Populations in three Tokyo wards expected to keep swelling as capital shrinks

Kyodo

The populations of three wards in central Tokyo are projected to keep growing after 2025 even as the capital’s overall population is expected to decline, thanks to a construction boom and convenient transport.

Chiyoda, Chuo and Minato wards have seen an influx of families and elderly people, and their populations are expected to continue growing through 2040. This could present the wards with problems in providing adequate child and nursing care.

According to a Tokyo Metropolitan Government estimate, the capital’s population is expected to fall after peaking at 13.98 million in 2025. But the populations of the three wards above are expected to rise further and reach a collective total of about 635,000 in 2040, up some 40 percent from January 2017.

In previous decades, the three wards experienced a population drain as residents moved to the suburbs to escape soaring land prices during Japan’s economic growth spurt around the 1960s and 1970s, and in the peak years of the bubble economy in the late 1980s.

Following the bubble’s implosion in 1991, however, the populations of the three wards began to pick up in the late 1990s.

In February, Minato Ward’s population passed 250,000 for the first time in 54 years.

Emiko Kanno, a 42-year-old office worker in Minato, lives in an apartment close to Tokyo Tower.

“With the developed transportation system, the area is convenient for living and my husband’s commuting,” she said.

A native of Hyogo, Kanno used to live in Kanagawa Prefecture but moved to her current home four years ago when she got married. The international character of the area, which boasts many foreign embassies, has been a draw, and Kanno seems satisfied with the environment for raising her 1-year-old son.

High-rise apartment buildings in waterfront areas have proven popular among families with small children. Minato’s total fertility rate, which indicates the average number of children a woman is expected to bear in her lifetime, stood at 1.44 in 2015, the highest of Tokyo’s 23 wards.

Chiyoda Ward, home to the Diet and many government buildings, recently saw its population pass 60,000 for the first time since 1981.

The population of Chuo Ward, where the Ginza shopping district and Tsukiji fish market are located, once fell below 80,000 but has recovered to 150,000.

“We have seen a trend of people moving to city centers after the collapse of the bubble economy. The three wards with many office buildings have also gone through redevelopment,” said a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said.

The official suggested that the latest trend reflects a desire to live closer to the workplace to avoid potential problems like those caused by the March 2011 East Japan Earthquake, which paralyzed transport in the capital and forced millions to walk home.

Life in these resurgent wards has its share of problems. The number of children who failed to get into day care facilities in Minato Ward rose 2.5 times in April from the previous year.

A Minato official said the municipal government is “overwhelmed with delight but the lack of enough child care services has been the biggest challenge.”

Some elderly households are also moving out of detached houses in the suburbs with the view that apartments in city centers are more convenient and well managed, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said.

But with more senior citizens living alone or with elderly residents taking care of their even older parents, more social workers will be required to look after them.

“It would be difficult for social workers to come to the homes of the elderly in high-rise apartments that are automatically locked at their entrances. There would also be a need to assist people in such cases as when elevators stop suddenly during disasters,” the official said.

While Tokyo continues to draw people like a magnet, neighboring prefectures have seen significant population outflows.

Even in prefectural capitals, such as Maebashi and Kofu, populations are declining. In the city of Shizuoka, the estimated population as of April 1 dropped below 700,000.