Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Tokyo's relative ascent in a shrinking Japan

Tuesday night is usually anime night for me and my friends, an evening when we watch some of the high-quality animated series that have made it out of Japan into North American audiences. A trope I've noticed appear frequently in anime is that of the vast city, of immense urban sprawl that dominates life. Taking a look at the statistics, Japan certainly is a highly urbanized society, not only in the simple terms of Japan being a country where more than 90% of the population lives in cities but in the reality that the Greater Tokyo Area--the conurbation dominated by Tokyo but including all seven prefectures of the Kantō region and Yamanashi Prefecture to the west--is still by many measurements the largest conurbation in the world.

Recently, Wendell Cox at his New Geography site has been producing interesting posts about, among other things, the future of Tokyo.. In September, Cox linked to a prediction of significant aging and population shrinkage in Tokyo over the 21st century.

2100 will see Tokyo's population standing at around 7.13 million — about half of what it is today — with 45.9 percent of those in the metropolis aged 65 or over, a group of academics and bureaucrats has concluded.

Tokyo's population, which stood at 13.16 million in 2010, will peak at 13.35 million in 2020 before dropping by 45.8 percent from the 2010 census figure 88 years from now, the group, including seven academics and 10 metro government and municipal bureaucrats, said Sunday.

This means the 2100 population will be resemble that of 1940's Japan, before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"The number of people in their most productive years will decline, while local governments will face severe financial strains," the group said in a statement. "So it will be crucial to take measures to turn around the falling birthrate and enhance social security measures for the elderly."

The number of Tokyoites 65 or over, estimated at 2.68 million in 2010, will peak at 4.41 million in 2050 before falling to 3.27 million in 2100, while their presence in the overall population will rise to 37.6 percent in 2050 and 45.9 percent in 2100 compared with 20.4 percent in 2010.

Those aged in their productive years between 15 and 64 will represent 46.5 percent of the population in 2100, the group said.

The projections assume that people moving to Tokyo continue to outnumber those moving out and that the fertility rate — the average number of children a woman gives birth to over her lifetime — will remain unchanged at its 2010 level of 1.12 among Tokyo women, the lowest in the nation.

This prediction, long-range though it might be, doesn't strike me as entirely unlikely, on account of the longevity of the Japanese population, sustained low fertility rates, and low rates of immigration. (Comparing Tokyo with Seoul is salutary.) Tokyo was plausibly selected by the Still City interdisciplinary study group as the paradigmatic post-growth city, stagnant demographically, economically, and politically.

That said, as noted by Cox in June in his survey of Tokyo's demographics, Tokyo's demographics are actually substantially healthier than those of the remainder of Japan on account of Tokyo's attractiveness to migrants from elsewhere in Japan, to the point that Tokyo's relative demographic weight is only going to grow.

Japan has been centralizing for decades, principally as rural citizens have moved to the largest metropolitan areas. Since 1950, Tokyo has routinely attracted much more than its proportionate share of population growth. In the last two census periods, all Japan’s growth has been in the Tokyo metropolitan area as national population growth has stagnated. Between 2000 and 2005, the Tokyo region added 1.1 million new residents, while the rest of the nation lost 200,000 residents. The imbalance became even starker between 2005 and 2010, as Tokyo added 1.1 million new residents, while the rest of the nation lost 900,000.

Eventually, Japan’s imploding population will finally impact Tokyo. Population projections indicate that between 2010 and 2035, Tokyo will start losing population. But Tokyo's loss, at 2.1 million, would be a small fraction of the 16.5 million loss projected for the rest of the nation (Figure 5). If that occurs, Tokyo will account for 30 percent of Japan's population, compared to 16 percent in 1950. With Japan's rock-bottom fertility rate, a declining Tokyo will dominate an even larger share of the country’s declining population and economy in the coming decades.

In the post "Japan’s 2010 Census: Moving to Tokyo", Cox noted that the Greater Tokyo Area's growth is exceptional, that even the Keihanshin conurbation anchored by Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto is declining. The decline of the only urban area comparable in size to the Greater Tokyo Area leaves the country's urban hierarchy all the more focused on the national capital.

The fortunes of the prefectures in Japan's two largest urban areas could hardly be more different. The four prefectures of the Tokyo – Yokohama area had added approximately 3,000,000 people in each five-year period until 1975. Since that time, growth has been slower, but the area has added 1 million or more people each five years from 1975 to 2010. On the other hand, the Osaka – Kobe – Kyoto area (Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Nara prefectures), which also experienced strong growth after World War II, adding between one and two million people in each five year period until 1975, has seen its growth come to a virtual standstill. Over the past five years, Osaka – Kobe – Kyoto added only 12,000 people. As a result, Osaka – Kobe – Kyoto is easily the slowest growing mega-city in the world, by far. Osaka – Kobe – Kyoto seems destined to fall substantially in world urban area rankings in the years to come. Tokyo – Yokohama, however, remains at least 14 million larger than any other urban area in the world, a margin that seems likely to be secure for decades to come.

[. . .] These numbers suggest there is ample reason to worry about the concentration of population and power in the Tokyo – Yokohama area, which now contains nearly 30 percent of the nation's population. None of the world's largest nations, outside of Korea (which ranks 25th in population), are so concentrated in one urban area. Among other nations with more than 100 million the greatest concentration is in Mexico, where Mexico City accounts for less than 20 percent of the population. The largest urban areas in Brazil (Sao Paulo) and Russia (Moscow) have little more than 10 percent of the population. The largest urban area in the United States, New York, accounts for less than seven percent of the population, while in China (Shanghai) and India (Delhi), the largest urban areas house less than two percent of the population. Paris, the beneficiary of centuries of centralization, has less than 20 percent of the population.

(This sort of super-centralization isn't unique--as I noted in November 2010, half the population of South Korea lives in greater Seoul.)

What might this mean for Japan? I'd question whether there's any particular sense in Japan trying to reverse the centralization of its population in Tokyo, actually. Where will it get the funds necessary to subsidize outlying areas, like the Tohoku I surveyed back in March 2011, which has been experiencing first relative then absolute decline for generations? Seeking Alpha's observation that Japan's new trade deficit and shrinking savings leaves the country short on cash is quite valid. Can Japan afford to prop up its peripheries if the people living in these peripheries no longer want to live there?