Why Do All The Kids Want To Move To Tokyo?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asks:

I have recently watched Your Name as well as Sakura Quest and it has me wondering why every youths do or die goal is to move to Tokyo. It makes me wonder why only Tokyo? I assume that each prefecture has some equivalent of a capital or at least one city of size. It gives the impression that Tokyo is the NYC of Japan and everywhere else might as well be our equivalent of the fly over states or rust belt.

Actually, most prefectures do not have major cities in them. In fact, without the greater Tokyo area, there are only seven cities in Japan with a population of over a million people: Kyoto, Sendai, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Kobe and Fukuoka. The biggest of those, Osaka, is home to 2.6 million people.

Tokyo, by comparison, is so big it's not even considered a city anymore, because it takes up an entire prefecture. (It's actually even bigger than that if you count suburbs like Yokohama, which by itself has a million more people in it than Osaka). Tokyo proper has over 13 million people in it. It's the center of all Japanese government, commerce, media, fashion, industry and culture. Nothing else in Japan even comes close. Its relationship to the rest of the country is more like London is to England rather than New York City is to America. Or if you prefer, imagine New York City if everything that happened in Los Angeles and Chicago moved there, and a good chunk of Long Island was annexed.

Like any other country, kids growing up in Japan are either comfortable where they are, or dream of something better for themselves. If they have lofty dreams and they're growing up in Kyoto or Osaka, there might be a better chance they're satisfied where they grew up. But if you're young, you have big dreams, and you want to give it your best and Aim for the Top, there's only one place to go.

But you're actually not far off in your comparison between rural Japan and the Rust Belt of the USA. In fact, it's a very similar story to what's happening in North America: more and more young people are fleeing the more rural areas in favor of the cities and the major metropolitan areas. According to Nikkei News, some areas have lost up to 10% of their population in just the last four years, and some areas are predicting a drop in the young female (20-39) population of up to 80% by 2040. While Japan's overall population is dropping, that's such a major decline that it's felt. Walk into some of these towns and it feels like everyone is elderly.

Like the rust belt, young people flee these areas for two major reasons: school and jobs. If you want to go to the best college (and getting into a good school is basically Japan's national past time), all of the major universities are in the big cities. The city is dotted with mining towns that no longer operate, and not many young people are into things like forestry and farming.

Just like rural America, it can be pretty boring out in the sticks of Japan. There are no karaoke bars, no concerts, few shops that have been renovated in the past 30 years. Fashions and social attitudes are behind the times (and now that everyone has internet, you are well aware of this). There aren't many other young people, either: chances are, everyone around your age is someone you already know from school.

People do move to cities other than Tokyo, but if it's a big, shiny, cultured life you want for yourself, you're probably not going to find it in Sendai or Nagasaki. If you want to be someone in Japan, in nearly any capacity, you pretty much have to go to Tokyo.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

    Header Photo By Morio - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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