Japan is offering to pay families to move out of its overcrowded capital in a bid to revitalize rural towns and boost its low birth rate.
Starting in April, families in metropolitan Tokyo, including those headed by single parents, will receive 1 million yen ($7,700) per child if they move to less populated areas within the country, according to a spokesman for the center. government.
Incentives apply to children under 18 or dependents over 18 if they are still in high school.
It’s not the first time the government has used financial incentives to encourage people to leave, but the plan is three times more generous than the amount currently on offer.
For decades, people all over Japan have moved to its urban centers in search of job opportunities. Tokyo is the country’s most populous city with about 37 million inhabitants.
According to government statistics released in 2021, before the Covid pandemic, the number of people moving to Tokyo outnumbered those leaving the city by up to 80,000 each year.
But this migration pattern, combined with Japan’s rapidly aging population, has left increasingly sparsely populated rural towns, as well as millions of empty men. According to the national census, more than half of the country’s municipalities are expected to be designated as sparsely populated areas in 2022, with the exception of Tokyo’s 23 wards.
Meanwhile, in the big cities, space quickly ran out and prices soared. Tokyo is consistently one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. In 2022, it is in fifth place in the world.
Experts say this problem, the migration of young people from rural areas to crowded cities, is a major factor in Japan’s larger demographic crisis. 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 in cities, limited space and lack of childcare make raising children difficult, meaning fewer couples are having children. Urban couples are also often far from extended family who can help provide support.
For example, Tokyo has the lowest birth rate among all 47 prefectures in Japan.
Current migration patterns result in empty hometowns with few children. In the village of Chaykenari Nagoro in southern JapanIn 2019, there were less than 30 residents, the youngest resident was over 50 years old. The village’s only school closed a few years ago after its last students graduated.
To combat these problems, the authorities launched an initiative in 2019 to attract people to the regions.
Under the plan, people who have lived and worked in metropolitan Tokyo for at least five years can receive 600,000 yen ($4,500) if they move to rural areas. The incentive is higher for couples, at 1 million yen ($7,700).
Last year, the government allowed single parents or couples with children to receive 300,000 yen ($2,300) per child if they moved.
The evacuees can work in the area, set up their own businesses or continue to work remotely at workplaces in Tokyo, a 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 said.
Although the numbers are still small, there is some evidence of the program’s appeal. In the first year of the initiative, only 71 families participated, compared to 1,184 in 2021.
The Japanese government has made other efforts to address population decline, including implementing policies over the past few decades to increase childcare services and improve housing conditions for families with children. This is how some rural towns began pays the couples who live there to have children.
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