Ishiba tells rural communities to compete or lose funding

by and


The Abe administration’s czar for regional regeneration believes it is a case of sink or swim: Enterprising communities will maintain their grip on state funding and flourish, and stragglers will be cut loose.

“Am I telling them to compete? Yes, I am,” Shigeru Ishiba, the minister responsible for regional revival, said in an interview in Tokyo. “Does that mean wider gaps among the regions? You bet. If we equalize things among those who make an effort and those who don’t, the whole nation will collapse.”

With Japan’s debt topping ¥1 quadrillion, the government can’t keep bringing prosperity to the countryside via public works, according to Ishiba. His comments come ahead of local elections in the spring and as municipalities prepare submissions for subsidies for the fiscal year starting in April 2016.

“Each village, town and city needs to work out how to revive their community,” said Ishiba, 57, sitting in the Cabinet Office on Jan. 21 with books spread out in front of him titled “Farm Villages Won’t Disappear” and “The Extinction of the Regions.”

Japan’s population peaked in 2008 and is projected to fall to 124 million in 2020, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. In five years, even Tokyo’s population is projected to start shrinking, according to the institute’s estimates.

“Regional municipalities are challenged to show what they have done to halt population decline, and some of them will go down in 10 or 20 years if they do nothing,” said Yutaka Okada, an economist at Mizuho Research Institute. “The central government is calling for action before we reach that stage. This is a warning to residents.”

Ishiba, who has previously served as minister of defense and agriculture, is not trying to stop the demographic decline. His role is to help Japan manage the problem.

The nation’s long-term goal is to keep its population above 100 million.

The Abe administration set aside ¥1.4 trillion of its ¥96.34 trillion budget for the 12 months starting this April for regional revitalization, and held public works spending unchanged at ¥5.97 trillion.

Public works spending has dropped to about half the level of its peak in 1998, data from the Finance Ministry shows.

Some innovative districts have found a way to get more revenue through a program known as “furusato nozei” (hometown taxation), an initiative allowing tax deductions for people who donate money to their hometowns, or any other adoptive location.

Half of Japan’s almost 1,800 local authorities are pitching gifts or other incentives to get donors, and the number of benefactors has more than tripled since the program was introduced in 2008.

“They have to think on their own rather than doing what the nation tells them to do,” said Ishiba, who lost to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a contest to lead the Liberal Democratic Party three years ago.

Abe’s government also aims to create 300,000 jobs in regional areas for young people and to stop population inflows into Tokyo in the next five years, according to a plan released in December.

“We’re already late” in addressing the demographic crisis, said Ishiba. “Now is our last opportunity to prevent it from getting out of control.”

  • Tando

    I guess he wants to make sure, that all those rural communities which depend on income from hosting nuclear plants accept their fate and cooperate.

    • Barry Rosenfeld

      Eh, No. If you have ever lived in Japan, especially for the last 20 years this situation is really really serious. I would suggest you visit rural areas like Shimane, Akita, Toyama or Kochi and Tokushima to see what Ishiba is talking about. Lastly, again if you live here (and it sounds like you haven’t) have a look at your Japanese friends and family members and see if 1. They are married, and 2. if they have children. You will see how stark the situation is.

      • Tando

        I am always amazed, how people jump to conclusions, just because of a casual 2 line comment. At the same time I find it difficult to figure out, how your answer relates to my comment. I can assure you, that I have been around here in Japan for quite a while and I know that the Japanese government is very eager to restart these atomic power plants, and at the same time the rural communities hosting these facilities are just as eager, not because they want them but they need them for revenue.
        Looking around I see married and unmarried
        people, but that is a question of personal choice. I am totally aware that the situation in the countryside is pretty dire but in order to change this, the rate of people getting married for example, there are other issues as well, such as changing the gender roles, which are pretty ossified in this country.
        So let me jump to my own conclusion, you must be a schoolteacher, because you like to lecture other people so much.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        Praytell my know it all Yank (talking first and think later type as usual), do explain how the local communities benefit from having the power plants restart once again? Local employment perhaps? I should be quite glad to hear this one because you don’t know what on earth you are talking about and like a typical American, heard this piece of information from your friend or neighbour down the street and accept it as fact instead of taking the time to read intelligently.

        Let me educate you suitably (I work in law by the way unlike you, who is probably an English teacher in Japan)

        Japan started these plants in response to the oil shock of 1973. Not wanting to be reliant on ME oil, it proposed nuclear power.

        Now, if you really live in Japan like you say (I have been here since 1979) I would suggest you learn the Japanese language for if you think that..’Looking around I see married and unmarried people, but that is a question of personal choice…’ to write such a useless phrase doesn’t deserve to be dignified with an answer.

        People are not marrying because of Japan’s 20 year plus deflation and zero growth economy.

        Read intelligently if you please.

  • J.P. Bunny

    As much as I hate to see small communities disappear, sometimes you need to realize that there is nothing anyone can do about it. Many young people move away from these places as they don’t wish to be farmers, or pursue other rural ways of life. The remaining population ages and dies off, a very natural order of things. People are not going to stay, or move to these places unless there is a reason to do so. Sure, the local governments can offer free housing and land to those who will stay and raise a family, but is that incentive enough? What good is a free place to live if there are no jobs or job opportunities waiting. Great for retired people, but not young families.

    Public works projects are just a temporary fix. Once the dam is finished the slow population drop starts anew. Small rural communities now need a reason to exist, and unfortunately, many of them don’t have one. The World Heritage Site Shirakawa-Go most likely would have been abandoned and left to wither in the elements if it hadn’t been such a unique place that people would pay to visit. Same goes for many onsen/spa towns. Your grandparent’s home town may soon disappear, but that’s just social evolution. No one is going to live in a place where they don’t want to live, and government generated interest will not change anything. Sometimes you just have to turn off the life support machine and let nature take its course.

    • Barry Rosenfeld


      The situation in Japan is quite unlike where you live. People in immigrant societies easily forget that there is no replenishment of people when a great deal of them choose not to marry because they don’t feel they have the financial strength of taking care of a family and even if the latter is able to marry and reproduce, its only producing a child per family where 30 years ago 2-3 was the standard. Also, for reasons of length which I cannot explain is that the last baby boom was my age group (1971); since then NONE. I could tell from your writing you don’t live here like Tando so come over and live here for a while and you’ll know what I mean.

      • J.P. Bunny

        Mr. Barry. I certainly hope that you work on your reading skills. I currently live in Japan. I have lived here since there was a Soviet Union, an East and West Germany, and the previous emperor was a spry lad, so I dare say I know what I am talking about. Please to try again once you get your act together.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        ‘…….and the previous emperor was a spry lad…’

        My word Bunny, you must be rather ancient and made a century! Happy belated 100th Birthday! Considering that the ‘previous Emperor’ was the Showa Emperor (1901-1989) you must have lived, according to your statement, in Japan since 1910, well before the start of the Great War!

        “Mr. Barry. I certainly hope that you work on your reading skills….” I think Yank, that you would do well to think first and speak (or rather) write later. You bl—dy Americans have yet to not only learn the English language but also learn to not sound foolish when you decide to open your collective mouths just for the sake hearing yourselves talk.

      • J.P. Bunny

        As for your first paragraph, you got it in one. Good job ducky. As for the rest, begone and go thither to thine trolly bridge.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        You just had to reply Yank! Well done. Showed you up Mr. 100 plus!