• Kyodo

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In a move more commonly associated with seniors seeking a quiet place to retire, an increasing number of young couples are showing interest in relocating to the countryside from Tokyo and other urban centers, drawn by cheap land and hopes of a better environment for their children.

“The trend reflects diversification of young people’s values,” said Hiroshi Takahashi, 69, head of Furusato Kaiki Shien Center, a nonprofit organization that serves as a liaison between local governments and urbanites interested in moving to rural Japan.

On a sunny weekend in June, seven people from three families were planting rice seedlings in a paddy in Ina, Nagano Prefecture, an area sandwiched between the Southern and Central Japan Alps, in an event organized by the municipal government.

The families also visited vacant houses in the area up for sale.

“People considering settlement may not all be interested in farming, but we arranged this event to give them the opportunity to know more about our city and its people,” said Takashi Ito, 33, head of Ina’s revitalization division.

“We weren’t so sure if urbanites would feel like they fit in, but they apparently did and got an idea of what it would be like to settle in Ina,” Ito said.

One of the participants said, “It’s not something we can decide on quickly because of our son’s school, but this experience helped us understand that Ina is a very attractive place to live.”

He took part in the event with his wife and their son, who is in the sixth grade and will be entering junior high school next spring.

The city’s population has decreased slowly in recent years, totaling just short of 70,000 as of June. Yet more than 80 people moved to Ina last year and the year before it, excluding those who did so solely for company transfers.

At Furusato Kaiki Shien Center, which is located near JR Yurakucho Station in central Tokyo, the governments of every prefecture except Tokyo and Osaka run booths to provide information about their communities.

Visitors to the center have increased substantially over the past few years, especially people in their 20s and 30s, according to the center.

Reflecting growing interest by young people, visitors younger than 50 years old accounted for nearly 70 percent in 2016, whereas those in their 50s accounted for about 70 percent in 2008, the center said.

“We expect that the trend is not temporary but will likely continue for a while” as the reasons for rural settlement grow more diverse, Takahashi said.

He said farming, hobbies and child-rearing are among the reasons people express interest in relocating.

Municipalities outside the huge population centers are competing to attract people from urban areas, and events for them to experience rural life are growing more frequent.

But Kazunobu Tsutsui, an associate professor of agricultural geography at Tottori University, said the future for rural areas is uncertain.

“When the nation’s population in total is plummeting, there will be no future for rural areas, if they keep vying for residents,” he said. “What they should pursue is not the quantity of people but the quality.”

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