Mapping Japanese City Spaces: Fukushima and Minamisoma
I’ve received requests to cover Fukushima in lieu of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster that remains a pressing issue for the nation. I chose to focus on the Fukushima City and Minamisoma urban areas, those closest downwind from the stricken power plant.
You can click on any map to enlarge it.
1960 was before the construction of the Fukushima plant, in fact before the construction of any nuclear reactors in Japan. Minamisoma in those days was called Haramachi. The major regional city of Fukushima, formerly a small castle town, had already grown beyond its old shape more than many cities at the time. All the other neighboring local cities remained independent, apart from Iizaka, Fukushima’s one northern suburb with a dense population.
Fukushima Metro Area 82,783 59th
Haramachi Micro Area 15,462
Nihonmatsu Micro Area 10,790
Soma Micro Area 10,073
Fukushima City 73,945 92nd
89.3% of metro area
Fukushima grew significantly in the 1960s, mainly northwards. The city itself not only sprawled out but annexed Iizaka into the city proper, while some new suburban developments emerged to the north. At the same time, the city and urban area lost ranking, an indication of just how fast other regional industrial cities were developing in the same period.
Some of the small local cities severely dropped in population, but this was actually typical of small DIDs in rural areas, which declined on average in the 1960s and would generally continue to fluctuate back and forth in the Showa period, slowly losing people.
By 1970, the Japanese nuclear infrastructure was aggressively advancing, with the prototype reactor complete in 1966 and the Fukushima complex nearing operational status.
Fukushima Metro Area 106,876 67th + 29.1% – 8 ranks
Haramachi Micro Area 16,605 + 7.4%
Nihonmatsu Micro Area 10,649 – 1.3%
Soma 8,292 – 17.7%
Yanagawa 7,167 + 29.0%
Kawamata 7,066 – 5.4%
Fukushima City 96,016 108th + 29.8% – 16 ranks
89.8% of metro area + 0.5% of metro area
Fukushima’s growth accelerated even further in the 1970s. The city proper in particular experienced a massive urban expansion, extending at the borders and developing other outskirt neighborhoods to the north and south. Its share of the urban area actually increased at the same time many Japanese urban areas were decentralizing.
Fukushima Plant 1 was now online and producing power. Haramachi, closest urban area to the plant, experienced a major swell in urban population. Smaller area DIDs continued to decline, typical of such towns in rural areas.
Fukushima Metro Area 145,405 63rd + 36.1% + 4 ranks
Haramachi Micro Area 21,131 + 27.3%
Nihonmatsu Micro Area 12,681 + 19.1%
Soma 9,172 + 10.6%
Yanagawa 6,869 – 4.2%
Kawamata 6,658 – 5.8%
Fukushima City 137,617 108th + 43.3%
94.6% of metro area + 4.8% of metro area
As was common in the 1980s, urban area expansion slowed in Fukushima and Haramachi. Other small areas continued to fluctuate and gradually lose population. The Fukushima City employment area expanded significantly, however, taking over some formerly independent towns that surrounded it.
Fukushima Metro Area 185,265 58th + 27.4% + 5 ranks
Haramachi Micro Area 23,434 + 10.9%
Nihonmatsu Micro Area 11,821 – 6.8%
Soma 9,022 – 1.6%
Fukushima City 164,413 104th + 19.5% + 4 ranks
88.7% of metro area – 5.9% of metro area
Growth continued to slow in the 1990s, with practically all the minor urban areas in the region losing people. The exception was the city of Fukushima itself, which sustained double-digit urban growth and increased its share of the metro area.
Fukushima Metro Area 199,323 55th + 7.6% + 3 ranks
Haramachi Micro Area 22,283 – 4.9%
Nihonmatsu Micro Area 11,721 – 0.8%
Soma 8,403 – 6.9%
Fukushima City 182,966 95th + 11.3% + 9 ranks
91.8% of metro area + 3.1% of metro area
A nationwide wave of municipal mergers called the “Heisei Mergers” took place in the mid-2000s. Many small towns and cities were combined and vastly expanded, and many changed their names to reflect the larger areas they now included in their borders. Haramachi changed to the current title of Minamisoma. Due to the expansion of land area, it acquired its old northern neighbor Soma as a satellite, but though the change in employment area population was dramatic, the area was actually losing urban population on the whole, typical of small Japanese urban areas in the 21st century.
Metropolitan Fukushima’s growth continued to slow down, but the area nevertheless increased in rank, acquiring the old castle town of Nihonmatsu as a new satellite city.
Fukushima Metro Area 219,746 52nd + 10.2% + 3 ranks
Minamisoma Micro Area 30,222 + 35.6%
Fukushima City 187,906 92nd + 2.7% + 3 ranks
85.5% of metro area – 6.3% of metro area
Then came the chain of disasters. The Minamisoma urban area, closest to the plant, was outside the 20 kilometer exclusion zone and narrowly avoided the brunt of the fallout plume, but was battered by the tsunami. The Fukushima City urban area was safely inland, but the radioactive plume from the stricken reactor was pointed right at it. The city proper seems to have avoided most of the radioactivity, but some suburbs at the edges, like Date and Kawamata, raised some concern.
The problem is, it won’t be possible to accurately judge the impact on these urban areas for another two years. Densely Inhabited Districts are measured in the census, the next census is October 2015, and the numbers are usually crunched by early spring, i.e. March 2016.
In the meantime, there are population estimates, but the total population and the urban portion of the population do not necessarily change together. For instance, Fukushima City’s total population decreased 1.6% from 2005 to 2010, even though the urban population grew 2.7%.
So take these figures with a grain of salt- not only are they estimates, but not necessarily indicative of any changes in urban population.
Fukushima – 3.1% 2010-2014 down from – 1.6% 2005-2010
Decline has accelerated- but this number is actually pretty typical of top 50-range metropolitan cities in Japan, which are mostly feeling the effects of aging population and lower birth rates. Thus, it is hard to pin this entirely on the nuclear disaster, and certainly impossible to extrapolate any changes in urban population.
Kawamata – 7.1% 2010-2014 up from – 8.6% 2005-2010
Date – 5.4% 2010-2014 down from – 4.7% 2005-2010
Kori – 5.3% 2010-2014 down from – 4.2% 2005-2010
Nihonmatsu – 5.1% 2010-2014 up from – 5.2% 2005-2010
The surprising thing is that Fukushima’s major suburbs, at the tip of the fallout plume, still show decline rates very typical of small towns in mainly rural areas in Japan. Some even appear to be losing fewer people than in the last census iteration.
Minamisoma – 9.8% 2010-2014 down from – 2.7% 2005-2010
This, on the other hand, is a major loss that makes Minamisoma one of the most heavily declining municipalities in Japan since the last census. Much of this is definitely tsunami damage, and part may be fears over the city’s proximity to the stricken plant, as well as the fact that it is no longer a major local employer. Decline in urban population is almost certain.
Soma – 5.6% 2010-2014 down from – 2.1% 2005-2010
Though a major loss, this figure is actually typical for small local cities. This is rather surprising considering Soma’s exposure to the tsunami. The urban population was already declining in 2010, though, so steady decline is likely for 2015.
Very little can be said about the urban population until two years have passed and the necessary data is collected. But figures in Metropolitan Fukushima point to a powerful resilience for a major regional city in the shadow of this atomic failure.
If there’s any city or region of Japan you’d like to see, just ask me in the comments! Really, I do requests!
National land numerical information (densely inhabited district data)
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Processed and edited in ArcGIS Explorer
Microsoft Bing Maps used as basemap