TSU, MIE PREF. – In a town just a stone throw from the site of the Group of Seven summit taking center stage next week in Shima, Mie Prefecture, a crisis is afoot: the depopulation of a once vibrant community.
The elderly who live in Daiochofunakoshi, a 20-minute drive from the main venue for the summit on Kashiko Island, fear that in just a matter of years there may be no one left. In a sign of its slow decline into a ghost town, there are private homes surrounding the inlet but hardly any signs of people.
“There are about 700 houses, but nearly half of them are abandoned,” said Kiyokazu Yamagiwa, 83, as he stood near the harbor. “There were once boats that came and went in the bay, and excitement from the voices of children playing.”
The pearl farming industry flourished here in the 1970s. But with the advancement of pearl cultivation technology throughout the world, the price of pearls began to stagnate. Subsequently, the more than 300 pearl farmers in the town fell to around 10.
Nothing could be done once young people began leaving in droves in the mid-1980s.
According to data from Shima, more than 700 of the 1,600 people who live in the smaller area of Funakoshi are 65 or older. Its several junior high schools have been consolidated into one, and the elementary school is scheduled to be abolished next spring.
Both of Yamagiwa’s grandchildren, who are in their 20s, have moved to the larger city of Ise, which has a population of about 130,000.
“We’ve lived here from generation to generation, but I’m afraid it will end with my generation,” he said.
Even the population of Shima has dropped off from roughly 65,000 half a century ago to about 52,000.
The Japan Policy Council, a nongovernmental organization, has classified Shima as being in danger of extinction because there’s a high possibility its female population will drop by half. A microcosm of the country at large, the city projects its population will drop to about 13,000 within the next 45 years.
By drawing world leaders to the area, the Ise-Shima summit will help put Shima on the map, but it is unlikely to stem the tide of depopulation.
“We don’t imagine we will be able to turn things around overnight just by having the summit here, but we want to make efforts to trigger a change,” a city official said.