Spike: The weekend wrap

[Welcome to a new, occasional Spike feature, inspired by links kindly sent by readers that weren’t getting a sufficient airing, as well as by the miscellany of articles, graphs, book excerpts, and academic papers that I run across that don’t fit neatly into the mosaic of a regular Spike piece. I’ll try and keep the writing breezy and newsy, so as to be able to complete it over a glass of wine—or just conceivably two—on a weekend evening.]

Everyone, including me, seems to be an amateur demographer these days. It behooves us amateurs to occasionally listen to the professionals, and one such is Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the formidably right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI). There are two sides to Dr. Eberstadt: the first is the uncontentious descriptive demographer with a powerful turn of phrase. He casts an unsparing eye over Japanese demography in his most recent piece, Japan Shrinks, in the spring 2012 edition of The Wilson Quarterly (link here, reading time approximately 15 minutes). Much of what he says is familiar enough territory to regular readers of Spike, but it’s always refreshing to have the demographic picture painted so forcefully and accurately. It’s also good to be reminded that Japan, of course, is not alone in being at the apex of a momentous demographic transition and that Germany, indeed, arrived there earlier: interestingly, the German expression for the phenomenon, schrumpfende Gesellschaft, or shrinking society, has a close parallel in Japanese, chijimu Nihon, or shrinking Japan, the title of a recent series of NHK programs on the implications of population aging and decline, although the phase is not yet in very common currency, perhaps because of widespread denial and perhaps because, unless you live on the furthest flung fringes, the shrinkage is not yet obvious. Dr. Eberstadt also throws out the odd intriguing comment that calls for further research, such as the observation that there is a “near perfect correlation between the demise of arranged marriage in Japan and the decline in postwar Japanese fertility”.

Japan’s demographic issues pale in comparison with those of Russia, and for a better understanding of those, I highly recommend Dr. Eberstadt’s 2011 article in Foreign Affairs, The Dying Bear: Russia’s Demographic Disaster (link here, approximately 30 minutes). Here’s a taster:

By various measures, Russia’s demographic indicators resemble those in many of the world’s poorest and least developed societies. In 2009, overall life expectancy at age 15 was estimated to be lower in Russia than in Bangladesh, East Timor, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger, and Yemen; even worse, Russia’s adult male life expectancy was estimated to be lower than Sudan’s, Rwanda’s, and even AIDS-ravaged Botswana’s. … The country’s fateful leap backward in health and survival prospects is due to an explosion in deaths from cardiovascular disease and what epidemiologists call “external causes,” such as poisoning, injury, suicide, homicide, traffic fatalities, and other violent accidents. Deaths from cardiovascular disease and injuries account for the overwhelming majority of Russia’s spike in mortality levels and for nearly the entire gap separating Russia’s mortality levels from those of Western countries. At the moment, death rates from cardiovascular disease are more than three times as high in Russia as in Western Europe, and Russian death rates from injury and violence have been stratospheric, on par with those in African post-conflict societies such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Is there an elite on earth more cravenly corrupt and more openly contemptuous of its subjects than the Russian oligarchy?

The other side of Dr. Eberstadt is the prescriptive, rather than the descriptive, demographer, the opponent of Al Gore and other neo-Malthusian proponents of population stabilization—whom he damns as the “old anti-natalist crowd”—the self-appointed flayer of supposed shibboleths about the determinants of fertility rates and other population nostrums such as “overcrowding”, on display best in his 2002 AEI essay Population Sense and Nonsense (link here, approximately 20 minutes). I happen not to share his sunny demographic optimism, but it’s always constructive to read the well-rehearsed views of an adversary, even when you can drive a coach-and-horses through their lacunae, and also to be reminded of the root cause of the 20th century global population explosion: it was “not because people suddenly started breeding like rabbits—rather, it was because they finally stopped dying like flies.”

Remaining on demographic turf, my chart of the week is below (click on it for a clearer resolution). It shows nothing more—or less—than the Japanese total fertility rate by prefecture at selected intervals from 1925 to 2010. For what is merely a collection of 765 numbers ranging from 6.47 (Aomori, 1925) to exactly 1.00 (Tokyo, 2005) in a grid, this chart provides the flab-bellied armchair demographer with a feast of fascination and speculation.

Start at the very bottom row, which is the nationwide figure, and note that the fertility rate has been rising off the 2005 low. Memo to self: remember to haul out the BS detector every time I hear someone talking about Japan’s “falling birthrate and aging society”—they are either ignorant, lazy, or deliberately trying to mislead.

Moving up a row: Okinawa. Why is it such a perennial fertility outsider, going from having the second lowest fertility rate in 1925 to the highest fertility rate for every single survey year from 1970 to 2010? Is this somehow a legacy of the 1945-1972 US occupation?

Moving up to the top seven rows, which show Hokkaido and the six prefectures of Tohoku, why is the 2010 fertility rate so generally low, with Hokkaido, Miyagi, and Akita being three of only four rural prefectures with rates below 1.30 (the other is Nara), why has their bounce off the 2005 low been so weak (indeed, it hasn’t occurred at all in Akita and Yamagata, where the fertility rates have continued to decline, the only prefectures aside from Yamanashi for which this is true), and what are the implications for post-earthquake recovery?

And finally, note that the prefectures with the highest fertility rates (over 1.6) are all in Kyushu (Miyazaki, Kumamoto, and Kagoshima), and that of the 13 prefectures with fertility rates over 1.5, all but two (Fukui and Fukushima—all those once stable nuclear power industry jobs?)—are in the west of Japan, which all things being equal, would suggest a barely perceptible but relentless shift in the population center south and west, as is occurring in the US.

Finally on the demographic theme, another chart, this one home-made. It occurred to me, rootling through the data last week, that the population tipping-point was creeping ever closer to the capital, so I ran for myself the numbers on the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, the shutoken, for which I used the 2005 and 2010 census data and the April 2012 population estimates (suikei jinko) that are compiled, I believe, by each and every municipality, based on the census and simply adding or subtracting births, deaths, in-migrants, and out-migrants (demography, although important, is not by any means rocket science…) As for accuracy, we can be sure that next to all births are registered and that all deaths—apart from the odd mummified centenarian whose avaricious relatives want to continue claiming the welfare benefits of the deceased—are registered. Some inaccuracy may result from underreporting of changes of domicile, however, so a measure of caution is warranted. Nevertheless, the results speak of a momentous change afoot.

October   2005 October   2010 April   2012  %   chg
Yamanashi 884,515 862,772 852,855 -1.15%
Gunma 2,024,135 2,008,170 1,994,309 -0.70%
Tochigi 2,016,631 2,007,014 1,993,283 -0.69%
Ibaraki 2,975,167 2,968,865 2,945,505 -0.79%
Saitama 7,054,243 7,194,957 7,204,353 +0.01%
Chiba 6,056,462 6,217,119 6,195,643 -0.34%
Kanagawa 8,791,597 9,049,500 9,052,730 +0.00%
Tokyo 12,576,601 13,161,751 13,182,509 +0.01%
TOTAL 42,379,351 43,470,148 43,421,187 -0.01%

The real surprises here are Kanagawa (Yokohama and its hinterland) and Tokyo itself, whose populations were not projected to peak until 2015 and 2020, respectively, and it may be that we are still a few years away from the Great Stall. It may equally well be, though, that the last six months or so has seen a definitive end to the thousand years of expansion in which an anonymous fishing village was plucked from obscurity to become the largest city in the world by the early 18th century and again, after World War II, the largest megalopolis and the most intense concentration of wealth the world has ever seen, with an economy twice the size that of the nearest challenger, New York, an economy that would, were it independent, give it a GDP about the size of Russia.

