People and Money Concentrate in the Five Central Wards of Tokyo…The Reality of a “Tokyo Independence Movement
14 Million! More than 14 million people! Tokyo’s “Monopolization” has continued to advance even with the COVID-19 crisis
Although the COVID-19 crisis has brought attention to rural migration, camping, teleworking, and work-location, and the monthly data of a temporary point in time has been reported on the outflow of population from Tokyo, the fact is that the concentration of people in Tokyo continues to this day, and the population (estimated) of Tokyo has surpassed 14 million (September 2022).
The concentration of people in Tokyo is not likely to change in the future. Although variety shows on TV emphasize the advantages of rural areas and the countryside, we must not forget that the current concentration of population in Tokyo is the result of voluntary choices made by people in Japan, where, unlike in dictatorships, people have the freedom to choose their occupation and to live and move around freely.
No one was forced to come to Tokyo. People, companies, universities, and money are flocking to Tokyo because they like it, because it is attractive, because it offers opportunities, in other words, because it is a place where money can be made. The concentration of people in Tokyo will continue and will not change in the future. This is because there are many interested parties and it is economically rational.
Wealth Concentrated” in the Five Central Wards of Tokyo
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s “Projected Population by Ward, City, Town, and Village of Tokyo,” the population of the three central wards of Tokyo (Chiyoda, Chuo, and Minato) is projected to increase from 442,000 in 2015 to 635,000 in 2040, a 40% increase.
In the five central Tokyo wards (Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato, Shibuya, and Shinjuku), including Shibuya and Shinjuku wards, where large-scale redevelopment continues, the population will increase from 1,000,000 in 2015 to 1,222,000 in 2040, an increase of more than 20%. In fact, in the five central wards of Tokyo, the “Torch Tower,” the tallest skyscraper in Japan at 390 meters, is under construction at the Nihonbashi exit of Tokyo Station, and large-scale redevelopment projects are underway in Yaesu, Toranomon, Shibuya, and Shinjuku, including office buildings and top-class foreign-affiliated hotels.
The average annual household income (the number of taxpayers by municipality divided by taxable income) in these five central Tokyo wards is 11.5 million yen in Minato Ward, 9.44 million yen in Chiyoda Ward, and 8.01 million yen in Shibuya Ward, far exceeding the national average of 3.34 million yen (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, FY2017), making these the areas with the largest concentration of wealthy people in Japan. In fact, the area has become Japan’s largest concentration of high-net-worth individuals.
In fact, there are many luxury residential areas in central Tokyo, including a forest of townhouses targeting this segment of the population. Ultra-luxury serviced apartments and condominiums, such as Aman Residence Tokyo in Toranomon and Mita Garden Hills in Mita, are under construction or have already started selling, and are estimated to exceed several billion yen per room.
In addition, there is a continuing trend of affluent seniors from rural and suburban areas moving to conveniently located condominiums in central Tokyo and other urban centers. The “polarization of Tokyo” between central Tokyo and other parts of the city may become more of a problem in the future.
Yurukyara and B-Grade Gourmet will not solve the problem.
In the midst of these prominent developments in Tokyo, many rural areas are facing fundamental problems such as declining population, depopulation, and lack of key industries and financial resources. Moreover, none of these problems have been resolved.
With the continuing decline in population, it is no longer possible for every corner of Japan to prosper, which means that the very survival of all 1,724 municipalities in the 47 prefectures of Japan is now being called into question.
As you, the reader, are no doubt aware, the question is whether or not all of Japan’s 1,724 municipalities in 47 prefectures will continue to exist. In an age of declining population, falling birthrates, and an aging population, it is impossible for all localities to become self-reliant and grow sustainably.
And yet, there is a nationwide movement to create new regions! Revitalize the regions! and policies and campaigns based on sound arguments are rampant. This is despite the fact that the problem is no longer one that can be solved by local governments’ “Yurukyara” characters, “B-class gourmet” foods, immigration support, and work-study programs.
The time has come to stop the uniform national approach to regional development. The time has come to stop the uniformity of regional development throughout Japan.
