Japan’s government is considering a new way to get people to consider life outside Tokyo: Pay them to leave.
According to a report by national broadcaster NHK on Nov. 22, the government is mulling giving as much as 3 million yen to people who decide to relocate from the 23 wards of Tokyo and find jobs elsewhere, starting in the next fiscal year.
Tokyo and the greater metropolitan area surrounding the capital, with a total population of some 38 million, have long bucked the trend in Japan when it comes to demographics, even as Japan’s overall population shrinks. That’s often been at the cost of other cities.
Tokyo and the prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama posted significant population growth in 2017. According to NHK, the number of people moving to Tokyo has exceeded the number moving out for 22 years and counting. Nearly one out of every three people in Japan lives in the Tokyo area.
The government added that as more people leave other major cities such as Sendai and Sapporo in the north of Japan for Tokyo, it will encourage people to relocate to those places, for example through tax benefits.
One prefecture that saw a population increase last year is the industrial hub of Aichi in central Japan, which experienced an influx of foreign migrant labor. Every prefecture in Japan except for Nagasaki posted a rise in the number of foreigners last year. Only the Okinawa prefecture experienced a population increase due to the number of births exceeding the number of deaths.
Japan’s government has for decades tried to lure people away from the capital and help rebuild depopulated and dilapidated areas, in a program broadly known as “revitalization of regions”. Some local governments have used tax cuts to encourage companies to leave the Tokyo area, while others will subsidize relocation costs.
One island in the Seto Inland Sea crowdfunded money to repurpose an old house into accommodation for new arrivals, and managed to attract a few newcomers, according to the?Japan Times. The central government has even considered relocating some of Tokyo’s rapidly growing elderly population outside of the capital.
There is, in fact, a growing trend of young Tokyo-dwellers who want to leave behind urban life in the capital to move to smaller, cheaper, and quieter parts of Japan. And some areas are enjoying success in attracting people and businesses to leave Tokyo, such as Fukuoka, a mid-sized city in Kyushu which has seen a large influx of tech workers and start-ups, drawn to the city’s lower costs and proximity to talent and markets in other parts of Asia.
The small ski town of Niseko in Hokkaido is also enjoying a small increase in population, thanks to an explosion of interest overseas in Japan’s ski slopes. But with Japan’s vast government bureaucracy, its top schools, as well as companies all concentrated in Tokyo, escaping the capital looks set to remain a pipe dream for most.