Towns in the rest of the country can’t compete with the lure of the biggest city in Japan.

While it’s common knowledge that Japan has a low birth rate, you’d never guess it from walking around Tokyo. The city’s downtown neighborhoods can feel positively packed with people, and it’s getting more crowded every year, as Tokyo’s population continues to grow.

All those new Tokyoites weren’t born in the city, though. More people have moved to Tokyo than away from the capital for each of the past 22 years, and it’s not hard to see why. Tokyo offers, by far, Japan’s greatest variety of educational and professional opportunities, so it’s not at all unusual for people who grew up elsewhere to come to the city for college or trade school, then stick around after finding a job locally.

However, this has resulted in a population drain on other parts of Japan, who see their best and brightest moving out of the region, never to return. In recent years, the Japanese government has been looking into ways to revitalize the country’s fading small-to-mid-sized regional communities, and now it’s proposing what might be its most bluntly direct tactic yet: bribing people to move out of Tokyo.

Last week, the federal government said that it’s considering establishing a system to provide financial grants to people currently living in Tokyo’s 23 central wards (the most populated parts of the city) who move away to start new jobs or set up new companies. They’re not talking pocket change, either, as the early proposal would give you up to three million yen (US$26,500) to get out of town.

The payment is intended to cover the costs of moving and setting up a new home outside of the capital, and with three million yen being not far off from the annual salary of many entry-level white-collar jobs in Japan, it’s essentially a year’s advance on your paycheck. The proposal doesn’t specify how far away from Tokyo’s 23 wards you have to move to be eligible for the grant, so it’s possible that people relocating to the outer edges of Tokyo that lie beyond the 23 wards could also be eligible.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has expressed some doubts about the initiative. “It will be necessary to monitor how much of an effect payments of three million yen have,” she said at a press conference following the news of the potential grant system. “It might be wiser for the government to focus on spreading the word about the unique characteristics and strengths of other regions, and otherwise working on ways to make them desirable places to live.”

Koike has a point, since while a one-time payment will help grease the wheels of those thinking about the road out of Tokyo, it doesn’t do much to help set up any one alternative town as particularly attractive. To that end, the government is also mulling over a new set of grants and tax incentives for designated cities, with even relatively large regional urban centers like Sendai and Sapporo potentially on the list. Exact details are still being hammered out, but the “get out of Tokyo” payment system could be in place as early as next year.

Source: NHK News Web via Hachima Kiko
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