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World News

Japan next premier's hometown: demographic challenges by the numbers

TOKYO (Reuters) - Yoshihide Suga, expected to become Japan’s prime minister this week, hails from Akita prefecture in the north, which leads the world’s most rapidly ageing country in greying and depopulation.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership candidate and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga attends a debate for the LDP leadership election in Tokyo, Japan September 12, 2020. Charly Triballeau/Pool via REUTERS

Suga, chief cabinet secretary to outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, often speaks of his modest background as a farmer’s son from snowy Akita. He has spearheaded policies aimed at propping up rural Japan, which bears the brunt of the debilitating demographic change.

Here are some key facts about Akita, 450 km (280 miles) north of Tokyo, whose demographic woes anticipate what awaits the nation.

DEMOGRAPHY

Akita’s population is forecast to shrink 41% to 602,000 over the 30 years to 2045, outpacing a 16% nationwide decline, reckons the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

By 2045, just over half of Akita residents are forecast to be 65 or older, up from 34% in 2015. Nationwide, that ratio is expect to rise 10 percentage points to 37%.

With 16.4 deaths for every 1,000 residents in 2019, Akita has Japan’s highest death rate. That compares with 11.2 deaths nationwide. Its birth rate, 4.9 per 1,000, is Japan’s lowest.

ECONOMY, INDUSTRY

Akita’s per-capita annual income of 2.6 million yen ($24,500) is less than half of Tokyo’s and 21% below the national average.

Akita prides itself on being Japan’s third-largest producer of rice, a staple, but domestic demand for rice is on a long-term downtrend.

Farming, fishery and forestry represent 3% of Akita’s economic output, triple the national figure. Secondary industry, which includes manufacturing, accounts for 22% of the prefecture’s economy, below the national 27%.

Wind power generation is a rare growth industry in Akita, endowed with stable wind conditions. The prefecture has Japan’s largest wind power generation capacity, followed by neighbouring Aomori and Hokkaido to the north, according to the Japan Wind Power Association.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by William Mallard

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