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News Half of Japan's cities at risk of disappearing in 100 years


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
According to several studies, at least half of Japan's cities will disappear by the end of the century.

One (very optimistic) 2014 study concluded that assuming a birthrate of 2.1 in 2025 (based on slightly increasing numbers back then), 40 per cent of all regional cities will disappear by 2040. The current demographics look bleak, with the birthrate at 1.36 in 2023.

The April 1920 edition of the defunct Nihon Oyobi Nihonjin ("Japan and the Japanese") magazine, with contributions from around 370 celebrities, intellectuals and cultural figures of the time, ran a special feature on what the country would look like in 100 years:

Sakio Tsurumi, then-director of the government's Forestry Bureau, predicted that the nation's population would grow nearly five-fold to around 260 million by 2020, approximately double what it is now. Professor Riichiro Hoashi of Waseda University expected the majority of government spending to concentrate on education when, in fact, the ageing population has seen social security fees soar. Yaichiro Isobe, chairman of the Kokumin Eigakukai English school, wrote that kanji would be abolished and English adopted as Japan's second official language, a far cry from the linguistic realities in Japanese classrooms and offices today. Not all prophecies were entirely off the mark, however. As physician Rinketsu Shikitsu speculated, the average Japanese life expectancy has reached 80 to 90 years thanks to developments in medicine and hygiene (as opposed to around 42 and 43 years in the early 1920s). Technology has allowed the generation and storage of electricity produced from solar energy — something civil engineer Ayahiko Ishibashi foresaw.

According to Professor Mori Tomoya of Kyoto University, the most pressing issue facing Japan, an island nation of 124 million people, of which 29.1% are 65 or older, is its rapidly greying and shrinking population, a demographic crisis whose urgency and future ramifications were underestimated among the country's policymakers and, more broadly, the general public.

The latest long-term projections by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research give an estimated population of around 71 million, 50 million and 36 million in 2120, in order of high-, medium- and low-fertility scenarios. Mori says he believes the current chronically low birth rate and a lack of plausible initiatives to reverse the trend will likely see Japan's population edge toward the lower end of the estimates.

"If the population fell to the 30 million level, that's about the same as during the Edo Period (1603-1868)," he says. "Some may say, 'OK then, things were manageable back then, no big deal.' But don't forget that our current infrastructure is based on a population of roughly 130 million."

According to another expert panel headed by Mimura Akio, former chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 744 Japanese municipalities risk disappearing due to a decrease in the number of young women living there. The report is based on region-by-region population estimates through 2050 released by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research last December. The expert panel focused on changes in the number of women in their 20s and 30s who are most likely to give birth.

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