I learned a neat little demographic trick this week: how to use the Rule of Seventy (the natural log of two is 0.693) to calculate a population’s halving (or doubling) time. For Yamanashi, the most rural and most demographically challenged prefecture in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, for instance, the maths looks like this: 69.3 ÷ ([-1.15% ÷ 18] x 12) = 90.4 years. For Akita, the prefecture where population decline set in first (1980), has been greatest (-15.1% from peak to date), and is steepest, the time to halve is currently 58.6 years. (Note that in the case of a population with rising net mortality, time to halve in years is not static, but contracts as the decline accelerates).

Well, that was rather dry, wasn’t it? Time for lashings of humor and violence. Here’s an assortment of titles of self-help books inspired by the Japanese mob: Yakuza Techniques for Overcoming Business Hurdles through Successful Speaking and Listening (2006), Modern Yakuza Tips for Making Cash (2008), Choosing your Man: Yakuza Tips for Telling a Winner from a Loser (2008), Management Skills of the Yamaguchi-gumi (2005), and my personal favorite, Yakuza Techniques for Dealing with Complaints (2010). Initially, I had a hard time believing these books really exist, but a moment at amazon.co.jp was enough to convince—and there are dozens of other self-help books out there with similar titles. Which goes to underscore what has been long known—that there are too many books being published, and too many self-help books in particular.

These come from a nothing short of brilliant survey of the current state of the Japanese mob by Andrew Rankin, a PhD student (but with a 20-year stint in Japan behind him) at my alma mater, Cambridge University, whom I recently contacted having been misled by the Internet rumor-mill into believing he was writing a new biography of Yukio Mishima. He’s not, but the translation of a Mishima biography penned by Tokyo Deputy Governor Naoki Inose is due out in November.

The two-part yakuza survey is here and here but needs a solid hour of concentrated attention. If you don’t have the time to spare, here’s the summary: less money, less power, less violence, more ingenuity, staying parochial, getting older, going deeper underground, fewer tattoos, and lots fewer missing pinkies. Like Mr. Rankin, I can’t help but feel the yakuza crackdown of the last decade or so is potentially counterproductive: would you rather have organized crime—and the Japanese mob has historically been supremely organized—or disorganized crime? I’d go one wholly speculative step further, too, and say that the crackdown is but one more manifestation of an incipiently totalitarian state that brooks no serious opposition to its crushingly rigid and drearily passé petit-bourgeois ideology.

Causing a bit of a media brouhaha in recent days has been a report, Global Japan: 2050 Simulations and Strategies, by the 21st Century Public Policy Institute, a public policy think-tank (dread words!) affiliated with Keidanren, which for those not in the know is a pro-business lobbying organization akin to the Confederation of British Industry in the UK or the Chamber of Commerce in the US. The link is here (approximately 10 minutes). The eccentric English (“if perchance financial collapse does occur”) suggests that, for all of the hot air about internationalization and globalization, no native speaker had a hand in its production. The two key takeaways are that the debt-to-nominal GDP ratio sails blithely past 300% in the early 2030s and on up to around 600% by 2050, even if the consumption tax is doubled to 10% by fiscal 2015, and that under all four scenarios, even the rosiest, GDP turns negative by the decade from 2031 to 2040. That rosiest scenario sees women’s labor force participation rate rise to rank on par with that of Sweden, and indeed, the very first (nebulous) policy recommendation is: “Promote labor participation of women and the elderly, and strengthen the workforce from young to senior workers.”

Keidanren may be practicing what it preaches about labor force participation by the elderly—shaggily-eyebrowed Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura is a sprightly 74—but as for labor force participation by women—at least in roles less menial than pourers of tea and makers of photocopies—not so much. Of the 18 chairs and vice-chairs, how many are women? Ah yes, none. Of the 17 chairs and vice-chairs of the Board of Councillors? None again. Among the 108—108!—chairs of policy committees, we might hope to find at least a token woman, right? Wrong. As a wag once quipped of Japanese corporate boards, the higher echelons of Keidanren make a Brigham Young University graduation photo look like a Benetton ad…

That alone is enough, I think, to cast doubt on the rosiest scenario and reason to expect a post-growth society to set in, to the delight of the degrowther advocates of décroissance, sooner rather than later, perhaps as soon as the coming decade. As is the overall quality of the report, with the strident alarmism—Japan is going to lose developed country status, Japan is going back to the Third World!—of the first slide undermined by the last slide, which has Japan sandwiched between the UK and Germany in 2050 per capita GDP. Presumably the alarmism is designed to foster public backing for the Keidanren agenda, but it’s hard to see what it contributes to the public debate, save to expose the think-tank’s vacuity. Still, as a friend forever likes to remind me when I point out the pointlessness of much developed-nation economic activity, we all have to put food on the wolf and keep the table from the door.

To return to demography (not that we ever really left it), here’s a demographic quiz. There’s a free lifetime subscription to Spike for the closest answer! (Oh, wait…) At the 2010 census, there were 253 cities across the nation with populations under 50,000. They form the backbone of rural Japan, ranging in size from Masuda in Shimane, at 49,925, to poor old Utashinai on the Sorachi coalfields, at 4,390, less than half the size of the next smallest city, and from Wakkanai, at the northernmost tip of Hokkaido, where the population has fallen by about a third from its 1975 peak, to Ishigaki, south of Taipei, where the population rose by about a third from 1970 to 2010 (trite moral of the story—people prefer living in subtropical paradises to wind-blasted and snow-swept fishing towns). Here’s the question: since the 2010 census, how many of the 253 have experienced population growth? (And no, the answer’s not none).

Finally, the photos of the week. One of the consequences of stopping shopping, as I did many moons ago, is that you eventually run out of clothes, which is inconvenient, as nudism as a hobby can only be practiced in the summer months, and also of footwear, so lately I have been down to three pairs: work shoes purchased around 2004, hiking boots purchased around 2002, and these Indonesian-made Nike trainers, purchased around 2000.

Tiring of gluing and regluing the soles to the uppers, I surrendered last weekend and splashed out on some new ones. Allow me to do something endearingly characteristic to animist societies such as this one, and address these inanimate objects directly with a funeral oration before consigning them to the incinerator of history.

So, dear shoes, I bid you a big old otsukaresama—you must be tired—and thank you so very much for carrying me to every single place that Spike has visited, to the northernmost, easternmost, southernmost, and westernmost tips of mainland Japan, to Brunei and to Bali and—many times—to Britain, for the untold millions of footsteps we have trodden together, for protecting my feet from snow and slush, from torrents and rivers of rain, and from mud and rubble, to name just a few of the host of threats to which an unshod foot is prey. You’ve had a hard life in my hands, I know, but I’d like to think it was a long and fruitful one. Goodbye, my faithful friends, goodbye.

