The roadside retail outlets and chain restaurants gradually give way to lush hills and mountains as I drive west toward Japan’s oldest municipality: the village of Nanmoku.

The community of 1,550 or so stretches along a deep valley carved by its namesake river. Traditional wooden houses cling onto the steep mountainsides, and dense forests are interspersed with terraced fields supported by stone walls. Only a few mom-and-pop stores are open on this weekday morning as the car navigates the undulating country lane. Many residences appear abandoned — except for the chirping of birds and the faint roar of the river, the streets are empty.

This rustic village around 110 kilometers northwest of Tokyo shot to national fame in 2014 when then-government adviser Hiroya Masuda released his so-called Masuda Report.