2003 5. Analysis on the Recent Population Change of Japanese Cities, Presented in EAROPH Nagasaki Seminar

Analysis on the Recent Population Change of Japanese Cities

(This paper was presented in EAROPH Nagasaki Seminar on September 9, 2003)

Yuichi Watabe1), Hirohide Konami2)

1. Introduction

Population is one of the most understandable indexes of urban vitality and also most reliable data to analyze. Therefore, this paper tried to analyze the characteristics of each city and find out the factors that influence on the population change. Analysis was carried out by three groups of urban population change such as;

(1) Rapidly growing group in metropolitan areas, 

(2) Rapidly growing group outside of above metropolitan areas, and 

(3) Rapidly decreasing group.

The definition is shown in the table.

Table 1 Definitions of each group

Group (1)Cities with the population increase of over 7% during the 5 years between 1995 and 2000 within the commuting areas of Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka metropolitan areas.
Group (2)Cities with the population increase of over 5% during the 5 years between 1995 and 2000 in the areas outside of above mentioned metropolitan areas.
Group (3)Population decrease of over 5% during the 5 years between 1995 and 2000 in local areas.

The reason why the cities of rapid population decrease in metropolitan areas are neglected is that the rapid population decrease of those cities and wards are limited in only wards where the administrative boundary change was implemented.

Then these 3 groups were analyzed from the view points of geographical location, transportation services, population size and the implementation of urban development projects especially land readjustment projects and other development projects for the research and manufacturing functions.  

The national population is estimated that the peak will be 127 million in the year of 2006 and starts to decrease after 2006 according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. 

On the other hand, the urban population will still increase based on the data between 1995 and 2000. The population of city planning area increased by 2.4 million during this term while the national population increase was only 1.4 million during the same term. This means that the population of city planning area may still continue to increase even if the total national population starts to decrease.

2. Extremes of population change

(1) Population increase

The top was Nishinomiya City located between Osaka City and Kobe City. The population of 1995 was 390,389 and that of 2000 was 438,105. This shows the increase of 47,716 during these 5 years. The second is Tsuzuki Ward in Yokohama City. This ward is located in the convenient place to commute to Tokyo and Yokohama and the home of Kohoku New Town developed by HUDC. Population increased by 38,316 from 116,776 in 1995 to 155,092 in 2000. The third is Sagamihara City nearby Tokyo and Yokohama. Population increased by 34,946 from 570,507 in 1995 to 605,561 in 2000. The common characteristics for these cities and a ward are the transportation convenience from big cities and the wide administrative areas. This shows the evidence of the fact that there is still strong housing demand in Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas.

(2) Increasing ratio

The top was Tsuzuki ward in Yokohama City by 32.8 % and the second was Nada ward in Kobe city by 23.6 %. The population in 2000 was 155,092 and 120,518 respectively. The common characteristics for both wards are hard to find because the Tsuzuki ward is rather located in suburbs and Nada ward in downtown. It is clear that Tsuzuki ward is the home of Kohoku New Town which is projected for the area of about 2,500 ha in Yokohama City expecting the total population of about 300 thousand by means of land readjustment project. On the other hand, Nada ward is located between Osaka and Kobe and hit by big earthquake in 1995 and implementing a large urban rehabilitation project in Rokkomichi Ekiminami area for the area of about 6 ha. Probably, the population in October in 1995, when the population census was carried out, shows the temporarily low extreme right after the disaster and the population migration after the earthquake occurred between 1995 and 2000 and showed such a big population growth. 

 Picture 1  The area before and after the project of Kohoku New Town1)

Picture 2  Right after the earthquake in 1995 in Nada ward 2)

(3) Population decrease

The top five of population decrease are shown in table 1.

