A model for co-prosperityThe population density of the Tokyo metropolitan area is just as serious as that of Seoul.
As of October 2015, one fourth of Japan’s population were living in Tokyo, or about 36.13 million people. In the past five years, the number of Tokyo residents has grown by 500,000 even as Japan’s total population shrinks. Though the birth rate in Tokyo is 1.15 — lower than the national average of 1.42 — the greater Tokyo area is also absorbing young people from other regions.
Some are concerned about Tokyo becoming too concentrated while other regions face extinction.
The greater Tokyo area is getting old. Five years ago, one out of five people were over the age of 65. By 2020, one in four will be a senior. By 2050, two in five will be older than 65.
The number of seniors older than 75 is a particularly serious concern. That number is expected to increase from 3.97 million last year to 5.72 million by 2025. An aging population of this size is unprecedented anywhere in the world. It will surely lead to problems in health care and a lack of space in senior care facilities.
To deal with the imminent issues, Suginami District in Tokyo has begun constructing a facility for seniors with 100 beds in its sister city of Minamiizu in Shizuoka Prefecture. It is located at the southernmost tip of the Izu Peninsula, a popular tourist destination.
The connection benefits both local governments. There are 1,240 people on the waiting list for the nursing home. It would cost about 20 billion won ($17.4 million) to buy a building large enough to house 100 people in Tokyo, while the same site in Minamiizu would cost one twentieth of that. Suginami District plans to offer higher-quality facilities and services with all the money it’s saving.
It is a great opportunity for Minamiizu, whose population is 8,700. The town’s population has been decreasing, as have visits from tourists. A nursing home with 100 residents will create 70 new jobs. Considering that the local government hires 125 people annually, the new opportunity is significant.
Some criticize that the new plan forcibly moves seniors to remote places. But it is at least an attempt to benefit both urban and rural areas. Cities are seeing their residents get older, while other regions are seeing their populations shrink and suffering from financial challenges.
The U.S. Census Bureau found that Korea’s aging trend is one of the world’s fastest with while its fertility rate is one of the lowest. The capital region is overcrowded while other regions are growing less dense every day. It is unbalanced. Even as the country becomes rich, it’s growing old. Social security for the elderly is not so reliable. We need to make plans and act now to prevent the country from suffering from a terminal illness.
JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 2, Page 26
*The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY OH YOUNG-HWAN