TOKYO >> The growth in the number of Japanese nationals living in Tokyo has slowed as fewer people have moved to the capital following the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Jan. 1, the population of Japanese nationals in Tokyo had grown by 39,493, according to a survey, and the population was up 0.3% from the previous year. But on January 1, 2020, the number of Japanese residents increased by 68,547, an increase of 0.52% over the same period.
And while the number of people moving to Tokyo declined, those leaving the prefecture increased by around 13,100.
The government had already started tackling population over-concentration in Tokyo, with financial support for teleworking and other incentives. But some experts believe the stunted growth is temporary.
A senior government official said the pandemic likely motivated people to leave the city. As the virus spread last year, the risk of infection was particularly high in Tokyo, where the population is densely concentrated.
The first state of emergency, declared in April 2020, sparked a growth in teleworking, which allowed people to relocate outside the city.
Of Japan’s 47 prefectures – Tokyo is the largest, with around 13.3 million Japanese citizens – 42 prefectures have seen their populations drop in the past year; however, the rate of decline has decreased.
In Chiba and Saitama prefectures, populations have been increasing rather than declining, while the rate of population growth has increased in Okinawa and Kanagawa prefectures.
To deal with over-concentration of the population in Tokyo, the government has introduced tax incentives for businesses locating in regional areas and subsidies for people locating there. However, the results were not significant.
Yet the government continues to encourage people to leave the city. It earmarked a “regional development telework grant” to support the development of satellite offices by local governments.
In Hakui, Ishikawa prefecture, which faces the Sea of Japan, the Chirihama coworking base opened in September. The facility is equipped with free Wi-Fi, a multifunction printer, and private cabanas for online meetings, as well as picturesque ocean views.
What is not clear is whether more people will migrate to regional areas. While the rate of population growth in Tokyo has slowed, the number of Tokyo residents has yet to decline.
“We have found that even an outbreak of a virus cannot easily change the trend,” a senior Cabinet official said.
A related problem is the limited growth of telecommuting.
In a July survey conducted by the Japan Productivity Center, 49.7% of respondents said their work efficiency had “decreased” or “slightly decreased” when working from home.
“Telecommuting will take hold once the coronavirus is resolved,” said Akira Kakioka, a senior researcher at the center. “I don’t think it will become more prevalent in the future.”