City or WardPop. 1995Pop. 2000Amount of decrease
Amagasaki City488,586466,18722,399
Nagasaki City438,635423,16715,468
Tarumi Ward in Kobe240,203226,23013,973
Hakodate City298,881287,63711,244
Sakai City802,993792,01810,975

Table 2 The top five of population decrease (National Population Census)

Amagasaki City is located next to Osaka City and Tarumi Ward is the west end of Kobe City. Both areas are the both sides of heavily hit area of the earthquake and Tarumi Ward has a lot of public housing sites. Such big population decrease suggests the delay of the rehabilitation after the earthquake. 

Nagasaki City and Hakodate City are located in west and north Japan respectively. The common fact for both cities is that they are located at the end of Kyushu Island and Hokkaido Island respectively. Nagasaki is the terminal station of JR Nagasaki Line from Fukuoka metropolitan area and Hakodate is also the actual terminal station of JR Hakodate Line from Sapporo metropolitan area. This suggests that even the big cities like both cities may face the population decrease by their geographical disadvantage.

       Fig 1  The location of Hakodate City and  Nagasaki City 3)

Sakai City is south adjacent area of Osaka City and same as Amagasaki City that is the west adjacent. Osaka City itself is also losing population by 3,647 during the same term and this suggests that in general speaking the Osaka 15 km belt areas are losing population including Higashi Osaka City in east adjacent. This was probably caused by the deterioration of old housing areas developed in 1960s and 1970s by an extremely small lot for each house.

(4) Decreasing ratio

Top group is occupied by old coal mining cities like Yubari City, Utashinai City, Mikasa City, Akabira City in Hokkaido and followed by Muroto City in Shikoku Island and Ushibuka City in Kyushu Island. All of these cities have small population as less than 20 thousand and decreasing by 9~14 % during these 5 years. Muroto City and Ushibuka City have the same handicap that they are located at the end of peninsular.

3. Analysis by 3 groups

(1) Rapidly growing group in metropolitan areas

In Sapporo metropolitan area, just one city Ebetu city, about 20 km north east of Sapporo City, is growing over 7%. This city was attacked by big fire in 1954 and introduced land readjustment project for the rehabilitation. Since then, about 20 land readjustment projects were implemented for the area of about 1000 ha and the city succeeded to invite universities, research centers and inhabitants. One of the big proud would be that those land readjustment projects were mainly implemented by private union. This could be highly evaluated as a development model of a future city.

In Sendai Metropolitan area, Izumi Ward in Sendai City and Natori City, 10 km south of Sendai City, are growing by 10% and 8% respectively. The common fact for both areas would be the convenient location from Sendai downtown by subway and JR train. Izumi Ward was former independent Izumi City and developed central area by land readjustment projects and private new town projects, and also succeeded to construct subway line from Sendai Station. Natori City is located on the new railway line connecting Sendai Station and Sendai Airport. Then these areas can be characterized as bed towns of Sendai metropolitan area supported by railway system.

In Tokyo metropolitan area, 17 cities and wards are over 7%. 

 City or Ward    1995   2000 Increase %
Ryugasaki City69,16376,9237,76011.2
Ushiku City66,33873,258692010.4
Toda City97,571108,03910,46810.7
Asaka City110,789119,7128,9238.1
Wako City62,58870,1707,58212.1
Midori Ward in Yokohama82,780101,82919,04923.0
Tohgane City54,52059,6055,0859.3
Yachiyo City154,509168,84814,3399.3
Urayasu City123,654132,9849,3307.6
Yachimata City65,21872,5957,37711.3
Chuo Ward in Tokyo63,92372,5268,60313.5
Minato Ward in Tokyo144,885159,39814,51310.0
Kunitachi City66,71972,1875,4688.2
Inagi City62,80669,2356,42910.2
Tsuzuki Ward in Yokohama116,776155,09238,31632.8
Miyamae Ward in Kawasaki185,485200,04014,5557.9
Asou Ward in Kawasaki132,240142,2389,9987.6

Table 3  Rapidly Growing Cities in Tokyo Metropolitan Area  (National Population Census)