Infrastructure renewal will also increase.
To make matters worse, social infrastructure renewal such as roads, bridge piers, and water and sewage systems will also increase in the future. If we have to run electricity, water lines, and guardrails all over the country, we will always be underfunded, and we will never feel a sense of wealth. And the demands for airports, bullet trains, highways, stadiums, and concert halls are endless. Inbound travel and tourism also have their ups and downs and cannot be counted on.
Rural living and immigration booms are good, but we should rather promote migration from underdeveloped areas to urban centers, prohibit new development and infrastructure investment in underdeveloped areas, and separate where people live from where they do not live.
The author has visited more than 60 countries around the world. In foreign countries, when traveling by car or train from town to town or village to village, one comes across a landscape with no houses or buildings at all. I am sure some of our readers have experienced this.
On the other hand, if you visit all 47 prefectures of Japan, you will never see an end to the number of houses and streets. Every country in the world, with the exception of Japan, has uninhabited areas, nature conservation areas, and other places that have been daringly left untouched. Check out the map. Even very few countries, such as Singapore and Qatar, where the World Cup soccer tournament will be held, have uninhabited areas. Only Japan. It is not like the popular TV show “Potsun to Hate Houses,” but there are houses everywhere, and the infrastructure is maintained in every corner of the country using taxpayers’ money.
While creating places where people do not live and where nature remains intact, we invest heavily in places where people live and where they develop. By “selection and concentration,” this means being selective in rural areas while investing more aggressively in infrastructure in the capital, Tokyo, and elsewhere.
When Tokyo residents’ “dissatisfaction” explodes
Tokyo’s infrastructure is fragile, with overcrowded commuter trains and congested roads. Taxes and profits earned and collected by corporations and individuals, who spend three hours round-trip on crowded and inferior trains, are being disbursed to make up for deficits in the local regions, both public and private, through subsidies and infrastructure improvements. Of course, there is nothing wrong with making the regions richer, but the question is where the money is coming from and whether it is sustainable.
If things continue as they are, the people of Tokyo may soon rise up and start a movement for Tokyo independence in Japan, just as they did in Italy, when the people of Milan and other affluent northern regions refused to bear the burden of the slow-developing southern regions.
Local Shakeouts Are Not Always a Bad Thing
Even in times of emergency, local governments’ finances are also deteriorating rapidly due to the loss of tax revenues caused by the COVID-19 crisis and the expansion of budgets for benefits, subsidies, and other measures to combat COVID-19. In the future, many local governments will follow the path of declining population, declining industry, declining tax revenues from individuals and corporations, inadequate infrastructure development and social security spending, population outflow, further depopulation, and financial collapse.
In the end, the selection and elimination of local governments themselves will likely proceed even further.
However, the selection and elimination of local governments will also lead to the consolidation of wasteful public works projects and infrastructure development, which in turn will enable users and residents to receive better products and services. From the macro perspective of the Japanese economy as a whole and from the perspective of improving individual incomes and living standards, the selection and elimination of rural areas is not necessarily a bad thing.
The concentration of Japan’s economy in Tokyo will continue. As the selection and elimination of local regions continues, which regions will survive in the future?
Text： Katsuhide Takahashi
Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1969, Katsuhide Takahashi graduated from Keio University in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in economics and received a master's degree in economics from the Graduate School of International Political Science and Economics, Aoyama Gakuin University in 2000. After working at Mitsubishi Bank and Citigroup Securities, he established his own company in 2013. He has visited more than 60 countries around the world. He is an expert on domestic and international resort destinations including the Bahamas, Maldives, Palau, Malibu, Los Cabos, Dubai, Hawaii, Niseko, Kyoto, and Okinawa. He is also a noted collector of "Star Wars" movies. His publications include "Bank Zero Era" (Asahi Shimbun Publications), "Why Niseko Only Became a World Resort" (Kodansha + Alpha Shinsho), and "Jibin Nissei" (The Extinction of Regional Banks) (Heibonsha).