Bishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of the diocese of Niigata is expressing concerns that entire rural populations will vanish within 25 years, leaving a culture and an economy struggling to survive.
Japan is among the top 10 nations in the world with the lowest birth rate, and has the highest ratio in the world of the elderly to the young. Demographic studies show that currently only 13 percent of the Japanese population is under the age of 15 — a record low — marking a steady decline since 1950, when the age group stood at 35 percent of the overall population. And more people died than were born last year, with roughly 1 million born and 1.3 million who passed away in 2014, leaving the country with nearly 300,000 fewer people. The country's high abortion rates don't help, either, where the killing of one's unborn child has been legal since 1949.
Demographers have long known that declining birth rates spell disaster for a nation, with fewer in the work force fueling the economy and paying taxes, while growing numbers of elderly dependents are relying on government assistance. The impact of Japan's population decline can be seen in the period between 1990–2005, when the country's stock market fell by 80 percent, and its real estate market suffered a loss of 60 percent of its value.
Bishop Kikuchi remarked that his parishes are filled with the elderly, and older adults serve at the altar because there aren’t enough young people to fill the role.
“It also affects vocation promotion as families tend to have only one child or two. If they have only one son, then it is quite natural that parents feel reluctant to send their only son to the seminary.”
According to the bishop, the declining population makes it difficult for men to find wives, who are forced to seek their spouses from outside the Catholic community or from foreign countries. As a result, there are mixed marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, as well as with immigrants, to whom the Church must find a way to minister.
In a heavily Shintoist and Buddhist country, Catholics comprise only .4 percent of the population.