Next time, there’ll be no demography, I promise. Until then…

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41 responses to “Spike: The weekend wrap

  1. Management tips really can come from anywhere. Japan is a bit like India in this regard. Ikeda Nobuo recently recommended a book that explains the management failures of the Japanese Army 1937-1945, so you can decide for yourself if your business is like an out of control imperialist junta.

    • Amusing. Although I’d like to believe that if my business was behaving, say, like the Kwantung Army, I really wouldn’t need a self-help business book to tell me that it was out of control…

  2. And there was I thinking that Yakuza complaint resolution methods were mainly of the kind available at good hardware stores. M. Avery, is the book in question 失敗の本質? Also, is Ikeda Nobuo contractually obliged to brag when his book review drives a title up the Amazon rankings?

  3. Excellent writing, as always, Spike. As for the take-home challenge, I’ll posit 15, namely:

    滋賀県 野洲市 *
    兵庫県 小野市
    石川県 能美市 *
    福岡県 筑後市 *
    北海道 北斗市 *
    山形県 東根市 *
    三重県 いなべ市
    茨城県 つくばみらい市 *
    愛知県 高浜市 *
    愛知県 弥富市 *
    北海道 滝川市
    兵庫県 加東市 *
    沖縄県 南城市
    北海道 伊達市
    奈良県 葛城市

    Those cities at all-time highs are denoted with an asterisk (although I have to admit that I didn’t account for the impact, if any, of intervening city consolidations).

    • Truly enterprising stuff! Didn’t think anyone would take more than the wildest stab in the dark, let alone provide a list! Guess you know the secret—日本の市の人口順位 at Wikipedia. Let’s have a look, one-by-one.
      滋賀県 野洲市 *
      Yasu, Shiga. Yes, agreed.
      兵庫県 小野市
      Ono, Hyogo. I should have added that I consider anywhere with less than 0.25% growth to be flatlining, so Ono, at +0.06%, gets disqualified…
      石川県 能美市 *
      Nomi, Ishikawa. Agreed.
      福岡県 筑後市 *
      Chikugo, Fukushima, flatlining at +0.04%.
      北海道 北斗市 *
      Hokuto, Hokkaido. Hokkaido data are sadly unreliable, as they’re collated differently to the rest of the country. (See below)
      山形県 東根市 *
      Higashine, Yamagata. Agreed.
      三重県 いなべ市
      Inabe, Mie. Flatlining.
      茨城県 つくばみらい市 *
      Tsukuba Mirai, Ibaraki. Agreed.
      愛知県 高浜市 *
      Takahama, Aichi. Agreed.
      愛知県 弥富市 *
      Yatomi, Aichi. Flatlining.
      北海道 滝川市
      Takikawa, Hokkaido. This is where the Hokkaido data issue comes into relief. Is it really plausible that a city whose population was falling by more than 1% a year from 2005-2010 should suddenly go into reverse? No.
      兵庫県 加東市 *
      Kato, Hyogo. Flatlining.
      沖縄県 南城市
      Nanjo, Okinawa. Flatlining.
      北海道 伊達市
      Date, Hokkaido. More or less the same applies to Date as to Takikawa above.
      奈良県 葛城市
      Katsuragi, Nara. Agreed.
      Anyway, whether the answer’s 15 or (by my more stringent criteria) six, it is a pitifully small percentage of the 253 cities. By 2015, I’d guess we’ll be down to three—Takahama, which serves as a kind of overspill town for Kariya, home to some multinational auto industry behemoths such as Toyota Industries, Aisin Seiki, and Denso, to the north; Higashine, which seems to be a bridge between Sendai and Yamagata (and is one of only four—count them, four—cities in Tohoku with a growing population); and science city Tsukuba Mirai. The question is, does anyone with any power have a plan to save these cities and—by extension—rural Japan? I think the answer is in part to be found in the Keidanren report, recommendation (4):
      Promote TPP and turn Asian growth into domestic demand; increase quality of agricultural products and turn them into export goods.
      So the provisional answer is no.

      • My in-laws live in Higashine and I’m not surprised to hear its growing. There’s a property shortage in the area at the moment because a lot of people affected by the earthquake have moved there. It’s also receiving a lot of investment, in the six years I’ve been visiting, the town has completely changed. There are a few factories and office buildings there, as well as a military base, but you are pretty much on the mark: It’s a commuter town for people working in the nearby cities. At weekends, most go shopping to the huge supermarkets and department stores that seem to pop up on an almost monthly basis. Beyond that, it’s also the cherry-growing capital of Japan, which led to one new elementary school getting into a bit of a mess a couple of years ago. http://blog.livedoor.jp/dqnplus/archives/1540962.html

        There are plans in the area to sustain growth. And tons of kids (hence the new school). A technical school there does a lot of work on renewables, and the prefecture is one of only two in Japan that are self-sufficient. It’s local youth chamber of commerce is also very active in encouraging trade with companies in the vicinity, and volunteers from the organization were on their way to Rikuzen Takada on March 12 last year to help. You might be right that the town (like most others) has little chance, but the locals will certainly go down fighting.

      • Oh, I wouldn’t want to knock Higashine’s chances too much. Love the story about the Cherry Shogakko… Are you sure there are department stores springing up, though? I would hate to guess when a genuine department store was last built in Japan, but I don’t think it was this century. What are the “plans in the area to sustain growth”, BTW? And when you say “the prefecture is one of only two in Japan that are self-sufficient”, what is Yamagata self-sufficient in (everything?) and do you have any links or data for that?

  4. I’ve been reading your articles for a little over a year and it’s a shame I don’t get the time to read all of them. The reason I started following your blog is because I had plans for studying in Japan and committed myself to proper preparation. My plans never came to light, but I was (still am) intrigued by all your articles. I live in Namibia, a place most of everybody has never heard of. Our country is in its infancy, barely 20 years independent of colonialism, overwrought with racism and a terrible political infrastructure but I’m optimistic about the future. I have a passion for writing. How do I do what you do for the place I love? Any advise would be appreciated.

  5. Those aren’t the $500 pair of shoes that were honorably mentioned in the railway’s requiem, are they? Wealth must be relative to what we treasure most. Looks like they served you well, to the very last mile.

    Regards.

    • Thank you for asking… I should have mentioned that I got through two pairs of utterly beautiful but supremely fragile $500 Tods loafers (2006 and 2009)–the 2009 pair featured in Requiem for a Railway–before reverting to the more humdrum but well-designed $250 2004 dark Burgundy domestic pair, from a Daikanyama boutique whose name I really should recall but don’t. Right now, they’re with the cobbler for a couple of weeks of TLC. Love shoes so much…

  6. Very interesting to think about why the populations of at least two countries seems to be shifting to the southwest, but even more interesting to think about is how Shimane Prefecture has also shifted to the southwest and joined Kyushu! The good people there, apparently unconcerned about overpopulation theories, or about messing with fourth graders` Japanese geography quiz scores, seem to be doing their part to raise the birthrate above 1.6 as well. I`m originally from the southwestern United States, and naturally may have gravitated to Kyushu myself. Warmer weather? Warmer culture? Drinking cultures being similar in that worms in tequila vaguely resemble habu snakes in kurochu (brown sugar shochu)? Further research is enticing. As for why the birthrate is higher, I like to imagine.

