Japan’s population decline and the resulting aging of the population seems terminal, areas like Nagareyama (TFR 1.56), Nagi (TFR 2.95), and others are standing out, registering fertility rates that comfortably eclipse the national average (TFR 1.3 in 2021). At the heart of these success stories lies a blend of urban development and family-oriented programs.
What’s Going On
- Nagareyama’s Transit Revolution: This city capitalized on the Tsukuba Express rail line, inaugurated in 2005, spurring redevelopment around stations. The city used this opportunity and successfully integrated commercial and recreational spaces, making the city more inviting to young families. Not stopping there, Nagareyama introduced family-friendly programs such as a (formerly) unique bus service, allowing parents to transport their children from train stations to daycare centres.
- Matsudo’s Modern Approach: Matsudo adopted the located daycare centres at or near train stations, among other tactics. Observing the global remote work surge during the pandemic, Matsudo responded swiftly, creating coworking spaces with childcare rooms attached. Their adaptive strategies have seen around 14,000 people moving in since 2015.
- Nagi’s Comprehensive Strategies: This smaller town has nearly doubled its fertility rate. Their multi-faceted approach includes direct financial incentives for newborns and community-oriented childcare programs, highlighting their commitment to supporting young families.
- Akashi and Beyond: Akashi, located near Kobe, has adopted strategies like new childcare facilities but also innovated with “diaper subscription” services. The list of both towns and policies keeps on growing
- The growing spread of local 子ども・子育て会議 (Kodomo・Kosodate Kaigi), meaning “Children and Parenting Meeting,” is being adopted by cities like Nagi, Nagareyama, Matsudo, etc.. They promote community involvement and feedback with policies and solutions actually being implemented. They may be the key in developing a BoK that other cities can use to help reverse Japan’s population decline, as most (but not all) post their meeting notes, survey results, and other materials online.
- One-Offs like Taketokoro’s Revival: In a delightful blend of the old and the new, German architect Karl Bengs collaborates with locals in Taketokoro, Niigata, revamping traditional Japanese kominka (farmhouse). These rejuvenated homes attracted a fresh wave of residents and investors to rural areas. They revitalised Taketokoro, saving it from the fate of other small towns.
Why It Matters
Japan’s population decline is causing problems in the country’s economic dynamism, innovation, and social welfare systems. The proactive strategies from these cities offer Japan a lifeline, providing a buffer without a comprehensive national policy and potential synergy if one is implemented. These methods also chart a course for other cities facing similar demographic hurdles globally.
These urban success stories underscore the vital role of community involvement, adaptability, and the fusion of contemporary needs with age-old traditions. In today’s fast-changing world, static policies fall short. The achievements of these cities advocate for a combination of grassroots, community-driven projects and overarching national strategies.
The Bottom Line
Japan is sitting on a goldmine of tested local policy. The country’s dependable data, coupled with the proliferating community meetings and the transparency of local governments, sets the stage to create a valuable body of knowledge that can link real-life policy with existing academic research. An intensified or strategic national approach (like in the Czech Republic) could further bolster these efforts, with local governments integrating this expansive body of knowledge (BoK). Furthermore, nations like France and the Czech Republic, renowned for their robust family policies, could draw inspiration from this BoK, enchanting the national policies with more robust local policies.