In 1970 the government introduced a law obliging the central and local governments to take necessary measures to tackle problems faced by depopulated areas. It has since been extended three times, or once every 10 years. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told a meeting of the national association of town and village mayors that his administration will seek another extension of the law in 2010. The prime minister’s decision is reasonable because the situation in depopulated areas is growing increasingly dire. The number of “marginal communities” — where a majority of residents are elderly — is on the rise.

Both the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party have begun consultations on extending the law. While the LDP calls for a 10-year extension, the DPJ calls for a three-year extension. The DPJ’s thinking derives from its policy of introducing — from fiscal 2011 — grants in aid to local governments that have no strings attached and can be used for any purpose, unlike current subsidies that usually are earmarked for specific uses.

Internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi proposes that drastic measures to revitalize depopulated areas be worked out during the three-year period. On the other hand, the LDP thinks that local governments need more time to come up with effective measures.

Over the past 40 years, ¥80 trillion has been spent on measures to cope with rural depopulation, but the money was mainly used to fund public works projects such as the construction of roads and facilities. From now on money should be allocated toward medical and social welfare services, the nurturing of human resources and the development of new business opportunities in depopulated areas.

As part of efforts to economically revitalize depopulated communities, agriculture should be promoted so as to encourage more young people to live in rural areas.

Finally, in the face of a rapidly graying nation and the declining rural population, the government must undertake effective measures to raise the nation’s sagging birthrate.

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