Tsunami-hit towns in Tohoku shaken by alarming rate of population drain

New homes will be build on artificially elevated land in central Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, to protect the town from future tsunami. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

February 11, 2016


Municipalities particularly hard-hit by the earthquake and tsunami disaster five years ago are reeling from drops in population that were projected to occur over decades due to the graying of society.

An Asahi Shimbun survey found that the average decline was 15.6 percent in 36 of the 42 cities, towns and villages in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, bringing the overall decrease to 156,182.

Experts said that such a sharp decline in just five years was at a level that Japan was expected to experience over a period of 30 years.

The survey was based on a comparison of figures that the three prefectures reported in national censuses undertaken in 2010 and 2015.

According to the tally, 13 towns and villages reported a decline of more than 20 percent.

Nine of them are located in Fukushima Prefecture, site of a nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

They include the towns of Namie, Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka, which are close to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and whose residents have been displaced due to continuing high radiation levels.

The others are coastal towns in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures that were devastated by tsunami.

In Miyagi Prefecture, the town of Onagawa experienced a staggering population drop of 37.0 percent. The figures for Minami-Sanriku and Yamamoto were 29.0 percent and 26.3 percent, respectively.

Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture experienced a population decline of 23.2 percent.

In contrast, the population of Sendai, the capital of Miyagi and the largest city in the Tohoku region, and of nearby Rifu, Natori and Iwanuma increased by a combined 42,188.

“People in the stricken coastal areas are migrating to urban areas, which offer more job opportunities and convenience,” a Miyagi prefectural official said.

(This article was written by Yoshitaka Ito and Nobuyoshi Nakamura.)