The Depopulation Dividend in Japan: The Impacts of Population Decline and Ageing on Society and the Environment

For the entire postwar period Japan’s rural regions have been shrinking, even as the country as a whole experienced unprecedented growth under its 20th century ‘economic miracle’. In the 21st century, however, Japan crossed the threshold into national-scale depopulation, and nearly all core cities are now also shrinking. Similar patterns of spatial and demographic change are evident elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, most notably China. This paper enquires into the social and environmental consequences of regional demographic change in Japan and the Asia-Pacific, and will ask: Does depopulation have to produce uncomfortable outcomes? Can we even benefit? Are any anticipated benefits realistically achievable? Just Japan led Asia’s economic development in the 20th century, so in the 21st century can Japan lead again; this time in attaining social and environmentally sustainable rural development under demographic shrinkage?

Peter Matanle is Senior Lecturer and Director of Research and Innovation at the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield. His research interests are in the social and cultural geography of East Asian development, including research on depopulation and socio-environmental change, the theory and practice of permanent employment in large organizations, and work and its representation in popular culture. A full list and archive of publications and talks can be found at: