Breakdown and Structure of Kyoto City Population

Kyoto is more than a city in Japan, it bears a long historical emblem of the country’s culture, and still holds much importance in the current era. Kyoto is among the most populous cities in Japan, and understanding this is both interesting and useful for those looking to settle there.

Table of Contents

  1. The Capital of Peace and Tranquility in History
  2. The Cultural Capital in the Present Day
  3. The World’s Best City
  4. In conclusion

The Capital of Peace and Tranquility in History

The capital of peace and tranquillity – this is what Kyoto is known for when referring to its former name, Heian-kyo. Kyoto saw Japan in its earliest beginnings as a nation. After the emperor settled in the city from Nara and declared it the new capital, it became the imperial court's seat for a millennium. This marked the start of the Heian period, which, true to its name, was a time of peace, when beauty was pervasive, and the arts were cultivated, and in turn lay important blocks to Japan's history and culture.

In 794, Emperor Kammu mobilized the capital towards Kyoto to rebuild the government free from Buddhism's influence. Starting with only a population of about 100,000 people and a flourishing silk industry, it caught the eye of many merchants and soon became a lively site of commerce and culture. Today, although no longer the capital, Kyoto remains a relevant place in Japanese history and continues to uphold the title of being a center of traditional culture. From what started as only silk produce, there is much more variety of industries seen in the city today, many of which involve traditional crafts and services geared towards tourists. In turn, it sees many tourists, both local and international, frequently visiting the city, with some choosing to stay permanently. In effect, from its 100,000 occupants in ancient times, the number rose to more than 1.4 million in the present day.

※ Ancient History Encyclopedia, "Heian Period"
※ Ancient History Encyclopedia, "Heiankyo"
※ Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, "Kyoto and Surrounding Areas in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868)"
※ Kyoto Prefecture, "Kyoto Prefecture Timeline"
※ Kyoto City Official Website, "Estimated population" 

The Cultural Capital in the Present Day

The constant vitality of activity in the city makes Kyoto a hotspot for locals and foreigners eyeing a potential settlement. Due to its lively tourism and a great number of educational institutions located in the metropolitan area alone, many students and professionals relocate there to seek employment and education. This gave way to the rise in its population, enough to earn the title of the 9th most populated city in Japan. Even then, Kyoto still feels the impact of Japan’s population problem with an aging population. 

According to the census by the Statistical Bureau of Japan, Kyoto City has experienced an alternating increase and decrease in its population in the last twenty years. Statistics from 1995 through 2005 show a steady albeit slow increase from 1,470,902 inhabitants to 1,474,811. However, come 2010, the population dropped, although minimally, but rose again in 2015. It experienced its biggest drop in the recent estimate according to Kyoto’s City’s Monthly Statistics Report in 2018, where it shows a decrease of more than 6,000 people from the previously recorded almost 1.5 million inhabitants in 2015. 

This would not be concerning if not for the disproportionate distribution of age groups. The distribution of age groups remains unbalanced with 408,406 people belonging to the 65 and above age group compared to the  161,844 people in the 0-14 years age group as recorded in the 2015 estimate. Both recorded numbers were lowered even more significantly when the 2018 estimate was released. Despite this, when viewed in the general aspect, Kyoto City experiences only a small change in the total number of the population which is also courtesy of the consistent influx of in-migrants and out-migrants in the city. The working age group (15-64), on the other hand, still takes up the largest part of the city’s total population.

※ Kyoto City Statistics Portal, List of statistical open data, "04 Estimated population Time-series data by age (Kyoto City / Administrative District)"
※ Statistics Bureau of Japan, "Statistical Handbook of Japan 2019," p.21 
​​​​​​​※ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, "Socio-economic Alliances in response to North Kyoto demographic transition"

Now, why should these numbers matter? For one, the workforce is the lifeblood of an economy. In these times of surging tourism in the city, there is a rising demand for workers and services to cater to visitors. In 2019, Kyoto City alone saw 53 million tourists, and if the population continues to decline, it could overwhelm industries and pose a problem for maintaining historical sites. As for shrinking communities, the fast decline in its demographics leaves it vulnerable to the possibility of collapse and the services they offer.

※ The Mainichi, "Kyoto Pref. had record 88 mil. visitors in 2019; virus pushing pivot to domestic tourists"

Moreover, many overlooked resources in Kyoto’s towns have great potential to boost its tourism further. Thus, in respect to this situation, universities in Kyoto, along with the government, companies, and organizations, are collaboratively working on solutions to balance the distribution of age groups and use the green resources in other parts of the prefecture. Projects and specially designed policies are implemented to encourage students to study in Kyoto’s educational institutions. They will be trained to join the workforce and gain on-site experience, to create roles for older workers that take advantage of their expertise as seniors and mentors. 

Also, to provide incentives and benefits to young professionals through employment, energize tourism, and use green resources in its local towns. These steps are expected to generate more jobs, prevent overcrowding, promote sustainability of historical sites, address the population problem, and save shrinking communities in the prefecture. Most importantly, to showcase the rest of local Japanese traditions by boosting its traditional industries while inviting investors to create businesses in the locality.

The World’s Best City

The influx of visitors to Kyoto is proof of its beauty. Recently, it was recognized as the best big city in the world in Conde Nast’s Readers' Choice Awards 2020. The reason for this is not unfounded as Kyoto offers so much to those who wish to know more about Japan’s roots. With the 1,000 year history of the Heian period, it brought to life many industries that can still be seen in present-day Kyoto such as tea ceremonies, the ikebana, pottery and ceramics, even the famous woodblock printing. Moreover, there are plenty of activities to do, ranging from cherry blossom viewing or hanami to attending festivals such as the Aoi Matsuri Festival and visiting beautiful traditional sites that speak to the city’s history. It does not fall behind in terms of modern industries as well, being home to influential companies such as Nintendo and Omron. And of course it’s food is top-rated, from local eats to plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants.

In terms of environment, it also lives up to its cultural characteristic with modern establishments and restaurants being purposely renovated, giving off the traditional feel or preserving historical structures like the machiya by making them into shops, lodging houses, etc. It makes the perfect place to find housing where you can surely experience Japan’s pleasurable culture, find plenty of job opportunities, and enjoy comfortable living. 

※Conde Nast Traveler, "The Best Cities in the World: 2020 Readers' Choice Awards"

In conclusion

It is no surprise that Kyoto is flocked by tourists both local and international. With its long history, it is a space where the Japanese can celebrate their culture and trace back their roots and for others, it is a place where they can get to know the Japanese culture deeply. No matter what reasons you have for your visit or possibly your permanent stay in Kyoto, either way, you are ensured to get the best experiences out of Japan’s cultural capital.

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