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ISHES Newsletter #42: Leadership Development Through Youth Councils and Parliaments: Initiatives of Yuza Town in Yamagata Prefecture

2022/01/25 14:10:44
ISHES Newsletter #42
January 25, 2022

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Copyright (c) 2022

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

Dear Readers,

We express our deepest sympathies to the victims of the massive eruption of the underwater volcano that occurred this month in Tonga. A tsunami warning was issued even in Japan despite the great distances involved. Meanwhile, the waves of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are still spreading around the world, and this makes us realize once again how closely interconnected we all are.

This new year of 2022, ISHES will continue sharing positive information and efforts from Japan to the world and we would like to move forward together with readers toward a better future for everyone.

In this January 2022 issue we feature the following article.

Leadership Development Through Youth Councils and Parliaments: Initiatives of Yuza Town in Yamagata Prefecture

The creation of a Youth Council that parallels the official town Council in Yuza Town in Yamagata Prefecture is helping to develop leaders among the community's children and youth. What is its background, how does it function, and what has it achieved? Read on to find out!


Leadership Development Through Youth Councils and Parliaments:
Initiatives of Yuza Town in Yamagata Prefecture


Yuza Town website

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

Leadership Development Through Youth Councils and Parliaments: Initiatives of Yuza Town in Yamagata Prefecture

Among the problems our society faces, many could become more serious for today's generation of children and youth. It is the children of today who will take a lead in the future society, but in most countries the youth gain voting rights at the age of 18 or more. How can children who cannot vote make their voices heard and reflected in policies? One amazing example is Fridays for Future, a movement spreading all over the world to carry out demonstrations to reflect the voices of youth in policies, especially relating to climate change.

Another example is in some jurisdictions that formally establish a "parliament for children" or "youth council." For instance, Yuza Town, a coastal community with a population of some 13,000 in Yamagata Prefecture (Tohoku region of northern Japan), has a system to reflect children's voices in the town's policies and develop leadership through a "Youth Council." It consists of a "youth mayor" and "youth councilors" elected by voting, and is allocated an annual policy budget of 450,000 yen (about US$3,910). This month's ISHES Newsletter introduces this initiative in Yuza Town, which started in 2003.

Youth council: Just like the real thing!

How does the youth council in Yuza Town operate? We referred to the activity report for fiscal 2020 to discover how it works.

On June 29, 2020, the first meeting of the 18th year of youth council was held in the council chambers at Yuza town hall. The total of 17 youth council members who live in Yuza or attend schools there, chosen through elections run at middle and high schools that month, gave their policy speeches. The year's youth council consisted of a youth town mayor, a youth deputy-mayor, 10 youth councilors, two youth auditors, a youth town manager, and two youth deputy town managers. The gender ratio was 12 females to 5 males, and ages ranged from 12 to 18 years old. The real town mayor and the department heads also attended, responding to questions and encouraging the youth council.

Image by Mapo

Later, the youth council prepared policy proposals and general inquiries (requests for the town) for the second meeting, on August 27. The contents of the policy proposals and general inquiries were designed to reflect youth's voices widely in the policies of the youth council, based on the results of questionnaires targeting middle and high school students in the town.

In 2020, they conducted a survey with questions like "What kind of town do you want Yuza to be?" and got responses such as "a town active in sports," "a town where residents actively interact with various people and places," and " a town actively listening to the voices of the young." Respondents who replied that they "did not want to stay in Yuza in the future" (18%), were asked for their reasons, and the most common one was "because Yuza does not have many places for sports and having fun."

At the year's second youth council meeting, on August 27, 2020, the youth council presented recommendations of "regularizing opinion exchange meetings with town councilors," "identifying Yuza's strengths," and "making a youth council guidebook to let elementary, middle and high school students know the activities of the youth council." General inquiries included requests such as youth participation in the town development committee, maintenance and establishment of more parks, installation of protective netting at playing fields, and eliminating user fees at the town gymnasium. The costs of any items approved would be covered by the respective departments at town hall, separate from the youth council's 450,000 yen budget.

