Japan Today



Tokyo's once-gritty neighbor Kawasaki now tops Japan in longevity stats

Image: Pixta/gandhi - iStock/kazuma seki

Asao Ward, a district in Kawasaki, a once-smoky industrial city of about 1.5 million shoehorned between Tokyo and Yokohama, is basking in unexpected acclaim.

According to population data compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2020, the city's mostly residential Asao Ward ranked first in the nation in terms of longevity, with males living to an average of 84.0 years, while females enjoyed an remarkably long average lifespan of 89.2 years.

"Well it's certainly something worth celebrating. But frankly, we aren't exactly sure are the reasons behind our achieving the nation's No. 1 ranking," an official at the ward office's local care promotion section admits to Shukan Post (June 2).

The most recent figures on longevity, covering the nation's cities, wards, towns and villages for 2020, was released on May 12.

The previous year, Asao Ward had ranked 2nd place nationwide for males, and 4th place for females.

Asao Ward came into existence in 1982 when it broke off from the city's Tama Ward. It is currently home to some 180,000 residents, of whom 24% are age 65 and older. Thirteen percent of its population is over the age of 75, giving it the highest ratio of seniors among Kawasaki City's seven administrative wards.

Situated in a hilly district, the ward's main rail station is Shin-Yurigaoka, an express stop on the Odakyu train line about 30 minutes from its Shinjuku terminus.

Transposing Asao Ward's longevity statistics vis-a-vis Kanagawa Prefecture as a whole, the figures are good, but not especially good, with males in Kanagawa ranking 5th nationwide and females 15th. Kawasaki City's longevity statistics for males were ranked 17th worst in the nation.

So then, what's the explanation for Asao Ward's exceptional performance?

"The one thing that comes to mind is that many of our residents give consideration to their health," the aforementioned ward official suggested. "Based on various surveys we conducted, we know that a high percentage of residents undergo periodic cancer screenings. We also know that a high percentage engage in short walks of at least 15 minutes. All things said, we provide a framework that makes it easier for residents to adopt various health measures."

He also noted that the ward's residential areas feature sidewalks, making it easier for pedestrians to get around.

Asao, moreover, tops Kawasaki's seven wards in the number of public parks, with 321 -- considerably more than second place Miyamae Ward, with 313 facilities. And 15 of the ward's parks measure more than 1.2 hectares (12,000 square meters) in area.

Another factor worth noting is that 40% of dwellings in Asao Ward are single-unit houses, and resident owners account for over 60% of all dwellings, indicating that the ward's residents are comparatively affluent.

"I think a key factor might be the high-class rest homes and other facilities close to the station," a resident in his late 60s tells the magazine. "I've noticed that the number of affluent elderly couples has increased among older people. Also, thanks to the completion of the Shin Yurigaoka General Hospital in 2012, we've become a community with facilities for good health management." 

Keeping off the booze might also be a contributing factor. "There are lots of large commercial facilities and places to eat around here, but the area lacks a street with drinking establishments," a salaried worker in his early sixties pointed out to the magazine. "So anyone who returns later than 10 p.m. has no place to go for a nightcap before returning home."

"Walking has been shown to help prevent dementia, according to recent research into how the local environment impacts on health," professor Katsunori Kondo of Chiba University's Center for Preventive Medical Sciences is quoted as saying. "And more than rural areas, it's cities where many people use buses and other public transport facilities, creating an environment that promotes longer walking time.

"Places like Asao Ward, with many parks and a high percentage of residents who live in single-unit dwellings that they own are also believed to contribute to a healthy living environment," Kondo added.

Could it be, wonders Shukan Post, that this secret to a longer lifespan has been sitting there right in front of our faces all along?

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Tokyocentric journalism at its best.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@piskian I lived at Noborito and Musashi Kosugi, two stations on the JR Nambu line in Kawasaki, in the early 1970s and can assure you that "gritty" was a perfect description of the poor air quality in those days. Tokyo was not that much better, but depending on distance from the factories there was a discernible difference. If you were not here 50 years ago to see for yourself, you're not in a position to call the writer Tokyo-centric.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I used to go there a lot in the 90s, and it was gritty then (by Japanese standards, of course). The same vibe as Kitakyushu City used to have - though that has changed a lot too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Knowing the mentality of human beings, Kawasaki will now be flooded by old people who want to live longer. Ha, ha, haaa.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So they become very old there now, having had the first half of life in a dusty gritty place and the final half in a much cleaner but also very boring place with only several health measures, medical screenings and some walking all 365 days a year long. Maybe I don’t envy that ‘life’ so much too. Does anyone of you?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, Asao Ward is only technically Kawasaki. It shares little with the reality or image of the real industrial port of Kawasaki, no more than Mukonoso does with Amagasaki (Kawasaki's Kansai equivalent).

3 ( +3 / -0 )

hate to say but its not that people who live their have longevity.

Its more that it is one of the few places old people with no incoming salary anymore can afford to live.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


1 ( +1 / -0 )


Tokyocentric journalism at its best.

Not really. It is gritty.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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