    • Go Shimane! The prefecture, I recall reading somewhere, that fewest Japanese people can correctly identify on a map. Warmer weather, certainly, in the south-west, warmer culture? Well, I couldn’t guarantee that. Drinking culture similar perhaps in that shochu takes over from sake, and the hangovers from purer alcohols are so much milder. Sadly for old Shimane, noone wants to live there anymore–the population is already down 11.0% from the 1985 peak, back below the 1920 level (the only prefecture for which this holds), and the projection is for a greater than 25% contraction between 2005 and 2035. Damn those “fourth graders’ Japanese geography quiz scores”…

      • Go Shimane indeed! Shimane not only has one of the higher fertility rates in Japan, but also has the highest rate of centenarians per million in Japan – a whopping 743! That now beats the more famously long-lived Okinawans (at a mere 667 per million) by a lot. However, the data related to centenarians should be taken with several grains of salt. According to a 2010 BBC report, 230,000 Japanese centenarians seem to be missing – many more than the 47,756 reported to exist (four times the number of about twelve years before, and of whom 87.1% are currently women). Maybe fourth graders are doing the math? So, perhaps the fertility rates reported from 1925 are also unreliable? That might explain why the Okinawan fertility rate from that time seems so low – so many faraway islands to take censuses on. How accurate could the census have been? And how much of the paperwork survived WW2? Ah, demographics!

      • Go Shimane indeed! Shimane not only has one of the higher fertility rates in Japan, but also has the highest rate of centenarians per million in Japan – a whopping 743! That now beats the more famously long-lived Okinawans (at a mere 667 per million) by a lot.
        The last Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) centenarian survey, from September 2011, available here:

        http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/2r9852000001o7t7.html

        has Shimane on 757/million and Okinawa on 660/million. But be careful about how you interpret those statistics… If, like Shimane, you have relatively few people under 50 and a high median age, then you are of course going to have a high centenarian ratio—your birthrate might be high but there are very few people in the childbearing cohort. You can see this clearly by comparing the top five prefectures by centenarians/million people:
        1) Shimane 757
        2) Kochi 676
        3) Okinawa 660
        4) Yamaguchi 623
        5) Kagoshima 592
        With the top five by median age:
        1) Akita 52.4
        2) Shimane 51.0
        3) Kochi 50.9
        4) Yamaguchi 50.1
        5) Yamagata 50.0
        What’s interesting here are the two outliers, Akita and Okinawa. Akita has by far the highest median age but ranks only 25th in centenarians/million. Why? I can only hazard a provisional answer, that it’s simply those harsh northern winters. Okinawa, though, has a very low (indeed the lowest) median age—40.1, versus the national average of 45.1. That’s why its centenarians/million ratio is the subject of so much study and media interest.
        Worth noting that the top five by centenarians/million are all in the south-west of Japan. But it’s also worth noting that none of these prefectures has the longest current average life expectancy at birth… Which one does, I wonder? Perhaps I’ll make that my next demography quiz question.
        However, the data related to centenarians should be taken with several grains of salt. According to a 2010 BBC report, 230,000 Japanese centenarians seem to be missing – many more than the 47,756 reported to exist (four times the number of about twelve years before, and of whom 87.1% are currently women).
        Oh, I wouldn’t believe anything you read at the BBC:

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11258071

        Yes, this did come from the Japanese media, but it’s all to do with two completely different reference points, the first being the koseki family registration records, which carried not only 230,000 centenarians but also 77,000 people over 120 (!!) and 884 people over 150 (!!):

        http://www.news24.jp/articles/2010/09/10/07166482.html

        Note though that the authorities were not claiming at any point that there were tens of thousands of people who qualified for the title of the oldest person who ever lived… The serious centenarian data comes from the five-yearly national census. The case that sparked this nonsense (from memory) was an unusual one of a layabout family that failed to report the death of a near-centenarian and continued to claim his benefits—I confess I haven’t done the full research but I doubt the current centenarian data is awry by much.
        Maybe fourth graders are doing the math?
        Not now.
        So, perhaps the fertility rates reported from 1925 are also unreliable?
        Possibly.
        That might explain why the Okinawan fertility rate from that time seems so low – so many faraway islands to take censuses on. How accurate could the census have been? And how much of the paperwork survived WW2?
        Good questions all, indeed, but I’ll take the Okinawa 1925 stat with a measure of caution.
        Ah, demographics!
        Indeed—demography is not quite as simple as it might appear. I’d like to go into the details of future centenarian projections, but I’ll save that for another time. As a glass half-empty person, though, I have to say these high centenarian ratios are not an occasion for unalloyed joy: much as the MHLW likes to selectively and sentimentally celebrate at the link above the 101-year old Hokkaido man who still rides his bicycle, uses the buses, trims the grass, and removes snow, we know full well that currently the vast majority of centenarians are in long-term care institutions of one description or another and that if, say, there are three million centenarians in Japan in 2050, which is not beyond the bounds of imagination or statistics, the state is going to have its job cut out.

      • You are an impressively diligent researcher! I hope that you had time to enjoy the weekend – or maybe you do that by searching for demographic charts and tables?! I can`t decide whether to be envious or not. :) But, I would like to thank you for the updated numbers on Okinawa and Shimane. The numbers are dropping, so maybe the welfare authorities have been being more dutiful about following up on the health of their centenarian welfare recipients. I remember that case of the family claiming benefits that they weren`t entitled to as well. i also seem to recall that there were a few more similar cases after that one, as the authorities became more diligent about checking where the tax money is going.

        Your point about low median age/long life expectancy vs. high median age/long life expectancy is interesting. Thank you for bringing it into the forefront of my mind. Patterns and waves worth thinking about. Those poor countries suffering from low median age and short life expectancy probably deserve more of our attention.

        I began a brief search to find the answer to your tentative quiz about life expectancy at birth rankings by prefecture (by country was easier!), but was distracted from it (tentative answer is #1 = Okinawa, 81.6, but I think that data was outdated by a couple of years) by coming across an Okinawan Journal of American Studies article (The Historical Context of Okinawa Longevity: Influence of the United States and Mainland Japan, Suzuki, Wilcox and Wilcox, 2007 N4). While interesting in that it discusses various possible reasons for the long life expectancy in Okinawa (ex: What effects did WW2 have? And what are the effects of the presence of the American military both during and after WW2? Nutrition? Lifestyle?????), and in quite clear and un-convoluted language, the choice bit of advice was “One must be cautious when selecting smaller regions with few centenarians for statistical analysis, and not rely too heavily on such data.” Especially, as the authors point out, not all the data is reliable. BBC, Ryukyu Kingdom, American Military. All flawed to some degree. But we know this already. Always good to be reminded. Even regarding something so seemingly dry as demographics.