After the second meeting, the youth council started to implement its policies. On September 29, they held a meeting to exchange views with town councilors. Such an opinion exchange meeting was also held in 2019, and applying lessons learnt at that time, they organized the meeting as an opportunity in which they could come up with more feasible ideas. In October, they held preliminary interviews for identifying the town's strengths. (The main interviews were later canceled due to COVID-19, so the findings of the preliminary interviews were summarized in exhibit panels and displayed at the town development center.) A "Youth Council Manual" was also compiled as a guidebook, with the front cover photograph taken in November.

The youth council gave an activity report at its third and final meeting of the year, on December 18, 2020. In total, three youth council meetings had been held between June and December in the 2020 fiscal year. The issues identified through their activities were then carried over to the next year's youth council.

By experiencing the roles of youth mayor and councilors, the young people reportedly became more interested in Yuza Town and gained confidence and a sense of responsibility. Locals say that the town's youths became more self-assured when greeting others and expressing their opinions in public. The town hall staff as well welcomed and accepted suggestions from young people as much as they did from the official town council.

Reasons for establishing the youth council

Why was the youth council established in the first place? In 2003, a youth council project (officially named the Youth Town Mayor and Youth Council Public Election Project) started in Yuza Town, so in fact, 2022 marks its twentieth term. Before its launch, Yuza Town was facing various issues, such as residents having to work far away from the community, changing lifestyles, a declining population, low birthrates, and aging of the population. People felt the need to encourage youth to play a more central role and create an environment where they could actively participate and make it a town that incorporates the abilities and opinions of young people. The youth council was established to tackle these issues. Some other municipalities in Japan have youth councils, but what is unique about Yuza is that its youth council is operated in a formal manner, just like the adults' town council, in terms of elections, policy speeches, policy proposals and general inquiries.

The youth council consists of eleven positions, including one youth mayor and ten youth councilors. If there are more candidates, additional youth positions can be created, including deputy mayor, auditor, town manager and deputy town manager. Middle and high school students who live in Yuza and/or attend school in the town have voting rights and are eligible to run for elections. If there are more candidates than positions, an election is held. Many years, the number of candidates has been below the number of positions, but in 2020 the youth council had 17 members, including the youth mayor and councilors.


Image by Atomosufea

The youth council has achieved various goals since its first term (2003). For example, some requests such as increasing the number of trains during after-school commuting hours and installing streetlights have been made to JR East Japan and the town, and some of them have been realized. Bei-chan, the cute mascot character of Yuza Town, was created by the youth council in the second term (2004). At the time, the youth council called for the ideas for a mascot, in response to opinions from middle and high school students to "Please promote Yuza Town more." In the seventh term (2009), Bei-chan's full three-generation family of six, including his sister Rai-chan, parents and grandparents was introduced. Over the years, the youth council also provided support to disaster-affected areas, organized volunteer activities, and held music festivals.

The council also developed local specialty food products. Imoni croquette was developed to encourage people to try the taste of Imoni, Japanese taro soup with meat and vegetables, which is a local cuisine item of Yamagata Prefecture. Mocchito! Rice Curry Bakery, a curry bread co-produced with Yuza Brand Promotion Council, represents five great natural assets of Yuza Town ? mountain, ocean, river, sand dune and plain ? with their shapes, ingredients, and toppings. In 2021, the youth council planned and test-produced three specialties, Bei-chan Rice Crackers using locally-produced rice of Yuza Town, Paprika Candy made from paprika grown in Yuza, and Yuza Maru bread containing vegetables harvested in Yuza.


By establishing a parliament or council for children as in the case of Yuza Town, a municipality can encourage young people to feel a greater sense of responsibility as members of the community and to learn about being leaders, while also having civic policies reflect the opinions of the younger generation, which will be running things in the future. When we look around the world, we see that some countries such as France hold Parlements des enfants (Children's Parliament) at a national level, every year. The initiative to create a parliament or council for children at a municipal level can be a model for many other parts of the world.

(1 USD=115 JPY)

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.

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