With a population estimated at 124.7 million in July 1993, Japan is three times more densely populated than Europe as a whole and twelve times more densely populated than the United States. The population has more than tripled since 1872, when it stood at 34.8 million. Beginning in the 1950s, the birth rate declined, however, and by 1993 the rate of natural increase was 0.32 percent, the lowest in the world outside Europe. Both the density and the age structure of Japan's population are likely to influence the country's future.
Japan had an average of 327 persons per square kilometer in 1990, high compared with China (119) or the United States (twentyseven ), but lower than in some other Asian countries, such as the Republic of Korea (South Korea), which had 432 people per square kilometer.
Japan's population density has helped promote extremely high land prices. Between 1955 and 1989, land prices in the six largest cities increased 15,456 percent. Urban land prices generally increased 40 percent from 1980 to 1987; in the six largest cities, the price of land doubled over that period. For many families, this trend put housing in central cities out of reach. The result was lengthy commutes for many workers; daily commutes of up to two hours each way are not uncommon in the Tokyo area. Despite the large amount of forested land in Japan, parks in cities are smaller and scarcer than in major European or United States cities, which average ten times the amount of parkland per inhabitant. However, despite the high cost of urban housing, more people are likely to move back into central city areas, especially as the price of transportation and commuting time increases. National and regional governments devote resources to making regional cities and rural areas more attractive by developing transportation networks, social services, industry, and education institutions in attempts to decentralize settlement and improve the quality of life. Nevertheless, major cities, especially Tokyo, remain attractive to young people seeking education and jobs.
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