A total of 86 percent of municipalities across Japan feel the need to increase foreign labor, a recent survey by Kyodo News showed, underscoring the serious shortage of workers in farming and other key sectors in the local regions as the country grapples with a declining population.

In the survey that covered Japan's 47 prefectures as well as cities and other municipalities, 84 percent of local government heads said they were either "strongly" concerned that their communities are at risk of disappearing, or "somewhat" afraid.

The figure marks an increase compared to a 2015 study that showed 77 percent of local government leaders were apprehensive about their communities' future. A private group had warned a year before that 896 municipalities could face extinction in the future.

Vietnamese students attend a Japanese language class in Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture, in October 2020. (Kyodo)

The latest poll, conducted between July and August, was based on a population forecast in April by a research institute that estimated foreign nationals will rise to about 10 percent of Japan's total population in 2070 from around 2 percent in 2020.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research also projected that Japan's total population will decline by about 30 percent to 87 million in the same year, with people aged 65 or older accounting for nearly 40 percent.

Of the surveyed respondents, 30 percent felt it "necessary" to promote bringing in foreign workers and 56 percent considered it "somewhat necessary." In contrast, 8 percent believed it to be either "unnecessary" or "somewhat unnecessary."

In 16 prefectures, the ratio of local leaders who recognized the importance of accepting foreign labor stood at 90 percent or higher, with Shimane and Kochi in western Japan seeing the level reach 100 percent.

They primarily cited staffing shortages as the reason, including for medical and nursing care services, for primary industries such as agriculture, and the manufacturing industry.

Among municipalities deeming it unnecessary to increase foreign labor, Shichigahama in Miyagi Prefecture pointed to limited job opportunities the town can offer.

The city of Nishinoomote on Tanegashima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, said efforts should first focus on luring young Japanese citizens to move and settle down in its area.

Meanwhile, 63 percent of local governments said they were taking steps to help foreign residents integrate in their communities, such as offering Japanese-language education and translating government information into multiple languages.

A total of 20 percent said they are providing financial incentives to companies that hire foreign workers and have job-matching programs between foreign nationals and businesses.

The survey was conducted by sending questionnaires to governors of all 47 prefectures and the heads of 1,741 cities, wards, towns and villages. It received responses from 1,682 people, or 94 percent.

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