Community organizer, wedding planner — anything to help revitalize scenic fishing village

Woman finds calling in aging district

by Takuya Okamoto

Kyodo

Operating a restaurant is just one of the jobs Nabi Togo assumes in her quest to help revitalize Tsuyazaki, a scenic fishing area facing the Genkai Sea in Fukutsu, Fukuoka Prefecture.

She plays four other roles as well, when she is called upon.

On Fridays, Togo, 30, operates a restaurant in a 100-year-old refurbished home, serving meals using vegetables donated by neighbors and fish purchased from a nearby fishmonger.

The concept of the restaurant: sharing food with neighbors who gather there every Friday.

On other days, Togo interviews elderly people in Tsuyazaki to write down their life histories. Some days she plans local tours.

She might also be seen coordinating a wedding ceremony to be held at the local shrine. Other times she could be found taking photos.

Born and raised in Kyoto, Togo studied at a university in Oita Prefecture. After graduation, she worked at a stock farm in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, caring for cows, and then at a nonprofit organization in Yamagata Prefecture.

While working at a restaurant management firm in Fukuoka, Togo visited Tsuyazaki in 2009 for its spring festival.

At the time, Fukutsu’s city office had farmed out a project to an NPO to induce people to relocate to Tsuyazaki. The job piqued Togo’s interest and she was hired to answer queries into the project. And after her 18-month contract expired, she decided to stay in Tsuyazaki — but wondered how she could make a living.

In a quest to leave a record of the elderly people from the district, a once thriving salt production center, Togo began to write residents’ biographies at the request of their relatives, for presentation to them as birthday gifts.

She would soon see that this sort of work could have many unexpected rewards.

During one interview, an elderly woman said that her parents had raised her strictly so that she could live independently in a male-chauvinist society. She then took the same approach to bringing up her daughter, sometimes resulting in the daughter feeling as if she was not loved.

Hearing the interview, the daughter, who had asked Togo to write her mother’s biography, was able to rid herself of ill feelings that had haunted her since childhood.

Togo, who has so far written the biographies of four people, says her work can help “reunite families.”

Togo also arranges tours to experience daily life in Tsuyazaki.

Shoemaker Tatsuki Tanaka, 31, and his wife, Chie, 36, moved to Tsuyazaki from Tokyo as a result of participating in a tour Togo planned for young parents interested in raising children in a town like Tsuyazaki.

Because of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the couple had begun considering bringing up their two children in Kyushu.

For two days in November 2011, Togo and other locals showed the couple around town, including visits to a local kindergarten and a real estate agent.

The Tanakas not only found the town to be a good place to raise children but Tatsuki, in particular, was impressed by the local traditional craft of indigo dyeing because of his interest in dyeing technology using plant and natural materials.

It was a meeting with a local group of indigo dyers that helped clinch the decision for the couple to move to Tsuyazaki.

Tanaka now supports his family by producing leather shoes and accessories in a studio built in their home. He has begun applying dyeing techniques to his work.

He also enjoys walking with his children on the nearby beach and watching the sun set over the sea.

“I felt anxiety” about moving to Tsuyazaki but “thought we could get by,” Tanaka said.

Some 80 people have settled in Tsuyazaki through the relocation program promoted by Togo and others. One of them has opened a tea house where people gather for information exchanges and group activities.

Progress on Togo’s other work fronts has not been as smooth. She has arranged just two wedding ceremonies and hopes to increase her work as a photographer. But life has taught Togo the value of one’s work cannot easily be measured.

“If a job is defined as a way to make a living by pleasing other people, employment at a company is not the sole option,” she said. “There are many other (ways). I found my job among things I saw in day-to-day life.”