        Another nice bit of language from the same study was “It is clear that {rather more recently} Okinawan males have been following a different lifespan trajectory than females.” I liked that image of a “lifespan trajectory.” Do we come back to the influence of distilled alcohol from the SW – this time Awamori? What factors contribute to a rather less far reaching trajectory for males? Higher rates of liver disease and kidney failure? Certainly medical conditions, among others, that are going to be keeping Japan`s medical system busier and busier in the future as the population ages. An aging population? A low birthrate? A rising median age? Good? Bad? A minor blip in history before Japan enjoys a low population density and affordable real-estate prices?

      • I began a brief search to find the answer to your tentative quiz about life expectancy at birth rankings by prefecture (by country was easier!), but was distracted from it (tentative answer is #1 = Okinawa, 81.6, but I think that data was outdated by a couple of years)
        The latest data are from the 2005 census, I believe, as crunched by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

        http://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/saikin/hw/life/tdfk05/02.html

        Nagano comes out top, at 79.84, with Okinawa a lowly 25th at 78.64, although as there is barely more than a year between them perhaps we should not make too much of a case for anything out of this. The numbers are significantly more conservative than those you generally see, which put average life expectancy at around 82. Can’t explain that. Interestingly Okinawa shoots to the top of the rankings for life expectancy at 65 and 75, which I’m afraid does hint at a generally malign US influence… But as you say so rightly, not all the data may be reliable…
        “It is clear that {rather more recently} Okinawan males have been following a different lifespan trajectory than females.”
        Fascinating. That is also fairly clear from the 男女差, the gap between male and female life expectancies at birth, in Figure 2, where Okinawan women are outliving their menfolk by 8.23 years, more than anywhere else except the bitter north of Aomori. Your speculations as to what might be causing that are all reasonable enough, and I’m sure that someone, somewhere right now is working on the question.
        An aging population? A low birthrate? A rising median age? Good? Bad? A minor blip in history before Japan enjoys a low population density and affordable real-estate prices?
        It’s all about getting from here to there without mishaps, for a very indebted government with a huge and rising social security bill (half or more of which is accounted for by the elderly) to pay, to say nothing of the cost of long-term care and the funding of the medical system. As for affordable real estate prices–well, they are affordable in many parts of the land already, even an hour outside Tokyo. My other half was sent a land tax assessment at the weekend for the family domain about an hour outside Sendai. “Y4mn (about $50,000)?!?” he harrumphed, “It’s not worth a tenth of that!” And he’s probably right.

  7. Ye gawds! Those are an approximation of one of the first Nikes ever made. They were “running shoes.” I had a pair for road work in about 1972.

    As you seem to use them as trekking shoes, you need to get yourself properly shod as those relics were about one thick pair of socks better than going barefoot.

    http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/sc-gear/mens-footwear/men-39-s-hedgehog-gtx-xcr-iii.html?from=subCat&variationId=Y14

    • Ye gawds! Those are an approximation of one of the first Nikes ever made.
      Excellent–I hadn’t realized they were quite so retro.
      As you seem to use them as trekking shoes, you need to get yourself properly shod as those relics were about one thick pair of socks better than going barefoot.
      Not trekking shoes–how much trekking can you do in modern Japan? They’re just a smidgeon begrimed with age. One of my old college friends has been going bareoot–flip-flops if ceremony absolutely dictates–since he was 25, and he’s spent most of the last decade in the Australian outback. A bit too hardcore for me, but it helps to give you a different perspective on “properly shod”. The improperly shod? All wearers of high-heeled shoes and winklepickers, back in attenuated (pardon the pun) fashion in Japan.
      Thanks for the link, though!

  8. OT, but you mentioned being at Cambridge. When were you there and did you know Sebastian Moffet, late of the WSJ Tokyo bureau and now “enduring” at the Paris bureau?

    • No, I didn’t–big place, Cambridge. I can’t quickly work out from net searches which college he was at or what his tripos was, but he’s two years older than me, so the overlap would have likely been only a year. I see he wrote a book on J-League soccer–suum cuique…

  9. Thanks very much – I particularly enjoyed the two-part article on the yakuza. Nice to read something with rigour on the subject for a change.

  10. The author’s analysis of the Kanto region’s population change is not correct for two reasons: First, the author is comparing the national census figures with the municipal figures. This is an apples to oranges comparison. Second, the author is comparing figures for October 2010 with figures for April 2012. As anyone familiar with Japanese demographic data knows it is essential to use the same month when analyzing population changes across time. That is, if one uses the municipal figures for April 2010, then one must use municipal figures for some previous April, otherwise, one is making an apples to bananas comparison. An apples to apples comparison for April 2012 and April 2010 for municipal registered population for the Kanto prefectures is noted below:

    Yamanashi 864,678 852,855 -1.4%
    Gumma 2,000,919 1,994,309 -0.3%
    Tochigi 2,005,134 1,993,283 -0.6%
    Ibaraki 2,962,284 2,945,505 -0.6%
    Saitama 7,179,020 7,204,353 0.4%
    Chiba 6,189,979 6,195,643 0.1%
    Kanagawa 9,008,743 9,052,730 0.5%
    Tokyo 13,110,419 13,195,704 0.7%

    Total 43,321,796 43,434,382 0.3%

    The core prefectures of the metropolitan region continue to grow in population. The author’s claim that the metropolitan region’s population tipping point is at hand is exaggerated.

    • Hilarious stuff.
      First, the author is comparing the national census figures with the municipal figures. This is an apples to oranges comparison.
      No, it’s not. “Apples and oranges” must be the most ridiculously overemployed sleight of sophistical hand in the modern world. It’s a comparison of two different statistical surveys that build off and complement each other–it’s a comparison of Cox’s Orange Pippin with Granny Smiths. Just go and look at how the suikei jinko data evolve for a prefecture over the time between national censuses and note how accurate they are come census time. We’re not comparing apples and oranges, my friend, we’re comparing two- and three-decimal place rounding errors.
      As anyone familiar with Japanese demographic data knows it is essential to use the same month when analyzing population changes across time.
      Excuse my pitiful ignorance, but why? Aside from the big move month of March, I see no reason for this to be so.
      That is, if one uses the municipal figures for April 2010, then one must use municipal figures for some previous April, otherwise, one is making an apples to bananas comparison.
      Apples to bananas, oh my!
      An apples to apples comparison for April 2012 and April 2010 for municipal registered population for the Kanto prefectures is noted below
      Now this is a superb act of legerdemain! You choose April 2010 instead of April 2011 for your comparison. Well, I could choose April 1970 and show that the greater Tokyo population is booming, but noone would believe me. So I went prefecture-by-prefecture to compare the suikei jinko for April 2011 and April 2012. Data available here:
      Yamanashi:

      http://www.pref.yamanashi.jp/toukei_2/HP/y_pop.html

      Gunma:

      http://toukei.pref.gunma.jp/idj/

      Tochigi:

      http://www.pref.tochigi.lg.jp/c04/pref/toukei/toukei/popu3.html

      Ibaraki:

      http://www.pref.ibaraki.jp/tokei/betu/jinko/getsu/index.htm

      Saitama:

      http://www.pref.saitama.lg.jp/site/03suikei/

      Chiba:

      http://www.pref.chiba.lg.jp/toukei/toukeidata/joujuu-geppou/setai-h23-04.html

      Kanagawa:

      http://www.pref.kanagawa.jp/cnt/f6774/p20881.html

      Tokyo:

      http://www.toukei.metro.tokyo.jp/jsuikei/js-index2.htm

      And guess what results? This:

