Dreams of the Capital: Allure of Tokyo Large Among Regional High School Students Considering University


Many Japanese youths dream of moving to Tokyo. However, there are calls for more initiatives encouraging young people in regional centers suffering population decline to remain in their local areas for school and work.

Obsessed with Tokyo

On November 22, the Japanese government hosted a forum at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence where experts discussed the creation of communities, careers, and employment opportunities in Japan’s regions. The forum was part of ongoing efforts to address the country’s ageing and declining population and focused on helping regional centers leverage their unique characteristics to foster autonomous and sustainable communities. Reversing the trend toward population overconcentration in Tokyo was an important topic included in the forum’s comprehensive strategy. Authorities are expected to agree on the strategy by year’s end.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō spoke at the forum of his resolve to support residents, in particular young people, in finding career opportunities in regional centers. For residents of major cities, relocating to a regional center can be a scary prospect. Abe stressed the importance of gradually developing a connection, suggesting that potential transplants should initially remain in the city during the week and travel to the regional center on weekends to pursue side jobs, with a view to eventually settling permanently.

In an effort to support those who want to move out of Tokyo, the Japanese government provides information about opportunities in regional centers and offers financial incentives such as grants of up to ¥3 million for people who start businesses or accept jobs in regional areas. However, such initiatives have not shifted the tide of Japan’s demographic imbalance, and Tokyo still looms large in the minds of many young Japanese.

Forking Academic Roads

A division within the Cabinet Secretariat tasked with creating communities, careers, and employment in the regions recently released the results of a survey looking at how young people view the places they live. From June to August 2019, a team interviewed young people living in the regional centers of Niigata, Fukuoka, and Nagoya as well as Tokyo. Participants belonged to one of four groups consisting of three males and females each. The first group was tertiary students from Niigata, Fukuoka, and Nagoya who had chosen to stay in their local area; the second was twelfth-grade students from the three regions who were considering moving to Tokyo for tertiary education; the third was second- and third-year university students from the regions studying in Tokyo; and the fourth was twelfth-grade students originally from Tokyo who were attending high school in the capital.

The survey found that students followed a similar process when considering where to attend university. Upon entering high school, students did not have a strong preference about moving to Tokyo to study versus staying at home. However, from around September of the eleventh grade, as schools provided more intensive career counselling, students grew interested in studying in Tokyo. Respondents cited reasons like the wide range of universities and large selection of subjects to choose from, the impression they received while attending an open campus day, and a desire to live alone as influencing their preference for the capital.

I am from Niigata, and it is true that the prefecture has far fewer universities than Tokyo. When I was university shopping, I found that in terms of ranking and faculties, Niigata significantly trails the capital. As a high schooler, I preferred to attend a Tokyo school, and my desire strengthened after I visited the campus my preferred university and saw the vibrant neighborhoods and office buildings around the city. (I should note that I failed the entrance exam and never realized my wish.)

Although the survey illustrates that moving to Tokyo appeals to many high school students, there can also be misgivings. Respondents who intend to remain in regional centers cited finances and the economic burden of living in Tokyo, family, and reservations about living alone for their choice. At the same time, staff conducting the survey noted that not a single interviewee offered a positive reason for choosing a local university and that many of those who did express a preference for a regional school did so grudgingly, suggesting that students hold Tokyo in high regard.

Benefits of Studying Locally

Many respondents said the survey was the first time they had considered their path through life to such a degree and that they had never even discussed future plans with their friends. Some commented that the survey enabled them to rediscover what their local areas had to offer. The university students who were interviewed said that they would have liked to have joined the survey before matriculating as it might have changed the way they selected their university.

High school students are often so focused on earning good grades and getting into their university of choice that they have little time to thoroughly consider whether they are better off going to school in Tokyo or attending a local university. When considering what to study based on their grades and performance in mock entrance exams, students naturally tend to focus on Tokyo as it offers more options. Although Japan’s regions are suffering populations decline while Tokyo is becoming overcrowded, few respondents cited this as a factor in choosing where to go to school.

Regional areas have a lot of unique benefits to offer. However, awareness of these among the younger generation is low, and many see no benefit to remaining at home. I believe that to begin correcting the population imbalance, Japan must assist young people in regional centers to take a broader view of their future and begin considering local universities as an option.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on December 11, 2019. Text by Fuji TV Political Department Fukuda Yūichirō. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)


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