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[ISHES Newsletter #12]Regional 'Polishing' in Japan: Insights on Attracting People Back to Rural Life

2019/07/25 17:54:54


ISHES Newsletter #12
July 25, 2019

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Copyright (c) 2019

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

Welcome to our 12th issue of the ISHES Newsletter!
In this July 2019 issue, you will find the following articles:

- Regional 'Polishing' in Japan: Insights on Attracting People Back to Rural Life

What is the ideal relationship between the city and the country URBAN RURAL COMMUNITIES in an age of declining population? Returning to Rural Live in Japan has attracted global attention for its place at the front of population decline. What is that? Please, read on!

- New article from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom

This time we provide an article from the column by Yoshifumi Taguchi, entitled "The Pursuit of Economic Growth Requires a Balance between Yin and Yang," which has been uploaded on the web.

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

Here we introduce a story about efforts to live without electricity, with the aim of living a happy and fulfilling life while still enjoying comfort and convenience, all without depending on electricity.


Regional 'Polishing' in Japan: Insights on Attracting People Back to Rural Life


By Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES)

Japan is plunging into a period of rapid population decline, and if current trends continue, about half of Japan's 1,799 cities, wards, towns and villages could see their female populations between the ages of 20 and 39 decrease by half by 2040. The term "disappearing cities" has become a hot topic in Japan these days. Metropolitan populations are aging rapidly as well, making it difficult for them to support rural ones.

Given the state of affairs, restoring the local economy in rural communities is key. If rural communities can use their local resources, produce things needed locally, and circulate economic resources, money and employment within the community, they will create regional resilience, along with a sense of security and happiness for the people. While still having connections nationwide and worldwide, local communities need to reclaim their essentials, including energy, food, money and employment. This is an important action that all rural communities should consider. In fact, Junko Edahiro, President of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, has been helping several rural communities do just that -- reclaim their local economy.

What is the ideal relationship between urban and rural communities? In Japan, there is growing interest in returning to rural life, with city dwellers moving out to farming, mountain, and fishing communities. This is the context for ideas to build a society in which urban and rural communities can coexist symbiotically. At its core this discussion is really about that relationship.

In this month's newsletter, we present a summary and translation by ISHES staff of a speech by Prof. Tokumi Odagiri of the Meiji University School of Agriculture about the significance of returning to rural life. It was based on a book he coauthored, "The Future Opening up through the Return to Rural Life?the Leading Edge of Revitalizing Agricultural and Mountain Villages" (Iwanami Shoten, in Japanese).


Rural Recovery and the Return to the Rural Life
(Summary of a speech by Prof. Tokumi Odagiri of the Meiji University School of Agriculture)

A special feature of the "Annual Report on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas in Japan" published in May 2015 describes the return to rural life in Japan. This report was approved by the Cabinet, which signifies that the term "return to rural life" or "rural recovery" ("den'en kaiki" in Japanese) has been officially recognized by the government.

The results of a public opinion poll in June 2014 give further evidence of this trend. One thing that stands out is that 47% of men in their twenties responded, "I would like to relocate to a rural village in the future," confirming an increasing desire among Japan's citizens to relocate to rural (farming/mountain/fishing) communities. Even more noteworthy was that more than half of women in their thirties responded that they would like to raise their children in a rural community. In fact, the reality for women of this age is predicted to have a close connection to the return to rural life.

Data from Shimane Prefecture (in western Japan and the nation's second least-populous prefecture) for the five years from 2009 to 2014 show increases in the population of women in their thirties, in 96 of the prefecture's 227 areas. This is the reality of the return to rural life. The town of Nichinan in the adjacent Tottori Prefecture has the prefecture's highest ratio of new residents who arrived from other prefectures in Japan, an average annual arrival rate of 0.7%. Interviews revealed that if relocations within the prefecture are included, the actual figure is about three times as high, so already about 2% of the town's population each year could consist of residents who moved into town from elsewhere in the last year.

In "The 1% Strategy for a Rural Recovery" (Rural Culture Association, 2015), Professor Koh Fujiyama presents his theory that if each year a number of younger people equaling one percent of the population of a rural area returns to live in that rural area, 10 years later the rate of aging of the population there will begin to decrease, and the population can be maintained in a healthy state. It is possible that those conditions have been fulfilled already in several towns and villages in Tottori Prefecture.

The people who relocate like this can be characterized broadly in the following five ways:
1. They are primarily in their twenties and thirties
2. The proportion of women is high
3. Individuals tend to have a greater number of jobs (multiple sources of income)
4. They use programs such as "Local-Community Vitalization Aids" (internal migration assistance and community development programs)
5. The acceptance of newcomers also attracts former residents to return to their communities

I wish to emphasize the fact that accepting newcomers increases the possibility that the children of local citizens who have moved away will find reasons to return to their home towns. I think this is important for rural communities.

In talking about changes in Japanese society, it is important to get a grasp of the trends in numbers. A joint survey by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper and my own research office at Meiji University, using figures obtained directly from cities, towns, villages and prefectures, showed that the number of people relocating nationwide in Japan in fiscal 2013 was about 8,000 (not including relocation within the same prefecture), having risen by a factor of 2.9 over the preceding four-year period. If that figure grew three times greater over the subsequent four-year period and has continued growing by a factor of three over the current four-year period, it will reach a scale of tens of thousands of people. The net influx of about 20,000 people a year moving to the Tokyo metropolitan area is seen by many as over-concentration, but provides a comparative yardstick. Of course, I don't think the return to rural areas will continue growing at the same pace, but it is worth noting the potential scale and trend.

