Ghost Towns in Japan
Japan is a beautiful country and out of the urban areas, one suffused with peace, tranquillity and spiritualism. It’s the ideal place for spirits of the past to reside. Its name roughly translated from the Japanese means ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ referencing the unobstructed view of the sunrise from the eastern coastal habitations across the Pacific to the east.
The country is really an archipelago, formed of 6,852 islands with the four largest, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku having 97% of the population. As you’d imagine, many of the other islands are sparsely inhabited or completely uninhabited, ghost islands!
Big city Japan is an experience far removed from ghost towns. The Greater Tokyo Area is the largest metropolitan area in the world and with the highest density, 35 million people live within its boundaries – little room for humans, let alone ghosts. The whole country houses 127 million people, the tenth most populous country on the planet.
The country is one of huge contrasts, 87% of the population lives in the coastal cities so even on the big populated islands, there are many areas of near desertion.
It is the world’s third largest economy and has the highest life expectancy in the world, the second lowest murder rate and the lowest infant mortality rate.
The country’s extremes don’t just include that between the cities and countryside. The geography is incredibly varied with most of the country formed of steep volcanic mountains including the iconic Mount Fuji. The narrow coastal plains rise steeply to these majestic peaks. Elsewhere terrain like the Arctic tundra abounds in the north whilst tropical rainforests cling to the southernmost islands. The climate varies accordingly from Arctic winters and warm summers in the north, temperate climates in the middle and a tropical climate including a monsoon season in the south.
The spread of the Japanese people across their nation has been restricted by both its geography and climate. The mountainous areas are too steep for agriculture, industry or residency but over the centuries industrious farmers have carved terraces into the lower slopes to help feed a ballooning population.
Heavy rains in these areas also made life dangerous, over the millennia, countless mudslides have engulfed villages and towns, wiped out agricultural land and killed thousands of Japanese.
Many other factors have affected Japan’s population and have had an impact on the number of ghost areas and ghost towns.
Japan emerged from early settlement with a strong population who lived in a developing civilised society trading with its mainland neighbours but then the perils of contact with the outside world began to take their toll.
Smallpox, believed to have been brought to the country by early travellers killed one third of the country’s population in the 8th century, destabilising the country, inhibiting its growth and development. The epidemic lasted nearly three years and caused significant upheaval in the population.
In the past the country’s food production has been susceptible to the vagaries of the climate and with such a variety of climates within the country difficulties in predicting and working with the weather caused problems. In the 17th century there were twenty one years of famine and starvation killed over half of the population already reeling from over 80 separate years of famine in the previous three centuries. Areas hardest hit lost all of their population, either from starvation, disease or migration to other parts of the country leaving swathes of the country unoccupied and many ghost villages which remain ghostly reminders of tragic days from the past.
In the 20th century, Japanese pride in its golden history led it to once again attempt to become a colonial power in the region and brave but ultimately disastrous decisions were made on pugilistic strategy. Japan entered World War II on the side of the Axis powers and after foolishly awaking the US to the war ultimately suffered with the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
At the end of the war, over five million Japanese had been killed and the country was an industrial and economic wasteland.
The Allies occupied Japan until 1952 and set in place the means for it to rise from the ashes to become one of the world’s greatest industrial powers.
Today there are fears for the future of the population. The biggest cause of death for the under 30 age group is suicide, where despite government action a record eighth year in a row has seen over 30,000 suicides. Furthermore, a large proportion of the population is over 65 and rising living standards have meant that the birth rate has fallen dramatically, leading to predictions of a population collapse over the rest of the century. It’s estimated that the population will drop to 100 m by 2050 and to 64 m by 2100, a fall of 50% from today’s figures. Undoubtedly we will see more ghost towns develop over the rest of the century and visitors to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, now dubbed ‘The Land of the Falling Population’ will have even more of the peace and solitude in which to wander through deserted mountain villages with the scent of pine in the air, the sound of crystal clear water bubbling over stones and the cry of eagles soaring over an empty land.