Learnings from a Super Aged Society (Study Tour Report)

Insights into the Economic & Social Implications of an Aged Society and Shrinking Population.Japan – 2018

By Bruce Marshall, City of Melton

Japan is a country that has had a long, colourful history and as a producer of unique culture and innovation, there aren’t many other nations that can compare to Japan. Similarly, there aren’t many nations capable of continually overcoming significant challenges and set-backs like Japan, as a nation, demonstrates it is able to do over and over again.

I first visited Japan as a 21 year old in the year 2000, fresh out of university on my first adventure abroad. At that time Japan was coming off the back of the ‘Bubble Economy’ aftermath and the society was readjusting after a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity, which has subsequently been followed up by an unprecedented period of economic stagnation that still lingers today.

I instantly fell in love with Japan for the wonderful contrasts across all elements of life. From temples and shrines that were hundreds of years old, to the most modern and futuristic takes on urban development that one could imagine. From traditional and conservative ways of thought that could be traced back to the days of samurai and shoguns, to the weirdest, wackiest, most innovative ways of contemporary thinking. From some of the ugliest urban sprawls imaginable, to some of the most beautiful areas of natural beauty I have ever seen.

Ever since that first visit, where I ended up living and working in Tokyo for 3.5years, I have been a regular visitor to Japan’s shores and have seen much change and evolution over the last 18 years.

One of the biggest things to emerge since I first became acquainted with Japan has been the trend of an ageing society and shrinking population. This trend didn’t happen overnight, bus as I look at Japan now in 2018, I can see that things have changed significantly from that first visit in 2000.

As an economic development professional in Australia I have always been curious about how Japan was adjusting to it’s new demographic paradigm. This is particularly so, when considering our Western mindset that economic growth = economic prosperity. Can Japan’s economy and standard of living survive as its population literally shrinks?

With Australia’s relatively high immigration intake and reasonable birth rate, it is far less of an issue from an overall national perspective, however the trend of rural migration to urban centres is a reality in Australia, and the dynamic of shrinking and, dare I say it, dying rural communities is a real challenge in Australia. Some of the lessons from Japan could certainly be applied to Australia.

The aging society trend will hit Australia and other Western countries soon too. In many ways, Japan has become the testing ground for the world to see how a country can adjust and still maintain a high quality of life for residents.

This study trip was not intended to come back with all the answers, but merely to get some pockets of insight and micro-learnings which may spark further conversation and investigation by fellow economic development professionals in Australia. The trip was planned around the international “Ageing & Society” conference in Tokyo on 18th and 19th September 2018. Either side of that conference I managed to arrange a diverse range of business visits, interviews and activities that have all provided different perspectives and insights into the topic.

View the full report here