Tokyo is a lonelier place than ever. According to a recent report by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, more people live alone in Tokyo than ever before. This year, the number of people per household in Tokyo fell below two per household to 1.99 for the first time ever.
On the basis of local resident registration, Tokyo had a population of 12,686,067 people in 6,368,485 households as of Jan. 1. Considering the number of households where the number of members is two or more, the majority of Tokyoites now live alone.
The trend toward smaller households has continued since comparable data was first recorded in 1957. At that time, the average household was 4.09, but by 1966, it had dropped to 2.97.
Within Tokyo’s 23 wards, the average fell below 2.0 in 2005, but the trend has now taken hold throughout the rest of the metropolitan area. In some areas of the megalopolis, such as Shinjuku and Shibuya wards, the average household size was reported to have shrunk to 1.65 and 1.67 people respectively.
The first picture that comes to mind from this data might be 20-somethings in “6-tatami-mat” rooms struggling to make their way in the world. However, the main decline in household size has been with the elderly. In 1980 there were about 100,000 elderly living alone in Tokyo, but in the 2010 census, there were 620,000. The metropolitan government predicts the number of elderly living alone will surpass 800,000 within the next 20 years.
While there may not be much to do about the shift from large families living together to single-member households, steps do need to be taken to care for these elderly living on their own. The elderly now comprise over 20 percent of Tokyo’s population. Evacuation plans in the event of a major earthquake should take these statistics into consideration. Elderly people living alone also need accessible transportation, community activities and improved health facilities.
The metropolitan government will also need to consider the implications for all age groups. With more people living alone, everything from tax regulations to apartment layouts to shopping streets may need reconsideration. Tokyo’s lifestyle is changing and with it come new and different lifestyles, needs and attitudes.
The future of Tokyo, physically, culturally and socially, may be a very different place if the trend toward single-member households continues at the current pace. Let’s hope different does not necessarily mean lonelier.