1st time in 3 years to 127 million” (The Daily Yomiuri, August 2).

    The figure attributed to the Ministry’s findings “was based on resident registrations at municipal government offices” for the one-year period ending March 31 of this year, but “does not include foreign residents.” This exclusion shows prejudice and is therefore discriminatory. The Ministry was perhaps referring to the Japanese population and not the nation’s population.

    The article draws a distinction between natural and social populations. The former is defined by the number of births minus the number of deaths over a given period, while the latter has to do with repatriated nationals and naturalized citizens. There were a decline and an increase in the respective populations, according to the article, though the overall trend of a declining population has continued. Had foreign residents been included, perhaps an increase the nation’s population would have been found.

    While acceptance of naturalized Japanese seems to be apparent, the issue of foreigners residing within Japan’s borders is something the nation must come to terms with.

    What do you think? An ever-so-slightly altered version of the letter below appeared in the August 8 English edition of Japan’s top-distributed national newspaper. The ‘corrected’ element is a simple grammar mistake…made by the editors! Can you spot it?

  • Chrisco,

    The article you quote was from 9 August, but the ‘altered’ article appeared on 8 August…I give up. What was changed?

  • Social Science says:

    Debito: “This was not the original point made in this blog post.”

    Nevertheless, your original suspicion that there is something invidious or unique about the way Japan collects population data is unfounded. There are many ways the government discriminates against foreign residents but this really isn’t one of them. I certainly don’t fault you for asking the question but it is a non-issue which you should drop in favour of the numerous genuinely worthy causes I’m sure you have.

  • Peter:

    “There were a decline and an increase in the respective populations…”was changed to “There was…” Had a great debate over the usage on the ETJ list ~

    All else: My point is that last year’s similar report mentioned a general “population” increase that specifically did not include foreign residents. This year’s report is of a mere Japanese citizen population (same numbers, mind you). Kudos to the media for sounding less exclusionary, but foreign residents are still being left out of the bigger population picture. Another instance of failing to see the forest for the trees ~

  • “Japanese population” does not mean the same as “Population of Japan”

    The article clearly states “The number of Japanese citizens residing in the country” and “The total number of
    citizens residing in Japan” in the first and second paragraphs respectively.

    The Japanese government does include foreigners in the total population count as has been demonstrated.
    The stat they were announcing in this article was only about the number Japanese citizens, not the number
    of people in Japan.

    Looking further, it seems that the article was either mistranslated or transcribed incorrectly. The actual numbers
    from the Ministry can be found here:


    That page shows the final numbers for the BEGINNING of March not the END of March and the TOTAL population
    of Japan is 127.5 Million (INCLUDING FOREIGNERS) and 125.8 Million Japanese citizens.

    Either the article wrote the wrong number or used the wrong wording for what the number represented.
    Either way, as has been mentioned, this is really a non-issue. The Japanese government does include foreigners
    in the total population of Japan.

    — Not in this press release from the GOJ. Drop it, already. Your point has been made.

  • It looks like in Japan they count us only when comes tax end year and they remember to send you tax return form. You are on the list then, so they do count us 🙂


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