These are categorized into 4 groups. First group is far suburbs more than one hour from Tokyo downtown by train such as Ryugasaki City, Ushiku City and Tohgane City. Second is not so far as over one hour but rather far suburbs about one hour distance such as Yachiyo City and Yachimata City. These two groups are characterized as new residential areas in Tokyo region. Third is near suburbs like Toda City, Asaka City, Wako City, Midori Ward, Urayasu City, Kunitachi City, Inagi City, Tsuzuki Ward, Miyamae Ward and Asou Ward. These are typical bed towns. Final group is downtown Tokyo such as Chuo Ward and Minato Ward. These wards have been developed as business and commercial zones and had been losing population for a long time. But after the economic corruption in Japan in 1990s, land price became almost half of before and large scale housing project became economically feasible. Then each ward in downtown Tokyo is trying to get returning population especially for young and aged couples.

In Nagoya metropolitan area, Minokamo City, Midori Ward in Nagoya City, Owari-asahi City and Nisshin City are over 7%. 

City and Ward19952000Increase%
Minokamo City46,06550,0633,9988.7
Midori Ward in Nagoya City190,936206,86415,9288.3
Owari-asahi City70,07375,0664,9937.1
Nisshin City60,31170,1889,87716.4

Table 4  Rapidly Growing Cities in Nagoya Metropolitan Area (National Population Census)

Midori Ward, Owari-asahi City and Nisshin City are in the near suburbs of Nagoya region and developing as bed towns. Minokamo City is outer suburbs or rather independent area located about 40 km north of Nagoya and 30 km east of Gifu City. The reason of rapid growth is not clear but seems to be the improvement of access by national expressways and highways. Low land price of the area may be attractive for the people in the region not only for residence but also for manufacturing.

In Osaka metropolitan area, 7 cities and 6 wards are growing by over 7% as shown in table 5.

City and Ward19952000Increase%
Kusatsu City101.828115,45513,62713.4
Nishi Ward in Osaka58,67463,4024,7288.1
Kita Ward in Osaka85,48791,9526,4657.6
Izumi-Ohtsu City68,84275,0916,2499.1
Izumi City157,300172,97215,67410.0
Higashinada Ward in Kobe157,599191,30933,71021.4
Nada Ward in Kobe97,473120,51823,04523.6
Hyogo Ward in Kobe98,856106,8978,0418.1
Nagata Ward in Kobe96,807105,4648,6578.9
Nishinomiya City390,389438,10547,71612.2
Ashiya City75,03283,8348,80211.7
Sanda City96,279111,73715,45816.1
Kashiba City56,73963,4876,74811.9

Table 5  Rapidly Growing Cities in Osaka Metropolitan Area (National Population Census)

These cities and wards are all within one hour distance from Osaka City and developed as residential areas for Osaka region. Kita and Nishi wards in Osaka City are the adjacent area of Osaka downtown and recognized as the population recovery in downtown. Many wards in Kobe City are showing the quick recovery of the population after the earthquake. Sanda City is implementing a large new town project.

In Hiroshima metropolitan area, Asa-minami Ward in Hiroshima City and Higashi-hiroshima City show the growth of over 7%. Asa-minami Ward is west suburbs of Hiroshima City and a new transportation system opened in 1994 connecting the area within 30 minutes from downtown Hiroshima. Higashi-hiroshima City is 30 km east of Hiroshima City and Shinkansen station was opened in 1988. This area is good for residence and any other business because of the well prepared transportation system such as airport, shinkansen, JR railway, national expressway and national highways. Big land readjustment project is undergoing around the shinkansen station.

In Fukuoka metropolitan area, 4 cities and 2 wards are growing over 7%. 

