Elderly cities

Nanmoku is the city with the oldest population in Japan. It has 22 thousand inhabitants, of which 52,7% is older than 65 years old.The leaders of this city in the Japanese province of Gunma are desperate. They urgently need young people to renew their population or else be prepared to...
Elderly cities

NanmokuNanmoku is the city with the oldest population in Japan. It has 22 thousand inhabitants, of which 52,7% is older than 65 years old.

The leaders of this city in the Japanese province of Gunma are desperate. They urgently need young people to renew their population or else be prepared to “disappear from the map”.

In a last attempt to change this dramatic situation, since last December the city has offered a house and 150 000 yen (around 1300 USD) to whoever is between the ages of 20 and 40 years old and moves to the city for at least 3 years, taking part in an urban and social revitalization programme currently being implemented.

As of last Monday of January 26th no one had applied to the programme.

There is total desolation in the city that survives mainly from the cultivation of konnyaku (a type of potato) and flowers. They are urgently looking for new ideas that will contribute to reversing certain death. It is already estimated that if this trend continues, around the year 2040 the city will be reduced to a little more than 600 inhabitants.

Nanmoku is stuck in the middle of a mountainous region. It has no motorway or train connection. Its residents have to go to a neighbouring city to access the motorway or railway.

Meanwhile, and after the release of this news by the international media, the city received dozens of contacts and information requests by foreign citizens (most of them South Americans). The Japanese authorities don’t close their doors to potential emigrants, however they state that “whoever wants to join the programme must be based in the country and acquire a permit accordingly”.

They also highlight that the main idea was to attract neighbouring and Japanese residents since the language is considered an important issue as well as the need to hold a visa. That is, despite not preventing the applications, they do admit they were not planning on receiving foreigners.

This despite the programme, called Chiiki Okoshi Kyoryu Tai, not having a single candidate as of 26th January on the publication of the information in the journal Yomiuri. In Japanese of course. 

Meanwhile in Europe…

The demographic issue is one of the most obvious headaches for the authorities of that Asian country. They are concerned with the sustainable balance of the nation within a period of time that gets shorter and shorter! The increase in life expectancy, the ever-dwindling number of births and the resulting generational imbalance is reaching alarming levels in the country of the “Rising Sun”.

But this is also the story of the “old” Europe, where there are numerous and varied cases of cities and regions looking to promote incentives to birth, for example, but also other types of incentives to attract residents and establish populations. There is, however, a feeling that these policies don’t show any visible results (and some of them are being implemented for decades). That absence of results and the perpetuation of measures that are apparently “innocuous” turn this problem into a very serious one in most of the European countries, especially in the case of Portugal. There is a degrading stage for propaganda of party politics that takes place regularly and notoriously in election cycles and whose results, in practice, are residual and not very significant. These remain far from the obligatory solution and urgent political gravity that everyone must internalise in the approach to this subject, regardless of political cycles or electoral interests.

Retirement old-aged cities in Portugal and in Europe are, generally speaking, a problem of the western world. There are critical problems for the free and contemporary societies that emerge sooner or later. The case of the population exodus to bigger cities, mainly of young people looking for employment, better life conditions and opportunities, constantly is pressing the pillars on which they rest. The balance, in bigger cities, becomes delicate and the smallest oscillations reveal realities of “grey” and inhuman cities.

On the other hand, populations that are young, creative and innovative tend to take part in that exodus, leaving behind the countryside, the province, and the smaller cities, where the demographic differences are accentuated. The older population layers, which are less tending to risk, to innovation and to entrepreneurship, resist. Within this trend there is also a more conservative ideological orientation that is embedded in the policies and public administration of the smaller cities. Among several vicious cycles, there are fewer and fewer resources where one of the most obvious and mandatory should always be intelligence, but also conscience. Because worse than not understanding, is not seeing.


  1. March 17, 2015 13:06 Reply

    Fascinating blog, Vitor! Here in the Netherlands there are also several regions where the people are aging fast and the young leave. The regions of Groningen, Limburg and Zeeland are fighting the same challenge: how do we attract young citizens? In a way smart cities (by technology) doesn’t seem to do the trick… And a financial stimulans like in Japan, won’t do it either – in my opinion. What is the approach of the municipalities and national governments in the Southern European countries? Do you have any examples, Vitor? Hope you have some insights we Dutch can learn from!

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