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National Census in Doubt

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 Posted: 11:21 AM JST

Census takers have much trouble reaching people this year, The Japan Times reports. One census taker "was able to meet only about 80 percent of the residents of the roughly 50 houses and apartment buildings he's assigned to survey."

The article ascribes the problem to the disappearance of traditional community ties, the increase in concern about privacy issues, and a large number of foreigners who won't participate. The Statistics Bureau is facing a crisis. "Experts and government officials agree that the national census, which has boasted a high accuracy rate thanks to the face-to-face work of the surveyors, is probably approaching a critical turning point," according to The Japan Times article.

"Some foreign countries can no longer conduct a national census because of the cost involved and people's increased sensitivity about their privacy," said Minezo Fujita, a former senior official at the statistics center of the Management and Coordination Agency.

He noted that some European countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany have given up trying to count every citizen and now use a limited sampling survey because of the enormous cost involved and people's reluctance to give personal data to the government.

"Right now, Japan is facing a similar crisis," Fujita said.

The article specifically mentions an increasing number of foreign residents as a "factor that has made the work of census takers difficult."

The form has been translated into 19 languages, and the government has stepped up ad campaigns to raise awareness among the non-Japanese public. But getting the details on foreigners is still tough work, officials said.

In Tokyo, 300,905 non-Japanese were registered as residents as of 2000. But that year's national census found only 212,975 foreign nationals living in the capital.

The two figures can't simply be compared because some foreigners move out of Tokyo without changing their resident registration. But the difficulty in finding non-Japanese people for the census is probably one reason for the gap, experts say.

Foreigners without proper visas are even more difficult to incorporate into the census, as they fear they may be arrested and deported if they respond to the survey.

Officials stress that the census is strictly for statistical purposes and that findings will not be used for any immigration crackdown, but they also acknowledge that few illegal residents will believe this.

Strangely, no mention is made of foreigners who refuse to participate on principle because Japanese law does not give voting rights to long term residents in Japan.

Fujita is alarmed. According to the former statistics official, the accuracy of the census is more important than ever because of a shrinking population and because Japan is entering an era of critical social changes.

Keywords: national_news

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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