National

Overseas interest in relocation campaign surprises Kagoshima village

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

A little hamlet in Kagoshima Prefecture with a population of just 372 people has been taken by surprise after a sudden rise in interest about its immigration program.

The village of Mishima, composed of the small islands of Takeshima, Iojima and Kuroshima, has been trying to lure people to move there by offering the choice of a calf or a ¥500,000 lump sum, plus another ¥100,000 to help with moving expenses.

The generous offer — which is temporarily on hold while officials rethink the conditions — includes monthly grants for the first three years of residence, ranging from ¥85,000 a month for a single person to ¥100,000 for married couples. Also on offer are three-bedroom houses for rent at low prices, and subsidies for child delivery.

The only condition is age: the head of a household must be 55 or younger. The offer does not specify whether the applicant has to be a Japanese national.

The program was introduced in 1990 to lure newcomers to help revive the village, which is accessible only by a ferry that comes but three times a week.

Despite the generous package, no one has taken up the village’s offer, and the population — which used to be around 1,000 — has gradually fallen to the 372 people living there today.

In late April, however, the program suddenly went viral on the Internet.

Of all the emails the village received in the two-week period between the end of April and mid-May, 90 percent came from Serbians, Croatians and Brazilians, a local official said Monday, adding that the village office has also received more than a dozen phone calls from foreigners.

The official said that eventually, for various reasons, the village decided not to accept any of the applicants. Most who applied gave up on their plans to relocate after they were discouraged by the reality of the situation, or had only been looking for an easy escape from the pressure of daily life.

“People are not aware that life here is not as simple as they imagined,” he said, adding that the language barrier may lead to problems of communication.

“It’s a small village. There is no hospital and finding a job here is not a piece of cake,” he said, adding that most people seemed discouraged after learning about the hurdles they might face.

“People here can take advantage of the bountiful nature, fresh air and beautiful landscapes, and it’s a good place to live a quiet life,” the official said, describing the more appealing aspects of starting a new life there.

“When we failed to attract any newcomers after decades, we decided to raise the amount to be granted to those willing to move here, in June 2013,” he said, adding that he was surprised to see the information spread rapidly online.

Officials at the Serbian Embassy in Tokyo were also taken aback.

“We were also very surprised at this kind of interest from Serbia, especially for Kagoshima,” said Nemanja Grbic, chief of the press and culture section. “I didn’t even know people in Serbia knew about Kagoshima, to be honest.”

While most of the inquiries reportedly went through the Japanese Embassy in Serbia, Grbic said the Serbian Embassy in Tokyo also received one email from a Serbian seeking detailed information about the offer.

“As a country that you would consider to go and live or to emigrate, I think that Japan in that sense is not that popular, because it’s far away, it’s a different language, it’s hard to get a visa, it’s hard to get a job if you don’t speak Japanese,” Grbic said.

As a representative of the Serbian community in Japan, where about 200 Serbians live, Grbic said that while Japan remains a popular tourist destination, he has the impression that the majority of his countrymen, including those who showed an interest in the offer, may lack even basic knowledge about Kagoshima or Japan.

The village says it wants to receive applications only from people seriously interested.

“It may be a good opportunity for those who were born here and know the region and are willing to return to contribute to the local community,” the Mishima official said.