The train station in Yubari Photo: Hahifuheho, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Yubari may offer Japan a taste of things to come

16 Comments
By George Lloyd, grape Japan

Yubari is a town in Hokkaido. It has the highest average age of any town in Japan, and probably the world. Indeed, its population is possibly the oldest to have ever existed.

In its heyday, Yubari was known as the capital of the Japanese coal industry. But when the country switched to foreign oil imports after the war, the coal industry collapsed. From a peak of 120,000 people in 1960, the town’s population fell to 21,000 in 1990, the year its last coal mine closed. Since then, Yubari’s population has halved again, as those who stayed on after the mines closed have aged and died.

The town currently has an average age of 65. More of its people are over 80 than under 40, making it perhaps the world’s first pensioner-majority town. Occasionally a child is born, but about a dozen people die in Yubari for every child born.

Things cannot go on like this. Few people work in Yubari, so few people pay taxes. As a result, the town was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2007. As well as being the oldest town in Japan, its residents have the highest level of debt per head in Japan, and its municipal workers draw the lowest salaries.

Looking on the bright side, the Japanese government has not shirked its responsibilities in Yubari. There are still a dozen post offices in the town, the fire engines in the fire station are spit-polished and ready to respond in the event of an emergency, and the public pay phones, should you need one, are immaculate. Not that there are many emergencies in the town. In 2020, there was less than one crime of any description per week.

hokkaidomelon.jpg
Yubari is still famous for its melons. Photo: Keiji Kawamura / © PIXTA

There aren’t many jobs to be had, but all the same, in other ways Yubari is a great place to live. Roughly a third of its public housing lies empty, so property is extremely cheap. You can rent a two-bedroom apartment in a newish apartment block for about ¥25,000 a month. There are also 40 sheltered housing units for the elderly that rent for less than ¥4000 a month.

It snows a lot in Yubari in the winter months, but if you’re old and poor enough, someone from the local council will come and shovel your snow away for nothing.

What does the future hold for Yubari? More of the same: the population currently stands at 8600 and is expected to fall by a further 60% over the next 20 years. Sooner or later, the last of the town’s aging residents will either die or move away, and the town will cease to exist.

Why does Yubari matter? Because Japan is going the same way - indeed, the town can be seen as a harbinger of what Japan will look like in 2060. People have been leaving rural villages and small towns for big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka for the past 40 years.

You wouldn’t know it wandering the streets of Tokyo, but almost 85% of Japan’s municipalities are shrinking. According to one report, more than half of them are “at risk of extinction” by 2040.

Unless something is done to get Japanese people to have more babies, by 2060 the population will have fallen by a third, from 127 million to 88 million. How the country will adapt to such unprecedented demographic change is anyone’s guess, but if Yubari is anything to go by, the outlook is not good.

Sources:

"Yubari, Japan: a city learns how to die," (The Guardian, 15.8.14)

"Yubari, Hokkaido," Wikipedia

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© grape Japan

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
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Higher wages and a more family-friendly work culture would go a long way to help encourage childbirth.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Low birthrates plague all developed economies. The difference is that most have remedied their problem with immigration. Relying on the local population to have more children has NEVER worked. You need immigration.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

While higher wages will make some things easier..there should be much more done to de-centralise and incentivise moving to these smaller towns..boost up the infrastructure so people can work remotely in these villages and that will be a big step..further, get rid of inheritance and land tax for people living in those areas.. while it would be unethical to force people to move away from the cities.. make it not worth living in them..increase the taxes for bigger cities, impose levies on companies that don't allow remote work etc.. take away the benefits and reasons to move to the big cities and you will get more people moving away.

Giving away the land and get rid of a lot of unwanted/left for dead houses etc.. this country really needs a big reform and introduce eminent domain laws..

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Want people to have kids? Ban overtime. How are people supposed to raise a family when they are in the office 12 hours a day?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Realistic measures are needed. Why is less people a problem ?it can be a plus.

Of course many towns and villages will disappear, accept that and work from a base of 80 million for the future.

Maintaining 12 post offices for 12000 people is not “ serving” society it is wasteful madness. Better 2 or 3 and good home services to the old and immobile.

And always that money issue when one talks about children. Women just want to enjoy their own lives. Good for them. Despite all the talk, the mother has sole end care for the kids, men only help when they feel like it, in japan.

immigration helps when there are real jobs, not slave driving and labour abuse. There are no jobs.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

 Relying on the local population to have more children has NEVER worked.

Not true. France's total fertility rate of 2.06 live births per female is right at replacement and that of Okinawa at 1.94 is almost there. Find out what the secret sauce is in these places and apply it liberally in the Japanese mainland.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Not true. France's total fertility rate of 2.06 live births per female is right at replacement and that of Okinawa at 1.94 is almost there. Find out what the secret sauce is in these places and apply it liberally in the Japanese mainland.

I might be wrong, but I believe that 2.06 is too low, given that, sadly and inevitably, some children will not survive to reproduction ages themselves.

Increased immigration to Japan is an excellent solution. Immigrants tend to be younger, tend to have jobs already acquired, tend not to be a burden on the healthcare system (as a byproduct of their youth) and also have the benefit (from the perspective of the Japanese state) of having their education and welfare until at least the age of 18 paid for already. Japan is, essentially, getting an able, productive worker for free.

