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  • Economist.com offers microcosm of Nagasaki as example of Japan’s urban decline

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on January 24th, 2011

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    Hi Blog. The Economist last week had quite a bleak article about Nagasaki, and used it as an example of Japan’s urban decline. Of course, it hints at the possibility of urban renewal through influxes of people (using the oft-cited policy panacea of “foreign students“). But again, not immigration. As far as Debito.org is concerned, the best bit of the article is:

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    Can Nagasaki pull out of the spiral? Historically, after all, the city is Japan’s most open, allowing in Dutch and Chinese merchants in the 17th-19th centuries when foreign trade with the rest of the country was banned. Nagasaki is one of the closest cities to China and South Korea, with opportunities for tourism and trade. The museum to the atom bomb and its victims is world famous. Nagasaki is the birthplace of Japanese Christianity. It was a cradle of insurrection against the last shogunate, helping to shove Japan into the modern age with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

    To reverse the decline, Mr Sato has drawn up a plan with local officials that looks for overseas revenues to make up for falling domestic ones. That is hardly revolutionary. Among the goals are doubling numbers of foreign students, to 3,000; turning the shipyard into a tourist site; and bolstering sales of kamaboko, a rubbery fishcake. But asked about bolder measures such as encouraging foreign investment and skilled immigrants, Mr Sato says there is “not the right environment” for that yet.
    ====================================

    Still wondering if the “yet” ever expires, even as things go down and down. Arudou Debito

    Full article follows:
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    The alarm bells of Nagasaki
    Japan’s “window on the world” is now a window on what ails the country
    Urban decline in Japan
    Economist.com Jan 13th 2011 | NAGASAKI | from PRINT EDITION

    http://www.economist.com/node/17909982?story_id=17909982

    AT 60, Hiroshi Ikeguchi wryly describes himself as one of the youngest in his district. He has lived his whole life in Irifune, just above the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard. But like his ageing neighbours, the Nagasaki suburb is collapsing around him. A dozen houses have been left to rot after their owners have died. Some are piles of timber; in others, katsura trees grow through the roofs. Outside one is a new year’s offering of fruit left by a neighbour who still laments how the death of the “kind old lady” who lived there went undiscovered for a week. Peer through the letterbox, and in the gloom you see a calendar pinned to the wall. The date is September 1988.

    In Mr Ikeguchi’s youth, when Nagasaki was rebuilding itself after nuclear devastation in 1945, the streets near his house rang with the sound of shipwrights walking to the Mitsubishi yard each morning. Now Nagasaki’s economy has gone still. The port city’s fortunes show how three forces sapping Japan’s energies—depopulation, overcentralisation and foreign competition—are hurting not just rural backwaters but once-prosperous cities on Japan’s fringe. The phenomenon remains partly hidden. Residents of luxury apartments across the bay complain about Irifune’s shabby appearance. If only they knew, Mr Ikeguchi says, how bad it really is.

    Nagasaki’s troubles are self-reinforcing, argues Takamitsu Sato, president of the Nagasaki Economic Research Institute. Since the 1960s a brain drain has sucked people towards Osaka and Tokyo. Young people who left to find jobs elsewhere never came back. Even now, seven in ten college students leave to study, and over half of young people find jobs elsewhere.

    The brain drain reinforces a demographic trend. The prefecture’s working-age population has shrunk from over 1m in 1990 to 874,000 in 2008, a result both of the exodus and a declining birth rate. The prefecture of 1.45m is shrinking and ageing so fast that one of Nagasaki’s main department stores, Tamaya, has closed down its children’s department and stocked up on undergarments and hearing aids. With shrinking investment, and fewer jobs and young families, new house-building has fallen by half in the past ten years.

    So now Nagasaki’s living standards are falling too, a shock in a country where economists said that individuals could be better off even if the overall economy shrank in size. Mr Sato’s institute reckons that if today’s trends continue, GDP per person will fall from ¥3.26m ($28,000) in 2007 to ¥3.14m by 2020. Everything, he says, is going downward.

    Can Nagasaki pull out of the spiral? Historically, after all, the city is Japan’s most open, allowing in Dutch and Chinese merchants in the 17th-19th centuries when foreign trade with the rest of the country was banned. Nagasaki is one of the closest cities to China and South Korea, with opportunities for tourism and trade. The museum to the atom bomb and its victims is world famous. Nagasaki is the birthplace of Japanese Christianity. It was a cradle of insurrection against the last shogunate, helping to shove Japan into the modern age with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

    To reverse the decline, Mr Sato has drawn up a plan with local officials that looks for overseas revenues to make up for falling domestic ones. That is hardly revolutionary. Among the goals are doubling numbers of foreign students, to 3,000; turning the shipyard into a tourist site; and bolstering sales of kamaboko, a rubbery fishcake. But asked about bolder measures such as encouraging foreign investment and skilled immigrants, Mr Sato says there is “not the right environment” for that yet.

    Meanwhile, Nagasaki’s once-mighty shipping industry has been keelhauled by South Korean and Chinese yards with lower costs and quicker thinking. And Mr Ikeguchi says that even modest government initiatives, like demolishing abandoned houses in Irifune to attract newcomers, take years to grind through city hall.

    Like the elders of Nagasaki, the prime minister, Naoto Kan, realises that Japan must look abroad since its own markets are shrinking. At the start of 2011, he declared (143 years after the fact, some might say) that this was the “first year of opening Japan to the outside world” in the modern era. Nagasaki is a good example of why action needs to be swift and bold.

    Correction: 1.45m people live in the prefecture of Nagasaki, not the city as we originally wrote. This was corrected on January 18th 2011.

    ENDS

    4 Responses to “Economist.com offers microcosm of Nagasaki as example of Japan’s urban decline”

    1. Johnny Says:

      These figures are for Nagasaki prefecture as a whole, and are taken from the Japanese language wikipedia entry. In the last 15 years, Nagasaki prefecture has lost around 8% of its population (despite having one of the higher birthrates in Japan).

      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%95%B7%E5%B4%8E%E7%9C%8C

      1980年(昭和55年) 1,590,564人
      1985年(昭和60年) 1,593,968人
      1990年(平成2年) 1,562,959人
      1995年(平成7年) 1,544,934人
      2000年(平成12年) 1,516,523人
      2005年(平成17年) 1,478,632人
      総人口 1,422,979人
      (推計人口、2010年11月1日)

      Interesting too is the age breakdown. There’s a clear dip when young people hit school leaving age, i.e they are getting the hell out and not coming back.

      Fairly typical picture though for many of Japan’s regional areas, and the local governments don’t have the vision or the urgency to turn things around.

    2. Hoofin Says:

      But asked about bolder measures such as encouraging foreign investment and skilled immigrants, Mr Sato says there is “not the right environment” for that yet.

      The plan would be to teach the locals English and business skills in the international environment. Then, once you have a base of authentically skilled people, start competing with places like Taiwan and Hong Kong (and yes, Tokyo) for the international jobs. You need a local university to spearhead this.

      This could be 75% good in 5 years, and fully in place by 2021.

      If he waits until 2021, some other region will have put it in place already . . .

    3. Hoofin Says:

      An afterthought (since I am posting in Eastern Standard Time):

      You’d think that $200,000 the Japanese government gave away to that critic of yours a few months back could have been used as seed capital for the governor’s project . . .

    4. adam Says:

      “Nagasaki is a good example of why action needs to be swift and bold.”

      Someone tell me of one major issue that has been acted on swiftly and boldly. Feel free to include the last few decades.

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