Revitalizing rural Japan

A population decrease is the biggest crisis Japan is facing because it will threaten not only the existence of many local communities in Japan but also the existence of the nation as we now know it.

Behind it is the current economic and social situation in which young people find it difficult to marry or to raise children. The government has a grave responsibility to help create stable employment opportunities for them and to improve facilities and services for child-rearing couples.

At the same time, local communities need to develop their own strategies to cope with the economic effects of depopulation.

According to a 2012 estimate by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan’s population will drop from 130 million in 2010 to 120 million in 2030, then below 100 million in 2048.

It is easier to imagine the impact of the population decrease if population trends in individual prefectures are taken into account. For example, the population of Hokkaido will fall from 5.5 million in 2010 to 4.4 million in 2035; Akita, from 1.1 million to 780,000; and Oita, from 1.2 million to 970,000. The face of local communities will have undergone a great change by the time children who are now attending junior high school turn 40.

Following the Lehman Brothers shock of 2008 and the subsequent global crisis, communities have lost many employment opportunities due to factory closures. It is becoming difficult to lure businesses to local communities.

Given the financial conditions of the central and local governments, it will not be realistic for local communities to expect much from public works projects.

So far the central government has adopted various plans to deal with depopulation in local communities and programs to develop certain areas suffering from depopulation. People in the countryside have prepared necessary documents and engaged in negotiations with bureaucrats of the central government to get subsidies under these plans and programs.

But given the government’s precarious financial state, the time may be approaching when this system will no longer function.

In light of this, it is indispensable for people to develop their own survival strategies. Local people often can work out more effective plans to revive their communities because they know the local situation much better than central government bureaucrats. Such plans do not have to be of a big scale.

Local governments and residents should focus on utilizing local resources — human and otherwise — to keep their money circulating in their regions.

Programs to resuscitate local communities can include the development of community-based renewable energy sources, local specialized products and tourism.

The central government should realize that promoting nuclear power generation, which relies on buying the cooperation of host communities with a massive amount of subsidies, is not conducive to the healthy development of local communities.