The issue of Japanese language proficiency is real, but there are plenty of older people in Japan who are eager for companionship and a chance to meet people (obviously this is dented by the last year, but I mean generally) so local governments arranging volunteer Japanese classes is a good idea. It also helps foreigners get acquainted with their new locale, and gets them some friends right off the bat.

As an immigrant to Japan myself, I have some incentive to say that immigration to Japan is good, but I also believe that the facts bear me out.

Desert Tortoise is a very learned person, so perhaps they can correct me where I have made mistakes. I don't mean this sarcastically or passive-aggressively, I mean it sincerely. :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Immigration might help sustain the populations of developed nations for another 50-75 years but if you look around the world, total fertility rates or "TFRs" are falling globally. As women in developing countries gain access to education and birth control, they are putting off marriage until later in life and having fewer children. Example, Mexico's TFR is just a smidge over 2. Two decades ago it was over 4. It seems hard to believe but global population growth could reverse and do so possibly in our children's life time. That is why I say examine places like France and Okinawa that have higher TFRs than other highly developed lands and find out what allows their societies to be more fecund than seemingly the rest of the developed world. I know my previous profession left me with no time for friends, dating, even pets. It was often impossible to even squeeze in 8 hours of sleep a day. Throw in a long commute that bordered on auto hockey on each end of the work day and you are just beat. Weekends were for laundry, shopping and catching up on sleep. It is also past time for the Economics profession to develop models for nations to prosper in the face of declining populations. The old models of perpetual growth may not be valid in the face of low TFRs and declining populations.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

...by 2060 the population will have fallen by a third, from 127 million to 88 million.

So, it will be about same as UK population.

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=JP-GB

The size of these two island nations is about same. And the elderly population of baby boomers in Japan will be gone by then. It may not be a bad future.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

 Relying on the local population to have more children has NEVER worked.

Not true. France's total fertility rate of 2.06 live births per female is right at replacement and that of Okinawa at 1.94 is almost there.

The reason for that is that the immigrants themselves are having more children.

Find out what the secret sauce is in these places and apply it liberally in the Japanese mainland.

It won't work

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Immigration might help sustain the populations of developed nations for another 50-75 years but if you look around the world, total fertility rates or "TFRs" are falling globally. As women in developing countries gain access to education and birth control, they are putting off marriage until later in life and having fewer children. Example, Mexico's TFR is just a smidge over 2. Two decades ago it was over 4. It seems hard to believe but global population growth could reverse and do so possibly in our children's life time. That is why I say examine places like France and Okinawa that have higher TFRs than other highly developed lands and find out what allows their societies to be more fecund than seemingly the rest of the developed world. I know my previous profession left me with no time for friends, dating, even pets. It was often impossible to even squeeze in 8 hours of sleep a day. Throw in a long commute that bordered on auto hockey on each end of the work day and you are just beat. Weekends were for laundry, shopping and catching up on sleep. It is also past time for the Economics profession to develop models for nations to prosper in the face of declining populations. The old models of perpetual growth may not be valid in the face of low TFRs and declining populations.

Yes I concur. There are 2 canadian demographers that you might be interested in checking out on YouTube. They have been predicting a global population decline

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Empty Planet: Preparing for the Global Population Decline

very interesting documentary on Youtube

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The human population of Earth is exploding. A few places, like Japan, have to consider how to maintain a steady population, but most places are dealing with growing, not shrinking, populations.

When I was born, there were fewer than 2.5 billion people. Today, the Earth's population of humans is approaching 8 billion, and we will likely reach 9 billion within another twenty years. The consequences of this population explosion are evident around the globe.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The reason for that is that the immigrants themselves are having more children.

Who are all these immigrants in Okinawa that are having children? Explain why Okinawa's Total Fertility Rate is so much higher than that of the Japanese mainland? At least a partial answer to Japan's demographic dilemma may in fact lie right in Japan, in how the people of Okinawa live and work compared to the rest of Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The human population of Earth is exploding. A few places, like Japan, have to consider how to maintain a steady population, but most places are dealing with growing, not shrinking, populations.

Only in the short term and only in developing nations. Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) and populations have been declining in developed nations for decades. Even less developed nations are seeing declines in their TFRs. Northern China has a TFR of only 0.5. That means only one child is born to every four adults. China will experience an epic population decline and I expect to live long enough to see the beginnings of it. In fact the size of the Chinese workforce peaked in 2014 and has declined since. Their total population is peaking now. South Korea and Singapore have TFRs of only 1.0. Most developed nations have TFRs of 1.7 or less. Some like Canada, Australia and the US are immigrant friendly and are able to maintain their populations but most of the EU and Asia are not so immigrant friendly and are experiencing declines in their populations. Likewise for Latin America. Mexico, Peru and Argentina are the only Latin American nations with TFRs over 2.0. Brazil's TFR is the same as that of the US. Longer term expect global populations to decline overall and decline sharply in the developed world.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not true. France's total fertility rate of 2.06 live births per female is right at replacement and that of Okinawa at 1.94 is almost there. Find out what the secret sauce is in these places and apply it liberally in the Japanese mainland.

Right, France, where about 30% of the population are immigrants and you can’t figure out why they’re able to maintain their fertility rate?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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