City and Ward19952000Increase%
Ogohri City50,61254,5833,9717.9
Chikushino City81,98893,04911,06113.5
Ohno-jo City82,90389,4146,5117.9
Maebaru Cit57,94463,8835,93910.3
Chuo Ward in Fukuoka139,596151,60212,0068.6
Nishi Ward in Fukuoka154,667166,67612,0097.8

Table 6 Rapidly Growing Cities in Fukuoka Metropolitan Area (National Population Census)

All these cities and wards are within 30 minutes distance from downtown Fukuoka. Three cities except Maebaru City are located in south of Fukuoka and implementing new town projects and land readjustment projects. Maebaru City got the extension service of Fukuoka subway system in 1983. Nishi Ward is west suburbs of Fukuoka City and Chuo Ward is real downtown of Fukuoka City. The population increase in Chuo Ward shows the same phenomena as that of downtown Tokyo. 

The population change in metropolitan areas is concluded as follows. 

1) Downtown population recovery is observed in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka metropolitan areas.  

2) Cities located within 1 hour distance from the center in Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas and 30 minutes distance in the other metropolitan areas are still good target as residential area if the land price is relatively low. This would be promoted by new town development or land readjustment projects.

3) Rapid growing cities and wards are usually located along the convenient railway or subway services.

4) If we put in order the metropolitan areas by the number of rapid growing cities and wards, it becomes Tokyo(17), Osaka(13), Fukuoka(6), Nagoya(4), Sendai(2), Hiroshima(2) and Sapporo(1). This implies the strength of housing demand.

(2) Rapidly growing group in local areas outside of metropolitan areas

9 cities are pointed out as follows. These cities are rather small or medium size in population and worth for the analysis of the reason of population growth.

Name of City19952000Increase%
Ohtawara City53,68356,5572,8745.4
Tonami City38,53140,7442,2135.7
Shiojiri City60,48164,1283,6476.0
Susono City49,72952,6822,9535.9
Ohmura City79,27984,4145,1356.5
Uto City35,01037,2552,2456.4
Kokubu City50,04553,9663,9217.8
Gushikawa City57,16961,0613,8926.8
Urazoe City96,002102,7346,7327.0

Table 7  Rapidly Growing Rural Cities                 (National Population Census)

Ohtawara City is 150 km north of Tokyo and implemented 3 big land readjustment projects in 1970s. One for industrial area of 100ha and the others for residential and commerce of 160ha. Shinkansen station “Nasu-shiobara” opened in 1982 in the distance of 10 minutes driving. National Expressway “Tohokudo” is also running just west side of the city. These implies that the city has getting shinkansen commuters from Tokyo and also getting some new establishment of manufacturers. 

Tonami City is isolated from big cities and located in 250 km north of Nagoya City. The city implemented about 90 ha of land readjustment projects since 1990 and introduced some manufacturers with oversea workers. National express way “Hokurikudo” is running nearby.

Shiojiri City is located just in the center of national main island, 200 km west of Tokyo, 160 km north-east of Nagoya City. This area is traditionally leading high technical industries and still growing supported by many Brazilian labor forces. 

Susono city is located 120 km west of Tokyo and national trunk line “Tomei Expressway” is running in the area. Shinkansen station “Mishima” is in the 10 minutes driving distance and serving for the shinkansen commuters to Tokyo by every 10 minutes interval in the morning. Therefore the main reason of the population growth would be the increase of shinkansen commuters to Tokyo as observed in Ohtawara City.

Ohmura City is located 140 km south-west of Fukuoka city and 40 km north of Nagasaki City. This is the home town of Nagasaki Airport and getting related functions. The population increase is supported by natural and social increase by half and half. Then the reason of the population increase of the city would be the close location from Nagasaki Airport and Nagasaki Expressway. Land readjustment project has not been implemented in these 20 years.

Uto City is just 10 km south of Kumamoto City which has the population of 662 thousand and considered to be a bed town of Kumamoto City. 

Kokubu City is located 30 km north-east of Kagoshima City which has the population of 552 thousand and also near from Kagoshima Airport as about 10 km. The advantage of transportation by air and expressway leaded this city as an area of advanced technology. Then the reason of population increase would be the establishment of manufacturing and related service industries. 

