Monday, October 3, 2011

Japanese Ghost Towns

OBy now I am sure, regular visitors here are aware that have a fondness for the
ghost town meme."  We have already discussed the increasing impoverishment and problems of rural United States and Canada (and even Argentina).  Its primary advantage is that it brings in a visual clarity to what otherwise would be a statistical talking point.  For the visuals in this case, go to the Spike Japan link in the third paragraph.


Kiyosato is not quite a ghost town, but it is getting there.  It lost its independence in 2005 and was absorbed into a number of other towns for organizational purposes.  Located at the southern foot of Mount Yatsu-ga-take, its primary purpose appears to have been as a resort town.  When you have the slow collapsing feeling that is modern Japan, people don’t go on as many holidays.  Its peak season was 1988: vistor count dropped dramatically for  a decade (60%) and then more slowly since.

I am only going to do a very quick blurb on the actual town, because Spike Japan has done a little tour of it:  Spike Japan Tour of Kiyosato.  The comments give additional background on the entertainment related Japanese bubble collapse.  The desolate towns once had "crowds so thick it was difficult to walk."

It may come as a shock to almost all of you living outside of Japan, and to some of you living in the center of its big cities, that as we approach the summer of 2009, swathes of the country are in ruins. It came as a shock to me, too, I have to confess, having lived for almost all of the last decade in the bubble of central Tokyo and only venturing outside occasionally to get to the airport, nearby beaches, and old friends in the mountains.
Of course it is not just tourist towns that are being abandoned.  The rural countryside is also depopulating.

With the corresponding urbanization

Presumably the tapering off of the urban density growth is due to the decreasing overall Japanese population.  In a statistical sense some of the Japanese are not  so much leaving the countryside as dying in the countryside.  To the extent that retired older people are left behind in the rural areas while the young go to the cities to find work, the proportional losses in the countryside accelerate.

Which brings us to a different Japanese rural town that was in the news a few years back.
Tony McNicol, Japan Times, 17 January 2004
Matsunoyama town has almost everything its residents could want: spellbinding scenery, gorgeous terraced rice paddies cloaking the hillsides, splendid new roads and magnificent public facilities.
Over the last four decades the small town in Niigata prefecture has seen its population plummet from over 10,000 to around 3,000 today. It's an old story in rural villages and towns over Japan; the pied-piper call of the big city luring away the community's young people, leaving behind an ever more aged population. Of the town's residents now, more than 40 percent are of retirement age.
And the exodus continues. The oldest residents pass away and the youngest pack their bags for the city; 3,400 left in 1995, five years later another 300 had disappeared.
"Just about all the young people in Matsunoyama are going either to Tokyo or to Osaka. The rice fields are neglected; eventually they just slip down the hillsides into the villages."
A recent book by Peter Matanle and Anthony Rausch, Japan's Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century: Contemporary Responses to Depopulation and Socioeconomic Decline(Cambria Press 2011) , has summed up this trend:
Japan's rural areas have been shrinking for decades. Entire villages have vanished; some have even been "sold." Thousands of municipalities have been judged "non-viable" and merged. Thousands more private and public enterprises have collapsed, leaving colossal debts, while hundreds of thousands of older people live miserable lives in neighbourless communities. Rural shrinkage has been the unseen corollary of Japan's extraordinarily dynamic twentieth century urban expansion; indeed, Japan's postwar economic miracle has been achieved at the expense of rural retreat.
For a more eclectic mix of Japanese ghost towns, this post has some interesting sites as well.


dennis said...

Looking at video of the tidal wave I was struck by how small the fields where. About the size of a city lot. The average size farm in Japan is only 4.7 acres. Downright unAmerican of them!

russell1200 said...

I have read (WSJ, Economist, etc) complaints in the past about the Japanese protecting their small farmers (and shopkeepers, etc.).

Because the Japanese have such limited land, one suspects they are trying to maximize output regardless of the efficiency: for both reasons of food security and employment.