Outflow of young women may doom many communities

Shimada Yoshiyuki and Fuji Ryohei, The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 16, 2014

Many prefectural governors have expressed concern about the outflow of local residents, particularly young women, to metropolitan areas. On Tuesday, the National Governors’ Association even declared a “state of emergency” over the nation’s low birthrate.

However, in some meso-mountainous regions birthrates have risen, due to such measures as increased support for child-rearing. There also has been a trend for young people to move to the countryside. These developments are something governors should consider when looking for ideas on revitalizing their prefectures.

“Population decline is caused by a decrease in the number of women in their 20s and 30s, and the outflow of young people to Tokyo. We need to implement measures to stem the low birthrates and over-concentration of people in Tokyo at the same time,” former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hiroya Masuda said in a speech to the governors.

Masuda heads the Japan Policy Council, which predicted the extinction of municipalities due to population decline in its demographic estimate released in May.

After his speech, the discussion focused on Tokyo’s bulging population.

“Tokyo is swallowing too many [people]—it is the root cause of the problems including declining number of childen,” said Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki in a firm tone.

About half of the young people leave the prefecture when they enter university, according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa concurred with Yuzaki, saying: “We need to discuss how we should deal with the over-concentration of people and businesses in Tokyo. We should encourage businesses to transfer to regional areas by cutting corporate taxes.”

Nishikawa said he planned to conduct a survey on women who moved to the Tokyo metropolitan area from his prefecture to seek answers as to why they decided to move and what they are doing now. He said he would then study if they can realize their dreams in Fukui Prefecture.

Eight of about 30 governors who spoke at the meeting insisted on the need to deal with the over-concentration of people in Tokyo and to decentralize businesses.

Listening to their opinions, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said simply: “It is difficult to be a sole leader. We should have more energetic cities like Tokyo.”

Efforts to attract residents

Local municipalities are now striving to map out policies for attracting new residents, mainly families with small children.

Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, a city that declared a population decline crisis in June 2009, has been making various plans to motivate people to live in the city. They have taken such measures as creating konkatsu marriage-hunting events and offering people in metropolitan areas a hands-on program to live in unoccupied houses in the city. However, these measures have had no visible effect so far. In fiscal 2013 alone, 1,205 residents left the city. Of them, 613 were women, with 60 percent of them aged 15 to 39.

The Shizuoka prefectural government in fiscal 2013 conducted a survey to find out how many employees of the 480 companies with offices in the prefecture expected to raise children while still working. Based on the survey, the prefectural government intends to recognize companies with high employee birthrates as well as those providing active support for families raising children, and encourage people to work for such companies in the prefecture.

This fiscal year, the Yokosuka city government in Kanagawa Prefecture launched a new project to promote the city as a place where people can live comfortably.

The city is publicizing its convenient transportation and other benefits through advertisements on platforms and alongside stairs at private railway companies, including JR Yokohama Station and stations belonging to Keikyu Corp., as well as inside trains.

Meanwhile, Aya, Miyazaki Prefecture, is offering housing subsidies of up to ¥20,000 per month for a maximum period of six years for households with preschool children and others.

Miracle village

While many local governments are having difficulty working out effective policies to attract new residents, some local governments have found success.

Shimojo, Nagano Prefecture, a village surrounded by the Southern and Central Japanese Alps, is being called a “miracle village” by other municipalities suffering from population decline. The total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime, in the village is 1.88, far higher than the national average. The population rate of young people, or the percentage of people aged up to 14 among all residents, in the village is 15.2 percent—higher than most municipalities in the prefecture.

The Shimojo village government offers free medical care for children until they graduate from high school. The local government also offers discounts for day care centers for preschool children, as well as subsidies for meals at school. The government also offers cash gifts to families to celebrate the births of a second child and later children, as well as gift vouchers to celebrate children entering primary and middle school.

Meanwhile, Kamiyama, a town in central Tokushima Prefecture, saw an IT firm open its office at an old house there, which triggered changes in the town. The town improved its communications environment, including its optical communication lines. More companies noticed such efforts and opened their offices in the town. About 150 new residents, including children, moved into the town over the last six years.

In Shimane Prefecture, 575 people moved from other areas or returned to the prefecture in fiscal 2013. A survey by the prefecture’s Mountainous Region Research Center, which targeted residents aged 4 and under from 2008 to 2013, found that 73 areas of the 218 covered had 511 residents move into them. The survey also showed that the majority of new residents were couples aged around 30 years old.

Resources in each municipality differ, making successful examples of one municipality sometimes inapplicable to others. Municipalities must create appealing sources of employment and take other measures.


Abe eyes fresh initiatives to fight Japan's population decline

Sakaguchi Yukihihiro, Nikke staff writer, July 8, 2014

Abe sees women's labor participation as a key to Japan's economic revival.

CANBERRA -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vows to halt the rapid population erosion in rural areas by unleashing a new set of initiatives designed to revive local economies.

"The unprecedented population decline and the extreme graying of society are more serious in the provinces," Abe told The Nikkei in an interview conducted here Monday night. To reverse the trend, "we will ease the centralization of Tokyo and transfer necessary functions to key regional cities," he added.

He singled out for revision such areas as "tax systems, tax grants to local governments, and social security programs" to advance his goal.

The comprehensive regional revitalization strategy, to be unveiled early next year, will spell out policy measures to be implemented before the 2020 Summer Olympics.

"We'll support the building of self-reliant, sustainable industries that make the most of each region's characteristics," he said.

Abe envisions such programs as financial assistance for developing businesses around local specialties and growing their sales. Preferential tax treatment to help local businesses and municipalities, such as expanding tax deductible donations to regional governments, will also be considered.

Separately, the government will map out a vision for reviving localities over the next half-century. The blueprint for economic and fiscal management the cabinet approved on June 24 sets a target to maintain a population of 100 million 50 years from now.

By highlighting the appeal of rural life and honing the economic competitiveness of these regions, Abe hopes to prevent population exoduses.

Abe will head a regional revitalization task force that will be launched as early as next week. Full discussions will start in August, and a dedicated cabinet position will be created. But he declined to comment on plans for a cabinet reshuffle.

As for the prime minister's initiative to advance women's roles in society, Japan will establish an annual international conference for female leaders. Participants will discuss ways to link women's labor participation with economic growth. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are among the planned participants in the first conference to be held in Tokyo in September. [*]

"This will be a Davos meeting for women," Abe said, referring to the World Economic Forum meeting in the Swiss city for the world's business and political leaders.

"Women have the greatest potential, and allowing them to demonstrate their full abilities is the core of our growth strategy," Abe said.


[*] Of course these bitches and this conference are in no way going to increase Japan's birthrate. On the contrary.

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