ISHES Newsletter

Back Number

ISHES Newsletter #41:'100-Year Vision of Forests' Attracts New Residents and Ventures to Nishiawakura Village (Okayama)

2021/12/24 12:31:50
ISHES Newsletter #41
December 24, 2021

See what's new on our website:
Copyright (c) 2021

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

Dear Readers,

The year 2021 was a challenging one in every country around the world due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but people everywhere did their best to cope with the situation.

Every month, the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) searched for and shared stories about initiatives in Japan. Please see further below for the links to all our articles from 2021.

In the coming year, we will continue striving to find news and stories to inspire our readers and trigger creative ideas to get through this together.

We hope 2022 brings all our readers much joy and happiness.


In this December 2021 issue of the newsletter we introduce the following article:

'100-Year Vision of Forests' Attracts New Residents and Ventures to Nishiawakura Village (Okayama)

Forests cover 93% of the area of Nishiawakura Village in the mountains of Okayama Prefecture. Faced with various challenges, the village adopted a 100-Year Vision of Forests. Read on to discover how it's succeeding in attracting new residents and business ventures with the vision as a path to the future.


'100-Year Vision of Forests' Attracts New Residents
and Ventures to Nishiawakura Village (Okayama)


Nishiawakura Village Office website

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

The village of Nishiawakura in Okayama Prefecture, sharing borders with Hyogo and Tottori Prefectures, has been attracting new residents with its "100-Year Vision of Forests" and making steady progress toward this vision. The mountain village of 1,400 residents has forests covering 93% of its total area of about 58 square kilometers. About 200 people have relocated to the village, roughly 15% of the population. New residents account for half of participants in the local fire brigade's fire drill competition, a sign of the major presence they have in the community.

What kind of vision is Nishiawakura achieving? And why does it attract so many new residents? To find out, we spoke to Takahiro Ueyama, special advisor for regional development at the Nishiawakura Village Office.

Fueled by Decision Not to Amalgamate

A big factor that made Nishiawakura what it is today was its response to the Great Heisei Amalgamation (a national policy from 1999 to 2005 to amalgamate municipalities in Japan; "Heisei" distinguishes this wave from amalgamations from those of previous eras, Meiji and Showa). Due to tight municipal finances resulting from population decline, the aging of society, and families having fewer children, the central government actively promoted mergers of cities, towns and villages across Japan. Generous financial support was provided to municipalities that merged, motivating many to amalgamate with a neighboring city, town or village.

Nishiawakura did discuss amalgamation but decided not to go ahead. The decision not to merge amalgamate meant the village would not receive the related financial support. It had to find its own ways to be economically self-sufficient. The realization that the village had to become more self-sufficient was a powerful driver of efforts that made Nishiawakura into what it is today.

Strategizing to Utilize the Village's Greatest Resource

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash.

"How should we manage our village?" "What resources does our village have?" In discussing these matters, the issue came up that the forests covering 93% of the village's territory were not being used to their full potential. This realization led to the "100-year Vision of Forests," a challenge for the village to be a high-quality rural community surrounded by forests, with a focus on primary industries that had been in decline. In fact, prior to the 100-year Vision of Forests the total revenues of the village's forest-related businesses rose from about 100 million yen (about US$ 880,000) in 2009 to about 1.1 billion yen (about US$ 8.8 million) today, a remarkable eleven-fold growth. One big reason Nishiawakura has had this much success is that it implemented its vision and related projects together as a package.

To achieve the 100-year Vision of Forests the village has to promote both "upstream" and "downstream" projects. Upstream projects include systematic forest management activities such as the thinning of forests, maintaining forestry roads, and maintaining forests owned by villagers, while downstream projects bring in private-ventures and enterprises that promote "sixth industrialization," a term used to describe the cumulative effects of integrating primary (resources), secondary (manufacturing), and tertiary (services) industries, in this case creating value-added by processing the wood obtained from forest thinning.

Even outsiders can grasp Nishiawakura's vision and see that it is actually being realized when they see projects being implemented simultaneously. Because this is visible from the outside, entrepreneurs are attracted to come here, primarily for forestry-related opportunities. For example, hinoki cypress trees grow all over Japan, but someone who wants to make furniture from hinoki will likely be attracted to Nishiawakura to set up business.

As the number of entrepreneurs has increased, so far more than 50 businesses in a variety of areas have opened in Nishiawakura, at present including educational, nursing, consulting and others.

Mentors Help Transform Ideas into Real Business Ventures

Nishiawakura is also calling for talented people from outside the area as part of its efforts. For three years from 2007 to 2009, in an attempt to make use of skills from outside the community in utilizing forest resources, an employment measures committee was established for the purpose of coordinated solicitation of people with abilities that could complement the disconnected talents of the people that had been employed up to then by the village office and the village's enterprises and tourist facilities. Efforts have also been made since 2015 in collaboration with the village and A-Zero Inc., which was started up that year, to create a local media business to support resettlement and entrepreneurship (posting information on a website, etc.). This system makes it easy for the village to attract needed skills. It also enables people who find Nishiawakura's vision attractive to find out how to visit and get their business involved. This integral inclusion of projects together with employment mechanisms in its vision is Nishiawakura's distinguishing feature and its advantage.

