Problems of Emptying Countryside in Northern Japan (miniseries part 2)

30 touko

Continuing from the part 1.

3. Impact on society in Japan
3.1. Social impact on the populace

The most visibly, the flight from the countryside can be seen in oversupply of vacant homes. In 2014, already 8.2 million homes in Japan were empty and the pace is likely to accelerate further (Johnston, 2015). 40% of these were not on sale or rent, and thus can be considered abandoned. The most of these abandoned homes are in the shrinking rural communities. The empty homes decrease the appeal of the neighborhood and contributes to the reduction in the local population. Another clear sign of the trend is the increase in average age of the rural population. In 2006, the country had people with age of 65 and older, less than 1.5 times the amount of children under 14 years of age, but the ratio is prospected to increase to 3.3 by 2050 (Smil, 2007). This effect will be even more prominent in the countryside.


3.2. Economic effects
In addition to, and because of, the aging rural population, the smaller towns and villages face many economical hurdles. Some effects are unemployment, the loss of purchasing power, less local development potential, social and area related fragmentation, loss of tax income and thus the difficulty to upkeep the infrastructure and services (Feldhoff, 2013). The stagnancy and loss of vitality makes it very hard to achieve growth, especially since stable economic prosperity is largely due to innovation and creativity. The loss of population in Japan has made several industries move closer to the customers in the largest cities, or even overseas, causing additional loss of employment (Rausch, 2015).

The flight of young workforce and proportional increase in elderly causes severe strain on the local economies. With the very long life expectancy in Japan, the rural communities will have many people in need of help in day-to-day chores, but only very few taxpayers for covering the care service costs (Smil, 2007). Currently, 80% of the elderly over 100 years of age are considered to be too weak or sick for independent life (Smil, 2007).

The rural shrinkage has an effect on the economic balance on national scale. The agriculture in Japan is still very much based on small scale farming instead of larger company owned and efficiently run systems. The gradual loss of young workers in the field will also diminish the agricultural output of the nation (Feldhoff, 2013).

3.3. Local politics
The movement of especially young people from the countryside to the big cities has caused a critical disruption to the functioning municipal democracy. There are no supply of aspiring new politicians to run in the elections in many communities. Thus the established candidates often have no opponents. In 2015, 43.4% of towns and villages across Japan cancelled their mayoral elections due to the lack of candidates (Yoshida, 2015).

4. Possible reasons for the trend
4.1. Change in macroeconomics

Economic growth tends to entice movement of young people to the urban areas, where manufacturing and white collar jobs are located. The rural industries, like agriculture and fishing, are not as dependent on the general economic development. The high migration to metropolitan area has closely followed the economic growth that produces job opportunities (Kato, 2014). On the other hand, there is some evidence that the rural local towns may be less encouraged by their leaders to tackle the problem, because being labeled as ‘depopulated region’ allows them to get monetary support from the central government (Murakami et al., 2009).

Correlation between migration to Tokyo and employment (Kato, 2014)

4.2. Job market
The local economy and job market also has a great impact on the population retention power. The official unemployment statistics indicate that many rural communities have less unemployment than big cities (Abe and Souichi, 2001). For example, Osaka is ranked 3rd from the top in unemployment. Nevertheless, the job situation may not be as positive in the countryside as the statistics may show. If a person in the countryside can’t find work, often the logical course of action is to move into a city in search for work, thus reducing the unemployment rate in the municipality of origin. On the other hand, urban dweller rarely moves to the countryside for job hunting, which inflates the unemployment situation in cities. The unemployment in rural areas is often structural instead of temporary. The industry may have become obsolete, like in mining towns of yesteryears, or the relative productivity has declined, like in general small scale agriculture.

In regards to the declining fertility, the job culture also affects the willingness of women to have babies. Recent appearance of “maternity harassment” may cause women to abandon plans for having children and raising a larger family. 48.7% of female workers in temp agencies and 21.8% of females under full-time contracts reported harassment due to bearing children (McCurry, 2015).

4.3. Society and inflation of lifestyle needs

The youth culture also drives the migration of young people to the cities. In today’s world, the internet and mass media permeates even in the deepest rural communities and with it the latest trends and influences are for all to see. For the teenagers and young adults, there are no possibilities to indulge in this culture while living in the countryside, but moving to the city is a viable possibility. The city life enables convenient transportation, modern karaoke establishments, concert venues, gaming arcades and overall more stimulating and lively environment. These often are too much for the easily influenced young minds to resist.

4.4. Politics
Even though the problems of emptying countryside have been known for a long time, there has been little incentive from the political elite to change the situation. Japan has mostly been ruled by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since the end of the world war. The LDP, which actually is a conservative party regardless of the word “liberal” in the name, has used the rural revitalization as an election trick to gather votes (Rausch, 2015). In the Japanese election system, the low population municipalities have proportionally more voting power than the urban centers making the rural and often elderly voting population an important target. Politically, it has been very beneficial to promise easy money and support to the countryside, instead of actual long term solutions that will not benefit the current elderly inhabitants.

4.5. Services
Several towns in the countryside lack the services needed by the young families. Generally, Japan has low social expenditure targeted for young families. In 2009 according to OECD data, only 0.96% of the GDP in Japan was used for supporting young families, whereas 3.81% and 3.76% in the UK and Sweden, respectively (Kato, 2014).

The job market in Japan still emphasizes education and diplomas from famous universities regardless of the actual level of the curriculum and the knowledge of the pupils. High school is not enough for getting the higher paying and more secure positions in large Japanese corporations, so the young people often have to continue onwards to the universities. The most prestigious universities are located in the major cities and even lower tier local universities are in prefectural capitals, which means moving from the countryside to a city. This causes a significant dip in the amount of 18-24 year olds in rural towns (Kato, 2014). Very few of these young people, if any, move back to their home towns after the university. Thus consequently, the number of young families of child bearing age decline.

To the part 3.

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3 vastausta to “Problems of Emptying Countryside in Northern Japan (miniseries part 2)”

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  1. Problems of Emptying Countryside in Northern Japan (miniseries part 1) | Tatu @ nihon - 30.05.2017

    […] article was written for an university project and I will also publish it in parts in the blog (part 2). The references will be listed in the last part of the […]

  2. Problems of Emptying Countryside in Northern Japan (miniseries part 3) | Tatu @ nihon - 03.06.2017

    […] from the part 2. 5. Solutions Something has to be done, if the rural communities in Japan on the verge of […]

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