While the great agglomerations around Tokyo and Osaka increasingly attract people and activities, most of the other cities in Japan are shrinking, because the total population of the country has been dwindling for several years. The port city Hakodate, situated on the southern coast of Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, is a typical example.
The decline of the shipping and fishing industries in the 1970s led to an economic crisis; in addition, the dedication of a new railway tunnel and a new rail route 50 kilometers away at the end of the 1980s turned the former transport node into a peripheral site. At the same time, city dwellers began moving to the suburbs, so that the inner city lost almost half of its residents, many buildings have been abandoned, and plots of land lie fallow.
And yet Hakodate’s delightful landscape and its historical center make it one of Japan’s most beautiful cities and draw more than 5 million tourists each year. The municipal administration has invested in renewing the historical center and renovated more than 100 buildings since 1988. But lack of immigration, a low birthrate, and migration to the great metropolitan regions, especially by younger people, will exacerbate the shrinkage in the coming decades. The rural regions of Hokkaido will be even more affected; their population has already fallen by more than half in some cases. Japanese society faces great challenges not only because its population is dwindling, but also because it is rapidly growing older.