Young people in Japan leaving cities for sustainable living in rural areas

Cities are losing their appeal to young people worldwide as the quality of life lessens and the cost of living rises in urban areas.

Locations further afield are becoming more desirable to young people in search of new opportunities and self-sufficiency, as well as creative opportunities and innovation, which at one time was cities’ saving grace.

In Japan, several rural towns, such as Kamiyama, have started to reinvent themselves as creative hubs in order to attract young people to the countryside.

Japan’s rural regions have witnessed a rapidly shrinking population for years now, largely due to the migration of young people to cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, and the rising death rate since Japan has the world’s fastest-aging population.

The Japanese Government and local authorities in rural regions are keen to get young people in to the countryside to avoid the extinction of Japanese villages. Under a scheme launched by the Japanese government in 2009, young people can earn up to three times more the yearly salary they earned in their city jobs if they instead go work in rural Japan. And most recently, the government announced that it hopes to fill 8 million abandoned houses (akiyas) across Japan, with vacant properties in relatively good shape being offered for as close to a little over 0 yen.

The fast pace of city life and the impact that urban living has on a person’s wellbeing is gradually pushing more and more young Japanese people to villages and towns in the country.

Furusato Kaiki Shien Center, a Tokyo-based nonprofit that supports migration to local regions, said it received 33,165 inquiries in 2016 from young people interested in making the transition to rural life, over 300% more than the approximately 10,000 calls it received in 2013.

According to Hiroshi Takahashi, head of Furusato Kaiki Shien Center, the trend reflects more people are opting to lead sustainable lives, particularly after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster when the power plant experienced full meltdowns at three reactors in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami.

In an interview with the Japan Times, he said: “One might have an image that most people relocating to rural areas are retired seniors but that picture has changed totally over the last seven to eight years. Now young and competent people full of drive are heading to rural areas and have achieved success.”

In Kamiyama, the town recently introduced high-speed broadband Internet, satellite office spaces for city-based companies, an artist in residence program, a local farming project, and a craft beer brewery.

The town has been making efforts to attract creative types since 1999, when Green Valley’s Ominami and others first started inviting artists to live there.

Kamiyama’s population has decreased from 21,000 in 1955 to around 6,000 today, but officials report a slow increase as remote workers for tech companies and artists move in to cooperative spaces in the town.

With Kamiyama as a model, 43 companies have opened satellite offices in nine towns in Tokushima, according to the prefecture government.

Another area that is growing popular with young Japanese is Kamikatsu. The area has garnered much attention in recent years for being “Japan’s Zero-Waste Town“, where residents diligently sort their waste into 45 different categories so it can be recycled, reused or composted.

The small town, which sits among verdant rice fields and mountainous forest on the Western Japanese island of Shikoku, is naturally also attracting young people to farming and agriculture.

Kamiyama and Kamikatsu are just few examples of a number of towns and villages in Japan aiming to attract young people to rural areas while both adapt to change, and a much more down-to-earth, quite literally, approach to life.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. I write about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and I offer content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at Rosamedea.com

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