What do Tokyo’s most aging neighborhoods have in common

Tokyo’s 23 wards have as many as 15 city blocks that would be classed as ‘marginal villages’ due to their aging demographics. A marginal village is one where over 50% of the residents are over the age of 65. 

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper used census data from 2020 to create a list of the oldest neighborhoods in Tokyo. Of the approximately 3,000 city blocks in the 23 wards, 15 are marginal villages.

Nationwide, the population aged over 65 currently sits at 28.7%, up from a 17.4% share just two decades ago. In Tokyo’s 23 wards, there were 311 city blocks that exceeded this ratio. 

There are some straightforward explanations for this phenomenon in the country’s biggest city – the city blocks topping the rankings tend to be those filled with city housing apartment blocks. 

In top spot was the Higashikojiya 6 Chome address in Ota ward with 64% of residents over the age of 65. This is a 43 point increase from the 2000 census.

Located directly across the river from Haneda Airport, this address is largely filled with warehouses and logistics facilities. The residents primarily live in several public housing blocks and an aged-care facility. There aren’t any privately-developed housing options in this address. 

In second spot was Okura 3 Chome in Setagaya ward with a ratio of 60.9%, up 32 points from the 2000 census. This address is entirely filled with the Okura Jutaku public housing buildings. It was closely followed by Kirigaoka 1 Chome in Ota ward with a ratio of 58.9%, up 23.3 points since 2000. This address, too, is almost exclusively public housing. 

The development of city-operated public housing reached its peak in the late 1960s. Public housing blocks built up until the mid-1970s currently represent about 30% of all public housing. A survey carried out by the Tokyo metropolitan government in 2020 found that 69.2% of tenants in city-operated public housing were over the age of 65, and 82.4% were one-person households.

Public housing is designed as a safety net for low-income earners and typically has strict application criteria, such as limits on household income and not allowing adult children. Some municipalities, struggling with vacancies in the older housing blocks, are starting to offer relaxed criteria in order to attract younger tenants. In March 2022, Tokyo began to allow university students to apply for housing in a tie-up with local universities. Sapporo City has a similar program, with the students required to help participate in snow shoveling around the buildings during the winter months. Since March, Tokyo has set aside 700 empty apartments for Ukrainian refugees, and 153 of those apartments have been filled as of September. 

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), there were 46,758 apartments in public housing blocks nationwide that had been vacant for over 12 months as of 2020, up 150% from 2011, and representing 2% of the total stock. 

The Yomiuri Shimbun, September 25, 2022.
The Asahi Shimbun, October 15, 2022. 

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