The country has also widely adopted other steps to prevent transmission of the virus, including the placement of hand sanitizer at the entrance to virtually every commercial space and workplace, and broad adherence to government recommendations to avoid the “three C’s”: closed spaces, crowded places and close contact with others.
One other, albeit small, factor is a decrease in traffic accidents as fewer people took to the roads, especially as the government twice declared states of emergency. Deaths from road accidents dropped nearly 12 percent in 2020, to 2,839, according to data maintained by the National Police Agency. It was the lowest number since the agency began tracking the data in 1948.
Japan is not alone in seeing peripheral benefits from coronavirus measures. Deaths in China fell slightly in the first three months of 2020 outside the virus epicenter of Wuhan, according to a study by the University of Oxford and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the decrease in deaths in Japan was a welcome development, there were some ominous signs. The country has seen a resurgence in suicides, particularly among women, with just under 4 percent more people taking their own lives in 2020 than in the previous year. Among women, the increase was nearly 15 percent.
Experts traced the phenomenon to stresses related to the pandemic including job losses, the increased isolation of people sheltering in place and the growing domestic burdens shouldered by women.
Japan’s population also continued to contract despite the decline in overall deaths. The country, which began shrinking in 2007 because of falling birthrates and its increasing proportion of older people, lost more than 511,000 people in 2020, a slight acceleration from the previous year.
Births fell once again last year, suggesting that the pandemic is likely to speed up Japan’s depopulation. According to government projections, the population, which now stands at 126 million, will fall below 100 million by 2053 and sink to 88 million by 2065.