      April 2011 April 2012 % chg
      Yamanashi  861,092 852,855 -0.96
      Gunma 2,002,653 1,994,309 -0.42
      Tochigi 2,001,674 1,993,283 -0.42
      Ibaraki 2,961,168 2,945,505 -0.53
      Saitama 7,198,305  7,204,353  +0.00
      Chiba 6,214,333       6,195,643  -0.30
      Kanagawa 9,044,930 9,052,730       +0.00
      Tokyo 13,172,716 13,182,509  +0.00
      TOTAL 43,456,871 43,421,187 -0.01

      So you are pwned.
      The psychological question that interests me, though, is why you should attempt at such length to deploy such sophomore powers of sophistry in an attempt to prove me wrong? Is it because “my clients are primarily international commercial real estate investors” and you don’t want them to hear this story of demographic decline? I’ve always loved that Upton Sinclair quotation—you must know it—“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

  11. As for the AEI guy on Japan,

    “A looming old-age burden”

    What exactly is this “burden”? In my analysis, the important metric for sustainability is hard wealth created vs. hard wealth consumed.

    As long as that’s positive, an economy will not collapse.

    And old people don’t necessarily consume that much in hard wealth. Much of their expenditure is actually stimulative, in that they physically require labor to be performed for them.

    “A struggle to maintain economic growth”

    AFAICT (and speaking as a quasi-socialist), a focus on “growth” is just the rich & powerful’s attempt to keep the existing order going w/o meaningful (and painful to them) reform.

    Japan is not a poor country, but they do a pretty good job playing poor. Alas, for millions, it’s not an act, but that’s just a failure of politics more than any economic reality facing the country.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/eight-ferraris-lamborghini-in-japan-luxury-car-pileup-a-gathering-of-narcissists/2011/12/06/gIQA0TeBaO_story.html

    “it is hard to see how a recipe for rapid or even moderate economic growth could be cooked up with these ingredients”

    What ingredients *do* produce “economic growth” these days? How can Japan expect to “grow” in manufacturing when it’s labor rate is an order of magnitude better than China’s?

    http://news.yahoo.com/canon-eyes-robot-only-production-cameras-101550562–finance.html

    is that good or bad news for “growth”? It’s good for Japan’s oligarchs but will this result in just more wealth concentration for the country overall — throwing yet more dollars on Japan’s three trillion cash horde?

    http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/leslie-cuadra/2011/08/31/list-of-worlds-largest-creditor-and-debtor-nations

    I think the AEI would propose cutting the taxes and regulatory oversight on oligarchs to zero, but other than that it’s my thesis that we’re already living in the post-labor future but haven’t yet adapted our social structures to it.

    “from a purely arithmetic standpoint, a country with a shrinking population—and even a shrinking GDP—could theoretically enjoy steady improvements in personal income and living standards”

    Yes, this is my thesis. Less people means all the existing infrastructural capital is all you’re going to need to build, what follows is just maintenance and decommissioning expenses.

    The economic margin areas will return to nature. This is good.

    “Japan’s impending depopulation may have its upsides. With the emptying of the countryside, for example, the nation will have more living space and arable land per person than it does today. Given the country’s ongoing improvements in energy efficiency and environmental technologies, depopulation could coincide with an improvement in natural amenities and (by at least some criteria) quality of life”

    Yes, the author failed to put Japan’s density in historical context — the country is 30% denser than the UK (and Germany for that matter) still.

    Land prices — and ground rents — in Japan are still pretty stratospheric, at least to me. More depopulation here would serve to reduce this parasitic loss of income to the skimmers.

    Japan is still twice as populous as Australia and Canada combined, so I don’t see depopulation per se as any big social problem.

    Finally, I think it’s important to look at diagrams and not just hear numbers in our heads to get a better picture of the situation:

    shows that (unlike in the US) Japan’s “silver” population will not grow that much more from here, and their young population will not decline much from here.

    What will happen is the working-age population will age and die off this century due to the lack of replacement births.

    I won’t say anything about immigration other than note my general interest in the new points system — from what I gather reading the .go.jp pdf, for a 40+yo fart like me a BS degree, 10 years work experience, and ten million yen in the bank is all one needs to get a 5 year visa. That is a pretty fair system I think.

  12. You are very sensitive. While you are somewhat less than civil, I will keep civility on this side. At least I got you to run your numbers again and make an apples to apples comparison.

    So why did I make my comment? You made a strong claim of a permanent demographic change in metro Tokyo based on an analysis that wasn’t correct. I pointed that out and, using an apples to apples comparison, showed that the core of the Tokyo metropolitan region continued to experience reasonable population growth between 2010 and 2012. You responded with a more accurate analysis showing that population growth in the core Tokyo region prefectures slowed dramatically during the past year.

    Is the change demographics? Perhaps but the slowdown could easily be due to the effects of last year’s earthquake or even perhaps the weak economy.One year doesn’t make a trend.

    • You are very sensitive. While you are somewhat less than civil, I will keep civility on this side.
      Yes, my reply was intemperate, I apologize.
      You made a strong claim of a permanent demographic change in metro Tokyo based on an analysis that wasn’t correct.
      No, I did not make a “strong claim” at all!!! Go back and read what I wrote!!! To save you the bother:
      “Some inaccuracy may result from underreporting of changes of domicile, however, so a measure of caution is warranted. …
      The real surprises here are Kanagawa (Yokohama and its hinterland) and Tokyo itself, whose populations were not projected to peak until 2015 and 2020, respectively, and it may be that we are still a few years away from the Great Stall.”
      I pointed that out and, using an apples to apples comparison…
      Sorry, but just go and look, say, at the suikei jinko population for Yamanashi in 2010 in the months leading up to the 2010 census at the link above. The differences between the pre-census September, the census, and post-census November number are tiny. We are emphatically not comparing “apples and oranges”!
      [I] showed that the core of the Tokyo metropolitan region continued to experience reasonable population growth between 2010 and 2012.
      But I wasn’t talking about the core, I was talking about the whole thing! Now you might argue about what Yamanashi really has to do with Tokyo, and I’d agree with you, but the topic I initiated was the shutoken.
      Is the change demographics?
      Well, as far as it relates to population dynamics, yes, it certainly and unambiguously is a matter of demography, what else could it be?
      Perhaps but the slowdown could easily be due to the effects of last year’s earthquake or even perhaps the weak economy.
      Certainly, the Chiba numbers are by all accounts to do with liquefaction in places like Urayasu. But on balance, I think it would be hard to explain much of an outflow from the greater Tokyo metropolitan area due to the earthquake, as Fukushima towns were relocating to Saitama as foreigners were fleeing.
      One year doesn’t make a trend.
      Indeed, but this must have been the first year since WWII that we are flatlining, and population momentum will do the rest, even if it takes another five years or so to produce a truly definitive decline. I’ll take a small wager with you, though: that the greater Tokyo metropolitan area population will be lower in 2015 than it was in 2010. Game on?

