As depopulation in Japan is accelerating, most of its cities is coping with the consequences of urban decline. In 2015, vacant houses represent more than 13.5% of the national dwelling stock. In aging and shrinking suburbs in particular, they contribute to deteriorate the living environment of remaining residents.
Suburban Baby boomers were expected to age where they bought their home. Since the beginning of the Lost Decade (1990s) however, land & real estate values have plummeted around big cities. Without enough life savings to bear the cost of a residential relocation, landowners over 65 must remain in areas with rising vacancy, which may damage their health. To avoid this scenario, maintaining demographic equilibrium in aging neighborhoods has become a priority of local agendas. But the suburbs of Japan’s bigger cities, which embodied the newfound affluence of middle-income families in the postwar years, are less attractive to younger age groups. This phenomenon is linked to changes in labour and housing markets that co-emerged towards the turn of the century, and destabilized the lifecourses of generations following Baby boomers.
Although it does not minimize the severity of suburban decline in Japan, our paper questions the idea that the “suburbia” is no longer meeting the expectations of young adults as well as elderly. By analyzing the results of field surveys conducted in the Osaka Prefecture, we discuss why and how laudative discourses about the outcomes of “back-to-the-city” movements underestimate the number and motives of households who decidedly stay in the suburbs.