The government has been advocating regional revitalization as one of its main strategic policy goals, but the effectiveness of the strategy remains questionable. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the number of people moving in to the Tokyo metropolitan area, which includes Tokyo and Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, exceeded the number of people moving out last year for three consecutive years. The data reveals that overconcentration of population in urban areas is accelerating. The government aims to balance the number of people moving in to the Tokyo metropolitan area and those moving out by 2020. However, it seems difficult to meet the goal unless the government compiles regional revitalization measures not from the viewpoint of residents in urban areas but based on actual conditions and intentions of local people.
The government has put together a five-year plan to stop rural depopulation, but the number of people moving in to the Tokyo metropolitan area exceeded the number of those moving out by 109,408 in 2014, according to internal affairs ministry statistics on population movements. The ministry explains that along with the economic recovery, people from a wide range of regions are moving in to Tokyo where many companies have their headquarters.
In terms of ages, more than 90 percent of the population overrun is aged between 15 and 29, reflecting the fact that many young people are coming to Tokyo to study or to work. Similar phenomenon is seen in Aichi, Fukuoka and Miyagi prefectures.
Meanwhile, people moving out from 40 prefectures outnumbered those moving in; by 8,942 in Hokkaido, followed by 7,240 in Shizuoka and 7,092 in Hyogo.
Regional revitalization minister Shigeru Ishiba said the government should tackle the issue with a sense of crisis, expressing determination to work seriously on measures included in the strategy, such as facilitating people’s relocation to local areas and creating employment in rural regions.
At the same time, lawmakers are working to extend the duration of two temporary legislations – one to revitalize mountainous villages and the other to facilitate development of rural districts located on peninsulas – which will expire in the end of March. The ongoing discussions regarding the two laws focus on ways to bring new residents into the fast-depopulating areas through promoting agriculture and upgrading living infrastructure.
The laws will be revised to include measures to attract people’s interest in rural areas from various perspectives regardless of generation. Additional steps will be taken under the laws to improve infrastructure necessary for rural regions, such as prevention of natural disasters and wildlife damage to crops as well as effective utilization of abandoned resources.
It is also important to respect the autonomy cultivated in each region. Earlier this month, as many as 140 local governments nationwide together established a network to facilitate efforts by local residents’ autonomous organizations to cope with issues such as disaster prevention and social welfare. The central government should actively support such grassroots activities.
A top-down approach will no longer work in revitalizing rural regions and resolving the population overconcentration in metropolitan areas. If the government doesn’t listen to the voices of local communities and work with them to come up with concrete ideas, Japan will end up becoming a society with a widening economic inequality – similar to the one we experienced when Junichiro Koizumi conducted a drastic, top-down deregulation as a prime minister.
(Feb. 25, 2015)