A Japanese city is offering to pay young couples a lump sum for moving into housing complexes where many elderly residents live, in an effort to reverse the area’s aging population.
Starting next month, Greater Tokyo’s Chiba city will subsidize up to 300,000 yen ($2,319) for newlyweds who settle in the buildings. Those recognized as lifetime partners under the city’s partnership system, launched to acknowledge the union of LGBTQ couples in a country where gay marriage is illegal, are also eligible. Only those under 39 can apply.
“We hope that the young couples potentially moving into these buildings will lend a helping hand for businesses or fill in the employment gaps we’re seeing in this area,” Takeshi Tanikawa, the assistant director of the city’s building management division, told VICE World News.
As the country with the oldest population in the world, Japan has been grappling with a shrinking society and declining birth rate since the 1970s. Officials fear that if left unresolved, a dwindling workforce could exacerbate labor shortages and slow economic growth.
Less urban areas like Chiba city, which has previously been nicknamed as Japan’s “ghost town,” have largely borne the brunt of these issues. In Japan, as seen in many other nations, young people move to the capital for greater job prospects. This leads to a concentration of people in large cities and suburbs dying out.
To survive, municipalities in such places must therefore come up with creative solutions to beckon the young.
In 2017, the village of Kosuge in Yamanashi prefecture—known for its idyllic setting that includes Mount Fuji—began building affordable small houses to attract young residents. In Fukushima prefecture’s Minamisoma, a sleek coworking space that doubles as accommodation was opened in 2019, to provide young entrepreneurs with flexible venues to kick-start their businesses.
For Chiba city, a cash payment may be the final push young couples need to make the move, besides the city’s scenic landscape and convenient location.
“It’s surrounded by the ocean, rivers and large parks, but it’s not far from the city,” said Tanikawa, who works in Chiba city’s building management division.
Additionally, the danchi (housing complexes) where applicants must live in to receive the compensation are located near schools, nurseries and stores, to make it a convenient place to live for those who wish to start families, he said.
According to Chiba city, more than 36 percent of residents in these danchi are over the age of 65. That’s more than 10 percentage points higher than the city’s whole population. In some buildings, over half of the inhabitants are elderly.
As the national population shrank by 0.51 percent in 2021 to 125.5 million, Japan’s suburban prefectures have seen the greatest population drop.
But even the metropolis of Tokyo, long a top destination for domestic and overseas migration, has witnessed a decline. In 2021, the capital’s population fell for the first time since 1995, by 0.27 percent, partly because strict border controls limited the number of incoming foreign workers.