Fujiyoshida–A few days ago, I was reading the English-language newspaper The Daily Yomiuri when I happened upon an article containing a striking figure: according to the most recent census figures, 20% of Japan’s population is elderly. Now, this certainly wasn’t the first time that I’d heard reports of the country’s low birthrate and gradually shrinking population–it’s been an issue tossed around by statisticians, commentators, and even manga artists (i.e. Roujin-Z) for quite some time–but it still came as something of a surprise to me. After all, I’d just spent the last few days in Nara and Kyoto, sites where one can hardly turn in any direction without seeing a mass of schoolchildren in matching uniforms being led by their sensei towards the closest temple complex. Their presence in both cities was so pervasive that the thought actually crossed my mind a few times: “Population crisis? What population crisis? These people are doing just fine.”
A number of adventures and mishaps later, Jason and I arrived in Fujiyoshida, a small town located, as its name suggests, not far from Mt. Fuji. It’s a pretty little town with green hills all around it and a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji. It is also, so far as I can tell, in the early stages of becoming a ghost town. At first glance, it seems a town like any other, but it doesn’t take long to notice that the street signs are faded and rusting, that many of the shops stay closed all day and all night, that most of the pedestrians are elderly. Jason noted this while we were walking and said something to the effect that “you can really see Japan’s aging population here.” And, sadly, it’s true. The population is shrinking and at the same time consolidating itself into the metropolitan areas.
Hopefully this will change, but at the present time it doesn’t seem likely. 2007 is actually looked on by the number-crunchers as a sort of doomsday year in this regard: a huge number of baby boomers, specifically those born between 1947 and 1949, will be retiring–not good for the economy. We’ll see what happens in the coming years, I suppose.
Well, I’m out of time, again. Next chance I get, I’ll tell you all about how Jason and I tried to walk from Kofu to the Fuji Five Lakes area and got horribly lost. Fun times.
Oh, and at least one person has e-mailed me requesting that I enable comments. I’ll try that for this post and see what happens. Peace.