      • One data source that is surprisingly useful is this chart:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Japan#Vital_statistics

        piping those annual birth numbers into excel gives me no end of intellectual entertainment, especially since immigration/emigration is so minimal as to not distort the import of these numbers.

        Eg, the current population of 20-30yos is 15.2M. This is a drop of 5M since 2001! Japan’s supply of young adults peaked 1992-2001, at over 20M.

        Japan’s baby boom proper peaked in their 20s in 1970-72, with the population of 20yos almost touching 25M those years.

        Birth rates are also available from these raw numbers. For 2011, 8.2% of all women aged 20-37 gave birth (1.06M births for 12.8M women). There has been a slight uptick with the birth rate, from its low of 7.4.% in 2005-2006.

        If this uptick continues, Japan might avoid seeing less than 1M new babies in 2012 — it’s going to be close. In comparison, the 1947-49 baby boomlet peaked at 2.7M/yr births.

        Regardless of the future, what happened 1990-2010 is already known, and the numbers show that the population of 20-30yos will fall to 12.2M in 2030 — that’s baked into the cake (unless Japan starts importing young adults).

        Assuming the 0.082 annual birth rate holds, by 2050 there will be ~600,000 live births per year and ~9M 20-30 yos.

        This is certainly a decline but I don’t see it as a social or economic catastrophe at all. Fewer mouths to feed and hopefully Japan will be able to invest in each kid’s development more.

        Theoretically, there should be tons of work available for everyone in 2050. Which is a better thing than now I gather.

        Well, outside youth-oriented businesses I guess. Not much growth potential there.

        The one thing that struck me about the big graph I posted in my above is the symmetry of Japan’s demographic change — 2055 will look like 1965, but with the populations of children and aged switched.

        (btw, I was wrong in my above about ¥10M in assets being enough to get a COE for a work visa — it’s actually ¥10M/yr in income commitment)

      • Nice work with the spreadsheets. Everything you say until you start interpreting the data is more or less bang on.
        This is certainly a decline but I don’t see it as a social or economic catastrophe at all. Fewer mouths to feed and hopefully Japan will be able to invest in each kid’s development more.
        Not a catastrophe perhaps, but is it unreasonable to see the 20-30 cohort as the engine of a society, the agents of change and innovation? I know a lot of vitriol is spilled on those poor US boomers, but I’d go out on a limb and say that in general, as they retire, they are leaving the US in many ways a better place than the US into which they were born–and the same about the Japanese boomers (for all the environmental destruction in both countries). If you are a member of a deeply minority cohort, in danger of being in thrall to your elders, especially in a gerontocracy like Japan, what chance do you have of getting your voice heard, even if you should be so presumptious to raise it?
        As for “fewer mouths to feed”, well, it might be good, might be neutral, who can tell?
        Hopefully Japan will be able to invest in each kid’s development more
        I think here again you’re using a variety of the “lump” fallacy. Assuming stasis in an economy and then extrapolating out that fewer children = more investment in them.
        Theoretically, there should be tons of work available for everyone in 2050. Which is a better thing than now I gather.
        What theory or theories are you relying on here? You really do believe in the lump of labor fallacy, don’t you?
        The one thing that struck me about the big graph I posted in my above is the symmetry of Japan’s demographic change — 2055 will look like 1965, but with the populations of children and aged switched.
        It (almost) certainly will.

      • I do agree that Japan’s baby boom did a lot for the country. The story of Japan 1970-1990 is one of colossal economic success. They invented and manufactured so much of the 20th century. Japan is sitting on $3T+ of net capital holdings thanks to them.

        You really do believe in the lump of labor fallacy, don’t you?

        That there’s too many people, and not enough work, yes.

        My thesis is that the “soft” economy of service provision — entertainment, sporting events, cosmetology, education, tourism — all the “fun” jobs in life — can multiply endlessly as long as money circulates among the various service providers.

        Frictional forces on this dynamic of tertiary (and quaternary) sector wealth creation are the costs of consumption of hard goods (food, fuel, supplies), trade deficits, and (most significantly) money that departs the service sector via economic rents to the money heaven of concentrated wealth.

        These rent-seekers recirculate most of this taken money not as consumption, but via lending, which just adds to their parasitical drag on the actual wealth-creating economy. (“Wealth” to me is that which makes us “well”).

        So I see a shrinking Japan as one where the rent-seekers no longer hold the whip hand, at least as far as real estate goes, which will be a very good thing for Japan’s economic prospect.

        The population of 17-19 yos has plummeted from the 6M+ of the early 1990s to 3.6M now (and will continue to drift down to 3.2M by 2030).

        This is a 40% loss of manpower, yet the economy has not fallen 40%.

        I guess kinda see this effect as a mini-Black Death, where the 14th century surviving labor in the aftermath saw their bargaining power increase immensely due to the favorable supply/demand balance.

        I am not actually a physiocrat, but I lean a bit in that direction, LOL.

  13. I work at a high school in Yamanashi and over the last year I’ve seen the population decline first year. We should have 7 classes of 40 in the incoming first years, our school is known for turning away lots of pretty good students due to a lack of space, our entrance exam is meant to be competitive. Last year the classes all had 40 or sometimes 39 students.
    This year though…most classes only have 36 or 37 students. I hear similar reports from other teachers too, no high school has managed to completely fill its quota this year.

    Also in Yamanashi, and the yakuza; you should read up on events here. Until quite recently and for a year or so before that the police were guarding the main hostess club/yakuza area of town. They were protecting the Yamanashi yakuza from the Tokyo yakuza who they were trying to break away from. Really bizzare and very Japanese to see such a thing so openly.

    • seen the population decline first year….first hand I mean.

      Anyway. Much of Yamanashi’s decline is down to the proximity of Tokyo. All the young folk move there for a job. Doesn’t explain the general nationwide trend of course.
      I’m intersted in what will happen in Yamanashi 20 years down the line. The Chuo shinkansen is being built here which will potentially make Kofu practically a suburb of Tokyo (hell…a suburb of Osaka too if you’re rich enough).

    • Something very odd has been occurring in Yamanashi over the past half dozen or so years, in that the birthrate didn’t pick up from the nationwide bottom in 2005, but fell further, from 1.38 in 2005 to 1.31 in 2009. (Although that won’t be affecting your school yet unless you’re teaching in a kindergarten…) Because of this and perhaps also greater than expected outmigration, according to the estimated population data, Yamanashi was at 852,885 on April 1, whereas the NIPSSR forecast from 2005 was for 852,882 by October 2015, so your decline is aleady, seven years on from the forecast, 3.5 years ahead of the game. This is unique among prefectures, I’m 90% sure, and speaks possibly of an unusually troubled economy, although I see so reason why that should be so. What’s happening more broadly is that you have a school system built out for X numbers of incoming pupils and suddenly you’re finding you have X minus 5%-10% due mainly, I think, to long-term subreplacement fertility. If anyone had looked at the no doubt immensely detailed prefectural population data broken down by age, this wouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
      I assume you’re in Kofu, as I can’t imagine that there is a hostess club/yakuza area of town anywhere else in Yamanashi that would be large enough to attract serious mob interest. I drove through last summer and it looked reasonably spruce still, but it’s so hard to tell when you’re just passing through. Any particular signs of incipient decay?