Gushikawa City is 25 km north-east of Naha City in Okinawa Island. Population increase is mainly supported by the natural increase and some research industries such as Tropical Technology Center. This city shows very natural growth pattern of a city.

Urazoe City is just 5 km north-east of Naha City and considered to be adjacent suburbs of Naha City. Naha City has the population of 301 thousand but losing population by its high land price. Urazoe City is functioning as a accepter of the outflow.

In general, above cities can be characterized into 4 groups as follows.

1) Adjacent areas of Tokyo metropolitan area can expect the population of shinkansen commuters if a city prepares good conditions for them.

2) Well planned industrial developments for advanced technology are sill effective to keep the establishments and population even in rural areas mainly supported by cheap and good labor force from foreign countries.

3) Adjacent area of a commercial airport has an advantage to keep the population if the area is also served by expressway. 

4) Adjacent areas of rural big cities are expected to absorb the outflow population from the mother cities. 

(3) The group of population decrease of over 5% during the 5 years between 1995 and 2000 in local areas

There were 40 cities in this group in the year of 2000 and 10 cities out of them were former coal mining cities such as Yubari City, Rumoi City, Bibai City, Ashibetsu City, Akabira City, Monbetsu City, Shibetsu City, Mikasa City, Utashinai City and Yamada City. Former 9 cities are in Hokkaido and last Yamada City is in Kyushu. 2 out of them such as Muroran City and Kamaishi City are former iron manufacture city. These twelve cities were deleted from this analysis because of such obvious reason of population decrease. The other 28 cities are as follows.

City Name19952000DecreaseMinus %

Table 8  Rural Cities Rapidly Losing the Population        (National Population Census)

17 cities among above 28 cities are located extremely remote area without any rapid transportation services. They are as follows.

Name of CityDescription of the location
NemuroEast extreme of Japan and no expressway, no commercial airport
OgaTop of the peninsula and no expressway, no commercial airport
TochioInland deep snow and mountainous area
RyotsuRemote island about 350 km north of Tokyo in Japan Sea
WajimaTop of the peninsula, airport opened just in 2003
SuzuNext city of Wajima and by the same reason
OwaseAlmost top of peninsula and no expressway, no commercial airport
KumanoNext to Owase and by the same reason
In-no-shimaIsland in Setonaikai-Sea, expressway is under construction
MurotoSouthern cape of Shikoku Island, no expressway, no commercial airport
TosashimizuSame as Muroto with Cape Ashizuri
HiradoFar west in Kyushu Island, no expressway, no commercial airport
Matsu-uraSame as Hirado
UshifukaTop of the bridge connected island
TsukumiAlmost the air pocket area in Kyushu, express way opened in 2002
TakedaSame as Tsukumi City but no expressway, no airport
KushimaSouthern seashore city in Kyushu, no expressway, no airport

Table 9  Description for 17 remote cities

The other 11 cities may have respective reasons but it could be said that there are many cities without such rapid population decrease in the almost same geographic conditions. This means there might have been some idleness in urban development or urban policy. They are as follows.

