The greatest policy issue facing Japan at the present time is responding to our country's low fertility rates and aging population. Having undergone a period of high economic growth following World War II, the average life span of the Japanese grew and our lives became affluent. On the other hand however, as the number of elderly people increased, expenditures for social security programs, such as pensions, medical and nursing care, increased markedly. Meanwhile, the youth population, who must shoulder new production, is continuing to decline. The issue of how Japan will sustain the high quality society which had been built up so far has now become a major challenge.
The super-aged society that Japan is now facing is the first experienced in human history. However, this is not an occurrence unique to Japan, as numbers of Asian countries, and possibly the majority of countries worldwide, will encounter the same phenomenon in the near future. It is for this reason that many countries are now watching to see how Japan will tackle this problem.
While the low fertility and aging population tend to be perceived pessimistically, one also often hears the optimistic argument that our country still has much potential vitality ? and if it is skillfully applied, we will easily be able to overcome our problems. However, it is perilous to create policy based on optimistic expectations. What is necessary is not to ignore the problems confronting us, or to become despondent, but to face the problems squarely, pursue possibilities based on evidences, and formulate achievable and effective policies. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to collect accurate and detailed data concerning existing conditions and to perform highly accurate estimations based on scientific analyses.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, attached to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, was created in 1996 through the integration of the Institute of Population Problems, attached to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Social Development Research Institute. Along with investigating population and household trends, the Institute carries out research concerning social security policies and systems in Japan and abroad.
The population data we compile and publish is the basic material for determining our country's essential policies, including pensions and other social security measures. Therefore, it is our mission to respond to the high expectations held by various government actors, as well as many other parties concerned.
The policy challenges that our country is facing now are complex and difficult. The situation of low fertility and population aging is different by municipality, and also by time period. In addition, people's life-styles and ways of thinking are diverse. The issues arising from such a society do have diversity and include not only the level of low fertility and population aging, but also poverty, employment, gender inequality and care for the disabled.
In order to respond attentively to the diversity of these problems and create a sustainable society which enables healthy and culturally rich lives for all people, it is essential to formulate policies based on detailed and accurate evidence.
We commit to providing the basic information which contributes to policy formation, and will carry out advanced research regarding how social security should be in the future and convey such information to the public. The importance of these activities needs no reiteration, but it is a matter of course that such research is not something that can be achieved through our efforts alone. It can be met with the interest and support of many government agencies, as well as society at large.
All our staff members are mindful of this mission and responsibility, and will work even harder than we have until now. Therefore, we sincerely ask for your understanding and warm support for our Institute's activities.
Prof. Akira Morita
National Institute of Population and Social Security Research