The world's population may be growing fast and the number of pensioners increasing faster than ever. But the irony of the greying population is not that the world is filling up with people, but rather that huge belts of it are becoming depopulated.
At first sight, Kiyosato doesn't look like a place fighting for its survival. Amid the vast fields of potatoes, sweetcorn and beetroot stand rows of pristine houses and a community centre.
But, apart from the distant hum of a tractor, the town is silent and the streets are almost empty. Kiyosato is living on borrowed time. And so, according to the government, are more than 60,000 Japanese towns, at risk of death through depopulation as a result of a twin attack from a declining birthrate and a surging life expectancy – currently 86.05 years for women and 79.29 for men.
Japan has one of the world's biggest proportions of over-65s – 22.5% of its 127 million people – and one of the smallest of under-15s, at 13%. More than two in five people living in rural communities are over 65, and the elderly make up more than half of the population of an estimated 8,000 towns and villages. Demographers expect the current population of 127 million to fall to 100 million over the next 50 years.
About 200 communities have vanished in the past decade. The threat of extinction looms largest in Hokkaido, where almost 10% of towns are at risk, with half of those expected to disappear over the next decade.
I wonder if this is the case in other places around the world. I wonder if in Canada, young people are leaving the towns and countryside to find work in the city.
If I take a drive from Calgary to Edmonton or from Calgary to Saskatchewan, I can still see lots of farms and lots wildlife, like cows!
This sounds dangerous. Where's Japan going to get it's food if the youngins don't want to farm anymore in this technological age?