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Japan: Tokyo is so crowded that the government is paying families to leave

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Japan is offering to pay families to move out of its overcrowded capital in an effort to revitalize inner cities and boost the slumping birth rate.

Starting in April, families in the Tokyo metropolitan area, including those headed by single parents, will be able to receive 1 million yen (US$7,700) per child if they move to less populated areas of the country, according to a spokesperson. of the central government. government.

The incentives are valid for children under 18, or dependents over 18 who are still in high school.

It’s not the first time the government has tried to use financial incentives to encourage people to leave, but this plan is more generous at three times the amount currently offered.

For decades, people across Japan have migrated to their urban centers in search of job opportunities. Tokyo is the most populous city in the country, with around 37 million inhabitants.

A crowd outside restaurants near Miyashita Park in Tokyo on May 22, 2022.

Before the Covid pandemic, people moving to Tokyo outnumbered people leaving the city by up to 80,000 a year, according to government statistics released in 2021.

But this pattern of migration, combined with Japan’s rapidly aging population, has left rural towns with fewer and fewer residents, as well as millions of vacant homes. More than half of the country’s municipalities, excluding Tokyo’s 23 wards, are expected to be designated as underpopulated areas in 2022, according to a national census.

Meanwhile, in the big cities, space quickly sold out and prices soared. Tokyo is consistently one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, ranking fifth globally in 2022.

That problem, the migration of young people from the countryside to crowded cities, is a key factor in Japan’s biggest demographic crisis, according to experts. The country has long struggled with low birth rates and long life expectancy, and has seen deaths outnumber births in recent years.

Experts point to several factors: the high cost of living, limited space and lack of childcare support in cities make it difficult to raise children, which means fewer couples are having children. Urban couples are also often far from relatives who could help provide support.

For example, Tokyo has the lowest fertility rate of all 47 prefectures in Japan.

Current migration patterns are resulting in deserted hometowns with few children. In the riverside village of Nagoro in southern Japan, there were fewer than 30 residents in 2019, with the youngest resident over 50. The village’s only school closed a few years ago after its last students graduated.

To combat these problems, authorities launched an initiative in 2019 to attract people to regional areas.

Under that plan, individuals who have lived and worked in the greater Tokyo area for at least five years could receive 600,000 yen (US$4,500) if they moved to rural areas. This incentive is higher for couples, at 1 million yen (US$7,700).

Last year, the government allowed single parents or couples with children to receive 300,000 yen (US$2,300) per child if they moved.

Those who relocate could work in that area, set up their own business or continue to work remotely from their jobs in Tokyo, the government spokesman said.

“Tokyo has a very high concentration of people and the government wants to increase the flow of people to regional areas to revitalize areas with declining populations,” he added.

There is some evidence that the program is gaining traction, although the numbers are still low. In the first year of launch, only 71 households participated, compared to 1,184 households in 2021.

Japan’s government has also made other efforts to address the population decline, including introducing policies in recent decades to improve child care services and improve housing facilities for families with children. Some rural towns have even started paying couples living there to have children.