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For many foreign nationals living in Japan, the entry restrictions they’ve faced this year have affected how they see their futures in this country, writes Rochelle Kopp.

It all started when Japan closed its borders to almost all travelers on April 3 in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19. But unlike guidelines put in place by other governments, non-Japanese residents (including permanent residents) were treated differently from Japanese citizens, who could return to Japan freely.

This left many foreign residents stranded abroad, kept away from jobs, homes and families in Japan. It also trapped non-Japanese residents inside the country, fearful that if they left they wouldn’t be allowed back in. It’s impossible to list everyone’s horror stories due to the country’s border policies, but two of them show just how complicated the situation can get.

Laura Blackhall and Ichi Hatano decided they need a change after both of them saw their businesses struggle during the pandemic. So, they decided to buy an abandoned house in the country. | COURTESY OF LAURA BLACKHALL
Laura Blackhall and Ichi Hatano decided they need a change after both of them saw their businesses struggle during the pandemic. So, they decided to buy an abandoned house in the country. | COURTESY OF LAURA BLACKHALL

What do you do if you’re working in the travel industry here and suddenly everything shuts down? If you’re Laura Blackhall, you ditch the city and buy an akiya (unoccupied home) in the inaka (countryside), writes Jessop Petrovski.

“What Laura and many others have done or are in the process of doing is extremely feasible,” says Akiya & Inaka website cofounder Matt Ketchum. “There are quite nice, very affordable and well-kept properties scattered all over the place.”

Any move is stressful, but it takes extra courage to decamp to somewhere like rural Kochi, writes Chiara Terzuolo. Yet an increasing number of international residents are deciding to call this Shikoku prefecture home, taking advantage of the rich soil, pure water and pleasant climate to focus on producing top-quality food and drinks. And with rural areas like these facing severe depopulation, these newcomers are also doing their bit to reinvigorate local economies.

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