Mapping Japanese City Spaces: Kitakyushu
The list of the ten most populous urban areas of Japan hasn’t changed too much since data became available in 1960- it’s still all the same places. Some areas have overtaken others in ranking, like Sapporo and Fukuoka displacing Kobe. But there’s only one Top Ten city than can be said to be in true decline: Kitakyushu, the northernmost city of the island of Kyushu, in Fukuoka Prefecture. East of Fukuoka City, and right on the north end of Chikuho coal mining country.
For most of Japanese history, no city called Kitakyushu actually existed. In the Edo period the area was sparsely populated, with one notable small castle town called Kokura. With Japan’s industrialization the region rapidly urbanized, and by the 1920s Kokura had been joined by four other significant cities that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere: Yahata, Moji, Wakamatsu, and Tobata. The five cities and their surroundings formed a decentralized industrial cluster known as Kitakyushu (literally “North Kyushu”). Yahata was the most significant and populous city, and was extensively attacked during the Second World War. Nearby Kokura was intended as the target for America’s second nuclear bomb, but Yahata was burning so hard the bombardier couldn’t identify the city, and the crew moved onto Nagasaki as their backup plan. The area recovered quickly from war damage, and remained one of Japan’s largest urban areas moving past recovery into the 1960s.
You can click on any map to enlarge it.
Kitakyushu was one of Japan’s most significant urban areas in 1960, the most populous in Kyushu ahead of Fukuoka City. The five major cities of the area had grown into one contiguous metropolitan space very uniform in density, with Yahata as the central city and Kokura, Moji, and Tobata as secondary cores. The area already had an extensive network of small suburbs and satellites for its time, extending along the coast in either direction to Ashiya and Yukuhashi, and south to the coal towns of Nakama and Kurate.
Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture remained a separate city despite its very close proximity to Moji, only a brisk athletic swim away across the Kanmon Straits.
Yahata-Kokura-Moji Metro Area 889,078 6th
Nogata Micro Area 35,880
Miyata Micro Area 25,074
Yahata City 260,551 15th
29.3% of metro area
Kokura City 227,213 22nd
25.6% of metro area
Moji City 128,531 48th
14.5% of metro area
Tobata City 99,688 65th
11.2% of metro area
Wakamatsu City 82,959 76th
9.3% of metro area
[all five cities] 798,942 7th (if counted together)
89.9% of metro area
In 1963, the five area cities merged to create the new metropolis of Kitakyushu, Japan’s first new city with wards beyond the prewar six (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Kobe), and the first not on the main island of Honshu. The cities were simply transformed into wards, with no major change in borders. There were major extensions of artificial coastal land in Tobata and Kokura, and the city sprawled out and lost population density (typical for the 1960s). The employment area expanded further into northern Chikuho, taking on both stable Nogata and rapidly declining Miyata as satellites.
With its reliance on industry and ties to the nearby coal mines, though, the new city was already growing very slowly for a city of its size in 1960s Japan. Yahata and Kokura wards were growing very well, but the other three were losing population already.
Kitakyushu Metro Area 986,806 6th + 11.0%
Kitakyushu City 879,853 8th + 10.1% – 1 rank
89.2% of metro area – 0.7% of metro area
Kitakyushu continued to grow very slowly for a city of its size, its rank beginning to slip as Sapporo and Fukuoka surged ahead. There was more sprawl and density loss, but unlike most major cities “evening out” at the time, Kitakyushu’s wards were becoming more distinct. The core district of the city was shifting from Yahata back to Kokura, oldest of the former cities. Both wards split in two as they expanded at the periphery. There was explosive urban growth in the new Kokuraminami-ku, and high growth in Yahatanishi-ku, but other parts of the city accelerated in population loss, with major decline in Yahatahigashi and Tobata wards, the old industrial center.
Kitakyushu Metro Area 1,086,501 8th + 10.1% – 2 ranks
Kitakyushu City 915,401 10th + 4.0% – 2 ranks
84.3% of metro area – 4.9% of metro area
Urban Kitakyushu began to truly stagnate in the 1980s, with Hiroshima being the next city to overtake it. Significant expansion continued on the edges of the area, however. Suburban developments emerged around Nakama and Nogata to the southwest, at a time when many such coal towns in the area were disappearing. Kokuraminami and Yahatanishi wards continued to grow, and formerly declining Wakamatsu began to recover population. All other wards were in significant decline, though.
Kitakyushu Metro Area 1,083,086 9th – 0.3% – 1 rank
Kitakyushu City 910,137 11th – 0.6% – 1 rank
84.0% of metro area – 0.3% of metro area
Kitakyushu’s urban population continued to fluctuate stagnantly through the 1990s, now four ranks down from its postwar peak. Sendai was the next urban area to pass it. Small developments continued to emerge on the edges, and Kokuraminami, Yahatanishi, and Wakamatsu wards kept a good pace of growth. The other wards kept losing population, albeit a little more slowly. By this point, Kitakyushu had a distinct density scheme, with higher residential density in Kokuraminami-ku and a “hollowing out” of industrial Tobata-ku.
Kitakyushu Metro Area 1,091,840 10th + 0.8% – 1 rank
Kitakyushu City 913,119 11th + 0.3%
83.6% of metro area – 0.4% of metro area
Urban Kitakyushu is declining faster than ever, with very little new development. The city wards that have long been losing population are actually slowing in decline, but population loss is now uniform as formerly growing wards like Kokuraminami stall and reverse.
At the same time, Kitakyushu really isn’t in all that bad shape. It’s pretty stable for a modern industrial city, nowhere near in the sort of population “free fall” common in such urban areas worldwide. It remains firmly in Japan’s Top Ten, populous enough that there’s practically no chance of it losing any more rank for the foreseeable future. It ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Kitakyushu Metro Area 1,048,163 10th – 4.0%
Kitakyushu City 877,833 13th – 3.9% – 2 ranks
83.7% of metro area + 0.1% of metro area
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