Hurdles to the Return to Rural Life

It goes without saying that relocation is not easily accomplished. There are a number of difficulties and hurdles. The "three hurdles" often mentioned at the outset are community, housing and employment. Government program personnel tend to see the challenges, saying "The village will never open up to outsiders," "Families will not give up their empty homes to strangers," and "There is no work, so no one will come." These are the kinds of challenges they face.

But they are coming down. Young people are beginning to discover that the community is not tight or stifling, but rather friendly. Regarding housing, in places such as the Aoga District of Miyoshi City (Hiroshima Prefecture), efforts led by residents to deal with empty houses and make them available for people to live in are attracting attention. As for work, relying on one full-time job for a living is no longer the only choice for surviving in rural communities. New possibilities are arising for securing work through diversity of employment.

The three familiar hurdles remain, but the difficulties they pose have begun gradually decreasing. New issues, however, have appeared that are posing real challenges.

One of them is "matching" the person or family that seeks to relocate with a suitable rural community. The top 10 reasons people give for applying to Local-Community Vitalization Aids (the internal migration assistance program mentioned above) are diverse. Rural societies are definitely diverse, but this can also result in challenges with diversity. With the rising popularity of rural relocation, there is the growing potential for mismatches between people who are relocating and the farming, mountain, or fishing communities that they move into.

In Tokamachi City (Niigata Prefecture) both the village administration and the Local-Community Vitalization Aids programs give presentations and work together on matching. In the Shirokawa District of Nagawa Katsuura Town (Wakayama Prefecture), there are visitor programs to let prospective new resident families interact with local people and experience what it would be like to live there. Seeing efforts like this I get the sense that the solutions are local, and more communities could use ideas like this.

A second new challenge is how to support the new residents at different stages of adaptation. We could say there are three phases: the first three years (relocation), the fourth to ninth year (settling down) and the tenth year and beyond (permanent residence). Governmental attention tends to focus excessively on the relocation phase. The big concern of the people moving in themselves, though, is how they will find work during the settling down phase and how they can secure the ability to pay for their children's education during the permanent residence phase. Relocation support needs to look at things from the family perspective and be aware of these life stages.

Rural Recovery: The Core Issue

Despite such challenges, relocation is happening, but it tends to concentrate in certain communities. One wonders why. The reason for this became apparent from the practices of the Irokawa District in Nachikatsuura Town (Wakayama Prefecture). Community leader Kazuo Hara, who himself has relocated, had the following to say: "If young people really like the community, they will look for work or create it themselves. What is important for each community is first to 'polish' itself and become an attractive community." (Translator's note: For 'polish' he said "migaki," which carries the positive meaning of refine, improve, shine up, or perhaps 'raise one's game.')

Perhaps this "polishing" is what communities ought to be doing now. This means, even with a declining population, improving the community to create a place where prospective residents will want to live, with cheerful people, not only attracting outsiders, but also one where people already residing in the community will choose to remain. Even if the population is small, I think that positive efforts to give young people the feeling that the community will support them will foster the desire for them to return to rural life.

As I see it, there are four community "polishing" tasks. To create the kind of place where the generation in the prime of its working life can shine, where the aging generation can feel secure, where the children will return, and where people from outside the area will be attracted.

It has also been pointed out in the past that people returning to their home town or relocating there from elsewhere in response to such community polishing brighten the community further. That is, returning to rural life and community polishing set up a positive feedback loop, a virtuous cycle. There is a relationship between them, in that where no community polishing takes place, no return to rural life will happen and vice versa, where no return to rural life takes place, no community polishing will happen either.

Let's revisit the meaning of "returning to rural life" from this perspective. First, it indicates a reverse population flow, going from the cities now to rural villages. Not only that, it is also linked with community building. Second, the return to rural life is essential today to revitalize Japan's farming and mountain villages. Third, I think the return to rural life is not merely a matter of community revitalization. It also has implications for the coexistence of urban and rural communities. There is the concept of de-growth as a strategy, and it applies to cities as well. Instead of the idea that urban areas and rural areas must all pursue growth, I think this "rural recovery" or "return to rural life" ("den'en kaiki"), with urban and rural communities supporting each, other symbolizes what is needed to create a sustainable society.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics approaching, it seems Japan is approaching a major crossroads as to whether we will aim to be a society that pursues growth centered around Tokyo as a world city, or on the contrary, abandon the growth model and create a society featuring coexistence of cities and rural communities. In the middle of this crossroads stands a movement of the people, especially action-oriented younger people, who are relocating to farming, mountain and fishing villages, getting involved in community building and aiming for coexistence of cities and rural communities. That movement is the return to rural life.

(End of summary)


New articles from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom

In this section we introduce the latest articles posted on the website of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom.

This link brings you to an article from a column by Yoshifumi Taguchi, entitled "The Pursuit of Economic Growth Requires a Balance between Yin and Yang." Yin and yang are fundamental concepts of Eastern wisdom. What are they and how can we find balance between them? We hope you enjoy reading.

The Pursuit of Economic Growth Requires a Balance between Yin and Yang


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

In this regular section in each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward being more sustainable and happy.

The article we introduce this time first came out in 2011, about the activities of life without electricity. A flood of electronic products has brought us convenience and comfort, but it is also a factor that causes environmental problems such as global warming. Read on to see some ideas about a rich and fulfilling life without relying on electricity but still enjoying convenience and comfort. The Atelier Non-Electric by Yasuyuki Fujimura featured in this story continues to this day and you can enjoy photos from his website.

Life without Electricity - Pursuing a Pleasant, Electricity-Free Lifestyle

We hope you enjoyed reading out newsletter.
Thank you for your kind support.

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world regarding what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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