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The government has earmarked ¥5 billion in increased economic assistance to 71 islands off the coast of eight prefectures, as concerns over declining populations are compounded by recurring intrusions into sovereign territory by foreign vessels.

In addition to its four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, plus Okinawa, Japan consists of about 6,800 islands. Of these, 148 are designated “populated border islands,” situated along the border of Japan’s exclusive economic zone and prioritized for fishing and natural resources development.

The fiscal 2017 budget starting April 1 will allocate funds to 71 border islands to build up transportation infrastructure, support local industry and promote cultural activities — all in the hopes of attracting visitors and future residents.

For the existing 293,000 residents, the funding will lower the cost of travel by plane or shinkansen from their homes to cities on larger islands, as well as offset hikes in ferry fares incurred as older vessels are replaced. The money will also be used to help cover the cost of transporting products from small fishing ports to markets elsewhere.

Under a plan called “Just One More Night,” financial support will be offered to local industries on select islands to promote traditional culture and provide discounts for local goods. Islands hoping to transform into destinations for corporate retreats or student tours will also be able to tap into the new fund.

This money comes in addition to the projected ¥71.2 billion spending next fiscal year to shore up defense surveillance of all outer islands, nearly a threefold increase on fiscal 2016. In addition, the Japan Coast Guard will receive an extra ¥22.2 billion to strengthen its presence in and around the smaller islands.

Ainosuke Kojima, executive director at the Center for Research and Promotion of Japanese Islands, said more is needed to spur tourism and get people to move to outlying islands. “Our center plans to discuss how to attract more foreign tourists, and in order to get people to relocate, a system that leads to employment expansion and industrial growth is needed,” Kojima said.

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