Abe Appoints Demographics Minister to Slow Population Slide

People Take Part In Tai Chi Training At Roppongi Hills

People practice tai chi at the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Tokyo.

Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg
  • Ex-finance ministry bureaucrat Katsunobu Kato named to post
  • Top members of cabinet, ruling party executive remain

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed a minister charged with spearheading his effort to halt the slide in Japan’s population, which the premier has made the centerpiece of his new plan to revive the world’s third-largest economy.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, a former finance ministry bureaucrat, is charged with implementing policies to boost the birthrate and expand spending on elderly and child care. In a cabinet reshuffle announced Wednesday, Abe kept his core team, retaining Economy Minister Akira Amari, Finance Minister Taro Aso, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in their posts.

Japan is threatened with both labor shortages and an explosion in welfare costs as one of the world’s lowest birth rates and grayest populations is set to slash the workforce by almost half by 2060. Abe’s new plan seeks to prevent the 127-million population from sliding below 100 million within half a century by encouraging people to have more children, and implementing measures to ease the burden on workers having to care for elderly relatives.

“This is not a simple problem with a preset blueprint,” Abe told reporters Tuesday. The new minister must “destroy barriers between ministries and agencies; must have the imagination to put together bold policies and the ability to break through difficulties to put them into practice,” he said.

Unopposed

Abe was last month reappointed unopposed as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, putting him on track to become the longest-serving prime minister in four decades. Still, he is seeking to fine-tune his team to bolster voter support ahead of an upper house election next summer Widespread public opposition to his policies to expand the role of the military has sapped popular backing for his government.

Most Japanese say they are not feeling any benefit from his Abenomics policies of unprecedented monetary and fiscal stimulus that led to a surge in stock prices and exports since he came to power in December 2012. A poll published by Japan News Network this week found 86 percent of respondents said they were not experiencing positive effects such as higher incomes. About 47 percent of respondents said they approved of Abe’s cabinet, less than the almost 51 percent who said they did not.

Abe included three female ministers in the lineup, in a nod to another key government policy of having women in 30 percent of management positions across all fields by 2020. Tamayo Marukawa, a former television news anchor turned upper house lawmaker, took the post of environment minister.

Motoo Hayashi was named trade and industry minister, with Hiroshi Moriyama appointed in the environment post. Hiroshi Hase, a former high school teacher and professional wrestler, was made education minister.

For more, read this QuickTake: Abenomics

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