Name of CityComments on the reason of population decrease
NikkoAbout 150 km north of Tokyo and famous sightseeing and historical city. JR and Tobu railways are terminated here but this will not be the reason of population decrease. This is rather a convenient place. Too much famous name of the city made the citizens forget the new or historical urban development. 
Ohtsuki80 km west of Tokyo and 1 hour by JR train. Chuo Expressway is running in the area. There is no reason to lose population so rapidly. Probably land use regulation by agricultural use prohibits any urban development. 
MinoLocation is inland but Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway is running and the distance from Nagoya is only 60 km. This means that there is not so big reason of population decrease. 
AtamiMost famous hot spring city, located 100 km west of Tokyo served by Tokaido Shinkansen. Might be hit by economy recess but good place to live in apartment type resort house with hot spring. Probably the high living cost of the area caused the population decrease.
Toba120 km from Nagoya City by railway and 45 minutes from prefectural capital Tsu City mean not so bad location. Toba City is surrounded by beautiful sea and famous resort area but far from expressway and airport. Population decrease would have been caused by the economy recess and the lack of ideas.
Miyatsu120 km north of Kyoto City and famous for its Amano-Hashidate Scenery, natural treasure, but far from expressway and airport. Population decrease would have been caused by the economy recess and the lack of ideas. 
BizenThis city might be just transportation air pocket between Hyogo and Okayama prefectures. But the location served by the expressways and the distance of 30 km from Okayama City and 50 km from Himeji City may not the barrier for the development. Traditional ceramics technology of the area could not be applied for the modernization.
Fuchu(Hiroshima Pref.)Inland city located 20 km north of Shinkansen Fukuyama station, and just in the middle of expressways and 30 minutes to Chugoku Expressway and about 1 hour to Sanyo Expressway. Population decrease may be inevitable but not the place to face rapid decrease. Good urban revitalization program would be needed.  
UwajimaThis city may be classified as a remote area but served by JR train and national highway from Matsuyama City which is the prefectural capital with the population of 473 thousand. The distance is about 100 km. The population size of Uwajima City is considered to be large enough to manage as a regional core city. There should be some revitalization program for the development of the area.
YahatahamaThis city is located just between Uwajima City and Matsuyama City served by JR train and Shikoku Expressway. Population decrease may be inevitable but not rapid decrease. Probably the high land price, general in Shikoku Island, worked as a barrier for the investment and development.
MinamataThis city is in the boundary of Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures and may be the air pocket but the population of the next city in Kagoshima side, Izumi City, is showing the slight decrease. The image of this city may not be good because of the mercurial poisoning but the location that this city is served by JR trunk line “Kagoshima Honsen” suggests the possibility of revitalization.  

Table 10 Description for the rural cities of rapid population decrease 

If we remind that there are many other cities with the similar geographical conditions and still keeping the population, these 11 cities are worth for the further analysis for the purpose of the prevention of the population decrease. 

In general, three conclusions can be derived as follows.

1) Above study suggests that the high living cost in famous tourism spots like Atami and Miyazu may cause the population outflow and also high land price like cities in Shikoku Island may also become a barrier for the development. 

2) The fact that the cities located just on the boundary of prefectures are facing big population loss means the necessity of some administrative efforts for these areas. Probably they are facing the transportation and political air pocket. 

3) The fact that not all cities in the same conditions face the rapid population decrease means the importance of well planned strategy for urban management.

4. Conclusion

Urban population is changing by many reasons even the national population is going to be stabilized. 

Rapid population increase was observed in the areas such as convenient residential areas in large metropolitan areas, some downtown areas in large metropolitan areas to receive returning population, well planned residential areas over 100 km far from Tokyo downtown within the distance of shinkansen commuting, rural areas with well planned industrial development, adjacent areas of airports served by expressways, and adjacent areas of rural big cities. It is also obvious that land readjustment projects worked very well in these population increasing areas. 

On the other hand, rapid population decrease was observed in the areas such as the adjacent areas of CBD of Osaka metropolitan areas, remote areas of Japan Islands, famous tourism spot areas, areas in the boundary of prefectures, and some areas in the air pocket of transportation and politics. 

For the effective revitalization of urban areas, it would be necessary to select the cities to be revitalized and the cities to be stabilized or lead to slow decrease of population. 

This study may not be enough to answer the above selected topics but to be continued to realize the fact in more detail.


1) http://www.udc.go.jp/kouhoku/overview1.html

2) http://www.city.kobe.jp/cityoffice/15/020/quake/95-96/images/Jan18/highway2.gif

3) http://www.amagaeru.com/go/sbt/jigsaw/lineup/y/500_l/05_2005.html

4) National Population Census, 1995 and 2000

5) Homepages of each city


1) Watabe, Yuichi : Student, Department of Regional Development Studies, Toyo University

2) Konami, Hirohide:  Professor, Graduate School of Regional Development Studies, Toyo