Families looking to escape the nation’s crowded cities are increasingly looking at the sparsely populated coastal prefecture of Shimane.
A record 647 people attended a migration fair held in Tokyo jointly by the Shimane Prefectural Government and a local organization on Nov. 1. Many of them were parents with young children and had heard about the prefecture’s high quality of high school education.
The one-day fair has also been held in Osaka and Hiroshima over the past five years. This fiscal year, the three events attracted a total of 1,280 participants, also a record high.
The Tokyo fair had a booth jointly operated by 10 prefectural high schools.
One of them is Oki-Dozen High School in the Oki Islands, population 20,000. Oki-Dozen is an education ministry-designated model school that has staged a remarkable rebound after coming close to running out of students: It now attracts around half of its intake from outside the islands.
“Shimane has many problems, including declines in population, and so we have (been using) a problem-solving type of education for some time,” Yu Iwamoto, 36, told a large turnout at the booth. Iwamoto conducted education reforms at the high school.
“Academic skills measured only by exam scores are no longer workable,” he said.
In problem-solving education, students find their own topic and seek the answers on their own.
In one example, the students weighed ways to stimulate the local economy and came up with measures such as changing the timetable for buses and ships that connect the islands to the mainland. Some of the ideas were even implemented.
Shimane appointed Iwamoto as a special officer in charge of education last spring after his reform efforts proved effective.
A third-year junior high school student from Tokyo who wishes to study at Oki-Dozen said he thinks Oki has the kind of human ties that big cities lack.
“I want to get involved with islanders and learn from nature,” he said.
A mother visiting the booth with her daughter and son said the family will move to Shimane from Tokyo this spring. She called the Tokyo school education system “choking” because it focuses exclusively on academic achievement.
The increase in students transferring to countryside schools is no longer a “transient boom,” Iwamoto said after speaking to visitors at the booth. “I felt a social need for migration for educational purposes.”
The growing interest in rural life among urban residents is also believed to stem from the Tohoku tsunami and nuclear disaster.
The Tokyo office of Shimane Prefecture says the number of people visiting for advice on moving to Shimane jumped to 115 in 2011 from 69 the previous year. People in their 30s accounted for the biggest share of visitors, at nearly 40 percent. After the March 2011 disaster, family visitors increased.
The sense that children must graduate from a top university and get a job at a blue-chip is the sole path to happiness is “collapsing,” said Jun Tane, secretary-general at the local organization promoting migration to Shimane.
“I think people who want to be connected with nature and communities or find what is important to them may be (dissatisfied with) big cities,” Tane said. “Many people must be thinking that places like Shimane are where people should live.”