Families sick of the crowded streets and crammed subways that define Japan’s capital are being offered an incentive to move out: money.
From April, the Japanese government will start paying couples with children 18 and younger about one million yen ($7,700) per child to move out of Tokyo into less-populated areas of Japan. Single parent households and those who commute to Tokyo from neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures are also eligible.
But Mia and Paul Glaser, a couple living in Tokyo with their young son, said the money was hardly worth it. “It doesn’t sound persuasive enough to go through all that trouble,” Paul Glaser told VICE World News.
“Even though it's more expensive to stay here, I think just the distance alone is going to cause enough trouble for us to make it not worth it,” he said, citing the fact family members and both their jobs were based in the capital.
The relocation fee, which is more generous than the 300,000 yen (about $2,240) per child offered last year, is the government’s attempt to disperse Tokyo’s population into rural towns, in the hopes of revitalizing those regions.
In the last two decades,Tokyo has seen its number of residents grow more than 16 percent. Before the pandemic, tens of thousands moved annually to the capital but last year, the Tokyo metropolitan area recorded a drop in its Japanese population for the first time since records began in 1975.
Many relocate with the hopes of greater job prospects and higher pay. According to government data, the average monthly income for someone working in Tokyo was 373,600 yen (about $2,780) in 2020. In northern Aomori prefecture, that dropped to 240,500 yen (about $1,790), the lowest among all prefectures.
But this migration pattern, compounded with Japan’s rapidly aging and dying population, has left rural towns empty. Millions of unoccupied homes, called akiya, are left to rot, while schools and hospitals are forced to close. Rural towns are experiencing labor shortages and if this trend continues, 896 municipalities—nearly half of Japan’s total—could vanish by 2040, according to the think tank Japan Policy Council.
This all speaks to Japan’s larger demographic crisis. In recent years, the number of deaths have outnumbered births, with the latter hitting record lows each year. In 2021, 28.9 percent of Japan’s total population was 65 years and older. Just 11.8 percent were 14 years or younger in that same year. In the United States, which will also see an increase in the number of elderly according to projections, about 16 percent of its population is over 65 years old, according to 2020 data. 22.1 percent of the population was 18 and younger.
The government has cited high cost of living and lack of childcare support as reasons why people are having fewer children. Despite its high population, the capital has the lowest fertility rate of all 47 prefectures. That’s where the cash incentive comes in.
But Mia Glaser, the mother of one, said the government would have to offer much more for families to even consider moving. “I don’t think double or even triple that amount would be sufficient,” she said.
Though the cost of living was higher in Tokyo, given her husband’s insurance covered her son’s medical bills, there was more merit to staying in the capital.
To keep the money offered for this relocation program, households need to uphold their end of the bargain.
Those relocating must live in their new location for five years. One family member must also be working in the new town or planning to open a new business.
Additionally, relocating families are also able to receive up to three million yen (about 22,290 USD) if, at the place they relocate to, they can find employment at a small or medium sized company, start a new business or continue their old jobs remotely.
This specific program that pays families to leave Tokyo, financed equally between the central government and local municipalities, was launched in 2019. A mere 71 people moved that year, with that number increasingly slightly to 290 the following year. In 2021, 2,381 people moved out of the metropolitan area.
Previous programs that aimed to repopulate rural towns have included building small, affordable houses and offering newlyweds money to live near old people.