This feature includes a system for pairing entrepreneurs with mentors when establishing a business in Nishiawakura. What these mentors do is propose ideas for promoting the business, and accompany and support the entrepreneur in thinking up specific action plans. In conversations with mentors, aspiring entrepreneurs are asked to think thoroughly about what they want to do. In some cases, entrepreneurs might say, "I want to move to Nishiawakura, so I have been thinking about business models that would work in the village," but if it is not what that person really wants to do, the business won't survive. Therefore, mentors emphasize the process of having aspirants carefully consider what they really want to do at the business planning stage, and then create a business plan.

Most entrepreneurs who move to Nishiawakura and set up their business there achieve a long-lasting business. This is probably because they are engaged in a business that they really want to do. Moreover, even among people who were not very enthused initially about the increasing numbers of newcomers, an increasingly supportive attitude can be seen toward newcomers, because the businesses they bring continue to thrive. Also, the fact that the number of newcomers involved in the local fire brigade's activities is increasing, as mentioned above, is proof that the people relocating to and residing in the village are becoming part of the community.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash.

Public/Private Sector Collaboration Helps Realize the Vision and Projects

As noted above, the government in Nishiawakura came up with the 100-year Vision of Forests and teamed up with the private sector in a strategic way, having the latter implement the projects. The design of this collaboration may be a good example for others.

From 2017 to 2020 a regional development team at the Nishiawakura Village Office met to discuss the vision and related projects. The village staff in this team took time in addition to their normal duties to hold discussions as part of their work. Members thought about projects related to the vision together and individually. Then they would vote on and actually implement the winning projects. The person who had thought up the project would become the project lead, and those who had voted for it would be on the team to support it. These teams would consider matters such as how to fund each project and how to attract people with the needed skills. Many municipalities brainstorm for ideas based on a vision, but not all of them create mechanisms to transform ideas into projects. Implementing its vision as a package together with related projects is what sets Nishiawakura Village apart.

However, having the projects run entirely by village personnel would place a big burden on them, interfere with their normal duties, and probably not lead to the creation of new businesses or employment in the village. The key is to involve the private sector. In Nishiawakura, the projects are being managed jointly by village staff and private organizations. For example, private organizations are in charge of coordinating meeting schedules and producing the minutes. Even these tasks help to relieve the burden on staff considerably. In addition, private organizations nurture local ventures and provide mentors to work with entrepreneurs.

With the public and private sectors teaming up, Nishiawakura has established a framework to realize the village vision as projects involving the private sector. For implementation, the village office can apply for subsidies and other funding from the national government, and if that money is used in the community, it circulates and boosts employment within the community.

The framework for promoting a variety of projects in an integrated way (e.g., advancing the vision and related projects together, implementing both forest maintenance and processing/marketing projects, and promoting public/private collaboration) provide advantages that attract new residents and entrepreneurs. Perhaps Nishiawakura's approaches to steadily realize its vision can offer some great ideas for your community too.

(1 USD = 113.8 JPY)


List of ISHES Monthly Articles in 2021

January: Aiming to Inspire! The Town of Kamikatsu Moves toward a Zero-Waste Society

February: A Sustainability Message Spanning Five Decades: Environmental Manga Artist Hiroshi Takatsuki (High Moon)

March: Ten Years after the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan: Messages from the Past Can Prevent Disasters Today

April: Creating the Future Locally: Innovative Projects by Miraisozobu (For Future Company) in Atami, Japan

May: Gaining Momentum! Japan's Decarbonization Efforts

June: Community development with Junko Edahiro's "Hop, Step, Jump!" approach

July: Japan's Initiatives on Plastics

Message from Junko Edahiro

August: The 'Kodomo-Shokudo' Movement -- Ever-Adapting Support for Communities in Japan

September: Kyoto Shinkin Bank Attracts Customers with Transformed Business Model and No Sales quotas

October: Local Renewable Energy Production for Local Consumption in Odawara, Inspired by 'Houtoku' (Repaying Kindness)

November: Restoring the Abundance of the Ocean: Blue Carbon Initiatives to Curb Global Warming

December: '100-Year Vision of Forests' Attracts New Residents and Ventures to Nishiawakura Village (Okayama)


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, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society newsletter is a free monthly newsletter to keep you up to date with the latest information. ISHES bears no liability for the newsletter's contents or use of the information provided.

We welcome your comments. Please send them to:

Copyright (c) 2021, Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society. All Rights Reserved.

We invite you to forward this ISHES newsletter and/or use its contents in your own publications, with credit to the "Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society,"

To subscribe or unsubscribe, please visit

Back issues of the newsletter are available here.

Page Top

powered byメール配信CGI acmailer