The modern Japanese are essentially a Mongoloid race and are similar in appearance to the Chinese and Koreans; the Japanese, however, are slightly smaller in stature. The Ainu, a Caucasian people now resident principally on Hokkaido, are the only significant non-Japanese native group, but they are now almost entirely intermarried with the Japanese. Japan is an industrialized urban society, and approximately 66 per cent of the population lives in metropolitan areas. Japan’s population distribution is highly variable. The mountainous character of the country has caused the population to concentrate within the limited plains and lowlands—notably along the Pacific littoral. The increased population, however, has been absorbed into the ever-expanding urban areas, while the population of rural districts has declined considerably; this has had the effect of further concentrating population in a limited area.
Japan experienced spectacular population growth after 1868, the population increasing nearly fourfold since then. This increase is directly related to slow but steady urban growth; the development of Hokkaido, Tōhoku, and southern Kyushu; and the introduction of commercial agriculture. In 1897, when industrialization first began, the population numbered more than 42 million. From 1898 to 1918 growing industrial cities and mining towns absorbed a large population, as did Hokkaido and the sericultural (silkworm-raising) rural districts. In 1920, when the first precise census was conducted, the population was nearly 57 million
Between 1919 and 1945 Tokyo-Yokohama, Ōsaka-Kōbe, Nagoya, and northern Kyushu developed as the nation’s four major industrial districts. At the same time, some of the smaller cities lost their ability to sustain a growing population, and some of them declined. By 1940 the population had grown to more than double that of 1868. During World War II there was a marked migration to the rural areas to avoid aerial bombing, and some cities such as Ōsaka were reduced to one-third their previous size.
After 1945 the repatriated population of nearly 9 million and the temporarily explosive increase in the birth rate caused abnormally high growth. The rapid rehabilitation of industry after 1950 resulted in the continued concentration of population in the Pacific coastal areas. The expansion of the Keihin area was not confined to Tokyo, Yokohama, and their adjacent suburbs but extended to a much wider circle. The same was true of the Keihanshin (Kyōto-Ōsaka-Kōbe) and Chūkyō (Nagoya) areas. Rural areas outside the direct influence of urbanization were subjected to a marked decline. Adult males migrated to the Pacific coast, and many of those who remained at home periodically left as temporary labourers, creating a constant outflow of population from the mountainous areas and isolated islands. In many places, emigration was so marked that the remaining population could not maintain a balanced community, and whole settlements were abandoned. These trends have continued in the 1990s, although rural-to-urban migration has slowed somewhat, and people have been leaving city centres for outlying districts and suburbs.
The striking demographic feature in post-World War II Japan is the decline of birth and death rates, the result of families having fewer children and of health conditions improving markedly. Japan’s rate of population increase is now one of the world’s lowest and its life expectancy among the highest. Consequently, the country has a rapidly aging population, a circumstance that is creating severe labour shortages for its vast economy. Low-skilled job needs, at least, are being met by a growing number of temporary foreign workers. "Japan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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