National / Social Issues

Rural support programs encouraging more people to leave cities

Kyodo

Public programs are encouraging more people to migrate from big cities to reverse the persistent population drain plaguing rural areas.

Daisuke Moriyama, 40, quit a major securities company in Tokyo in March 2013 and moved his family to Mitane, Akita Prefecture. Now he commutes from his home to the neighboring village of Ogata, where studies organic farming.

Moriyama thought about moving to the countryside for a career change following the “Lehman shock” of 2008, when the demise of the U.S. investment bank sped up the global financial crisis that damaged banks, companies and economies around the world.

“I had no strong discontent with my life but was feeling somewhat uneasy,” Moriyama recalls.

He then learned about Ichirizuka, a nonprofit organization that supports people willing to move to Mitane. After visiting the town about 10 times on tours arranged by the NPO and on other occasions, he decided to relocate there.

Moriyama receives ¥1.5 million a year under a central government program that supports new farmers. He aims to grow 100 kinds of vegetables on deserted farmland after finishing his training to become an independent farmer.

While working in Tokyo, “I was required to be a cog in the system,” he says. “I feel good here because I consider what I want to do while I work.”

Ichirizuka was founded in 2006 and has helped around 30 people, mostly retired workers, move to Mitane in cooperation with the municipal government. Its current goal is to start luring more young people.

“We need to ensure employment during the snowy winter period,” says Akinori Shimizu, 69, the head of the NPO. “The government should reinforce its support for agriculture.”

Hidekatsu Kodaka, 37, and his wife moved five years ago to Ojika, a Nagasaki Prefecture town covering Ojika Island and the surrounding islets, north of the Goto Islands in Kyushu.

He had been working as a systems engineer at an information technology company in Osaka Prefecture.

“I opted for life on an island as I wanted to have a sense of fulfillment in my work,” says Kodaka, who now develops and markets processed foods made from local produce.

His company was set up by the town in 2001 to lure new residents. With the town providing ¥125,000 to ¥200,000 per month as livelihood support, plus lessons on vegetable and cattle farming, 14 people have moved in so far.

The firm is an integrated operation that handles everything from production to processing and marketing. It is developing tofu and “somen” noodles from peanuts, a local specialty.

Kodaka has already won an order to supply unshelled peanuts to Kyushu Railway Co., which serves them as snacks on its Seven Stars in Kyushu luxury train, and online orders have climbed since he improved the website.

“We would like to get our sales into gear to not only lure more people, but also allow young people who left the island to return,” Kodaka said.