KASHIHARA, NARA PREF. – In a mountainous village in western Japan’s Nara Prefecture, there is a unique old building that attracts young creative types from all over Japan.
The house is a shared work space conceptualized by the village of Higashiyoshino and a designer who moved there from Osaka Prefecture.
The locals hope that it will draw more people involved in creative pursuits to move to the village to arrest its shrinking population, a fate familiar to many local municipalities in the country.
Office Camp Higashiyoshino sits next to a mountain stream in the small village, which in the past was a forestry hub.
In the 1950s, the municipality’s population exceeded 9,000 people, but it has since fallen to around 1,700 due to the low birth rate and an aging populace. Currently, there are few jobs available in the village which sits nestled among dense forest.
“There was no solution and we were at a loss what to do,” said Higashiyoshino Mayor Minoru Mizumoto, 67.
But in the fall of 2013, Daisuke Sakamoto, 40, a designer who had moved from Osaka to the village, proposed to Mizumoto that the village build a hub for creative people like him to use as a shared workspace.
Sakamoto, a graphic designer, had fallen ill and decided to move to Higashiyoshino when he was 31. His creativity and drive to work was rekindled by the trickling of the nearby stream, the clear starry sky and the village’s fresh drinking water, he recalled.
Sakamoto’s close friend would often visit him before eventually deciding to move his whole family to the village, prompting Sakamoto to establish the shared space for other people who might want to make the same lifestyle change.
The village spent some ¥20 million ($176,660) to renovate the 70-year-old, two-story wooden house, transforming its form and purpose.
There are now four Japanese-style tatami rooms and a meeting space. With creativity often closely linked to caffeine, a coffee bar was also installed, and it quickly became a village meeting point.
“If you come here, you can hear about real experiences of the creative people who moved to the village. I would like people to first feel what it is like to work here, and then think about settling here,” said Sakamoto.
Since 2013, 31 people — many of them in their 30s — have moved to the village, including a designer, a photographer and a potter.
The new villagers may have rediscovered their creativity in the move, but they have also allowed Higashiyoshino to rediscover a new future.