      • Kofu in many ways kind of puts me in mind of a Potemkin Village. The main roads are wide and perfectly befitting of a major city and lining them you tend to have big tower blocks or active shops. Turn away from the main streets however and you quickly come to standard houses; a rather queer hodgepodge of newly built, still alright looking ones, and ramshackle falling to pieces huts that a homeless person might even turn their nose up at; apparently what happens here is the elderly inhabitants die and their son living in Tokyo inherits the house…it costs a lot of money to get it pulled down and that’s what you need to do before you can sell the land (Japan never ceases to seem weird to me with the way everyone always builds a house from scratch…) so instead he just lets it stand and rot.

        There’s this one area not too far from the centre of town, you drive down the ride spacious city centre heiwa dori then turn off onto another dual carriageway, following the sign posts for the prefectural concert hall. After a while you come to a dual carriageway crossroads….but…something is amiss. No cars ever come from the right and nobody is interested in going there, from the left there are only ever a few cars. It turns out on this right-hand street the dual carriageway and the appearance of a big city only goes on for 10 metres before the entire thing suddenly stops and the only roads you have are tiny, barely big enough for one car, streets.

        For the past year or two Kofu actually seems to be in a bit of a recovery, I wasn’t here before that but apparently it had been stuck in a long nasty malaise and decline with a prime area north of the station being left as a wasteland for years, and lots of derelict buildings even in the city centre. There’s been a lot of construction lately and they’re generally trying to lift the place up. I think this is all to do with that core cities renewal plan I’ve read about.

        Nonetheless a lot of it remains in pretty bad shape. Vast areas of the former city centre have effectively been abandoned, the local government made the rise decision in its redevelopment to consolidate and try to encourage business purely in certain streets…which left those not picked in rather shabby shape. Quite a wise decision really, though the areas they didn’t pick are pretty grim.
        Locals describe Kofu as like a doughnut, the middle has hollowed out since due to the horrid public transportation here development has followed a very American pattern of ugly pre-fab shops with car parks along the main roads well away from the city centre.
        I’m told the crack down on drink-driving hurt the city a lot. Since it is a car driven city drink-driving was the norm…but with the stricter policies people don’t go out so much. The town is littered with closed down pubs, despite the population we only have 2 bars, and a handful of izukayas and a mountain of snacks scattered around.

        Its nothing special to Kofu, its something I’ve observed elsewhere in across in Japan, but the whole place seems rather unfinished. Pavements suddenly stopping in a certain area for no apparent reason and the like.
        Overall Yamanashi…yeah. Quite a bit of decay about the place. Its nowhere near as bad as Fukui (worst place I’ve been to in Japan) but depressing nonetheless. Its not really in the early stages though, it has been going on a long while, and it does seem to be being fixed somewhat in Kofu at least.

        Kofu being the only place big enough for mob interst; actually the main mob town in Yamanashi is probably Isawa Onsen.. Apparently its full of them. I’m told it’s a major place where elderly mobsters go to retire.

      • Andrew in Ezo

        “Japan never ceases to seem weird to me with the way everyone always builds a house from scratch…)”
        (in reply to Lee): Tradittionally housing in Japan has been in most cases considered a kind of perishable stock- what is valued is the land. However in recent times more people are remodelling their homes (“shinchuku sokkurisan”), and companies such as Mitsui Rehouse have been offering homes on the used market for years (or at least since Miyazawa Rie was still a slightly chubby teenager).

  14. bingobangoboy

    I don’t mean to be that guy, but can I point out that Wakkanai is the northernmost point of Hokkaidou, not Honshuu (whose northernmost point is Ooma)?

  15. Andrew in Ezo

    chijimu Nihon, or shrinking Japan, the title of a recent series of NHK programs on the implications of population aging and decline, although the phase is not yet in very common currency, perhaps because of widespread denial…

    “Widespread denial? Come on! The terms shoshika (少子化) and koureikashakai (高齢化社会) are some of the most common phrases used in discussing social issues in Japan. In my field of education, it’s the biggest issue with regards to attracting tuition paying students. That Japan’s population is shrinking is a given and widely reported by NHK and other news outlets.

    • I wasn’t talking about shoshika or koreikashakai (and if you had spared the–admittedly considerable–time required to read what I’ve written thorougly, you’d know that), I was talking about the implications that spread from them. Shoshika and koreikashakai are much more comforting expressions than “chijimu Nihon”, which is why I’ll take a rare hat off to NHK for using the expression. The series “Chijimu Nihon” didn’t revolve around grannies with sticks but around aging infrastructure and the complex problems of replacement/improvement.
      “In my field of education”
      Not something I would admit in polite company… I certainly wouldn’t want someone with as many cognitive biases as you exhibit teaching my children.

  16. Hello
    It’s time I acknowledge the pleasure you’ve given me. Thank you!

    As preamble I’ll say I feel amused by awareness of an acute desire to write this paying great attention to my spelling, punctuation and grammar; a compliment to you and the quality of your writing far more than awareness of my shortcomings in those regards!

    I’ve long felt interest for the land, culture and people of Japan, an enduring curiosity usually submerged by matters more insistent or pressing; a desire more stimulated than deterred by the events of March, 2011 and their aftermath. Suffice to say, I found Spike Japan by accident. I return with intent and expectation, my only disappointment one artificially stimulated by life in a culture of More, for you generously inform deeply and share more than is sufficient to stimulate thought and reflection.

    I suspect you have more readers than can be determined; those, like me, who have not taken a moment to express appreciation but who value your output and the effort it takes.

    Thank you for the perspectives.

    • Thank you very much Onemore, it’s comments like yours that motivate me to continue writing. As for my spelling, punctuation, and grammar, well some have taken pot-shots at me forspelling in a hybrid mid-Atlantic style, and my punctuation, especially as regards quotations and Japanese loan words. Hope you make it here some day–I’m sure you’ll find things to like and be amazed by.

  17. For some reason I can’t reply directly to your comment. Anyway, apologies for the very loose language in my first comment. As you imply, it isn’t actual department stores getting built up there, but those hybrid supermarket things that essentially serve the same function as department stores. Also, it was food self-sufficiency, and there are four other prefectures in a similar position. http://halcana.tumblr.com/post/359319406/195-174-132-118 In terms of plans for the future, the slow food movement is thriving in the area, tourism is pushed quite heavily, the local engineering school has a great renewables tech program, and of course health care is thriving as an industry. It isn’t likely that a new industrial giant will appear in the area, but I’m betting it will remain stable in the future, even as the prefecture faces the obvious demographic difficulties.

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