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Kansai leaders grope for ways to keep regional population stable amid projected slide

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Staff Writer

A projection showing that Japan’s population could fall from 127.09 million in 2015 to 88.08 million by 2065 has pushed Kansai leaders harder for more policies and funding to increase the local birthrate, keep younger people from leaving and protect the growing ranks of the elderly.

The announcement this month by the government-affiliated National Institute of Population and Social Security Research came just after the start of the 2017 fiscal year, and amid growing worries about projections that many areas of the country will become inhabited only by seniors and depopulate — an issue that, over the past few years, has become the top concern of local politicians seeking to shore up their tax bases.

The institute’s latest projections are only for Japan as a whole, not individual prefectures. But they come at a time when municipalities and prefectures nationwide had already spent several years nervously planning long-term policies based on earlier depopulation projections for specific locales.

According to the institute’s estimates in 2013, the eight major prefectures (Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hyogo, Wakayama, Tottori and Tokushima) that make up the Union of Kansai Governments are expected to lose about a quarter of their collective population between 2010 and 2050.

But by 2050, those aged 15 to 64 are expected to account for only half of Kansai’s population, while those over 65 will account for nearly 40 percent.

By contrast, less than 10 percent of Kansai’s population is expected to be under 14 at midcentury.

What has many Kansai leaders worried is that the projections also show young people, especially college graduates, are continuing to leave prefectures other than Osaka to move to Osaka or Tokyo for employment and other opportunities.

The coming Kansai demographic crunch will hit some prefectures harder than others.

By 2050, Wakayama and Tokushima prefectures are expected to be hit particularly hard, while Shiga will only see a relatively minor decrease.

The large portion of people who currently live in Shiga but commute to the nearby city of Kyoto, and Osaka prefectural residents who work in Osaka, mean that both prefectures will see a large increase in elderly neighborhoods in the suburbs.

Wakayama and Tokushima prefectures, however, will see a large decrease in the number of elderly who live in towns and villages.

“From about 2010 to 2015, Shiga actually saw an increase in its population. Shiga’s geographic location means that the Kansai and Chubu regions are close, so lots of people who live here commute west to Kyoto or Osaka, or east to Gifu and Aichi prefectures for school and work,” Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki told reporters earlier this year in explaining the reason for the increase.

But the population has started to decrease and Mikazuki said the prefecture plans to take a number of measures this fiscal year to encourage young people in particular to remain and to stabilize the population.

Much of the emphasis will be on helping people find affordable housing. Certain groups of people working in industries like transportation will be targeted for different forms of prefectural assistance as well, as the shinkansen line runs through the prefecture and many Japan Railway Group employees live there.

In neighboring Kyoto, Gov. Keiji Yamada, who is also head of the National Governors Association, says the challenge that local politicians in Kansai and nationwide face is how to come up with effective economic policies that benefit young people. He said that while many have established any number of plans to stop depopulation, the latest statistics show that the flight from rural areas to Tokyo, in particular, continues.

“The 2015 national census showed that while Japan’s total population had declined by 960,000 people since 2010, Tokyo actually gained 350,000 over that five-year period. The central government needs to better recognize the seriousness of overconcentration of people in Tokyo and its effect on the rest of the country,” Yamada told local media in February.

Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.