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2009年11月24日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23(IHT/Asahi: November 24,2009)
EDITORIAL: Preserving rural areas.

The mountainous Irokawa district in Nachi-Katsuura, Wakayama Prefecture, is in the southeastern part of the Kii Peninsula. It is made up of nine secluded settlements that depend mainly on farming and forestry activities.

Nearly 40 percent of the 430 or so residents used to be city dwellers. Kazuo Hara, who heads a regional development committee comprising the heads of the settlements, moved from Hyogo Prefecture at age 26. That was 28 years ago.

In 2007, the committee started an education program to train young people outside Nachi-Katsuura to become farmers. Last year, the panel started compiling a written record on life in the region. The committee members are learning the ins and outs from local residents of farm work and how to create traditional food dishes. They are also collecting information about local events and customs over the years. The information is being compiled into a booklet.

Migration to Irokawa started more than three decades ago after the local community accepted five families that wanted to try their hands at organic farming. Initially, most of the new residents were would-be farmers sharing the same ideals.
Over time, however, different types, like retirees wanting to spend their twilight years in the country and families with young children, have moved to the Irokawa district. The influx of newcomers has helped preserve this area's traditional way of life. But the future of the community is under threat due to the rapid aging of society and the dwindling birthrates.

The average age of the original Irokawa residents is 69, and that of newcomers is 40. The settlements will eventually disappear unless young people plant roots there. A sense of crisis prompted Irokawa to try to attract more young people to the area.

"We need young people willing to live here as committed members of the community, instead of simple support from the outside," says Hara. He regards one program adopted by another town in the prefecture as ideal for luring young people. Koya, located at the northern tip of the Kii Peninsula, has introduced a program to hire outsiders to help promote regional development.

In May, the town government solicited applications for three positions, offering a monthly wage of 150,000 yen for 100 flexible working hours a month under a three-year contract. The town received 162 applications--many more than it expected.

Five new recruits in their 20s up to 40s have moved from Tokyo, Kagoshima and elsewhere to live in settlements in Koya. They are trying to find ways to tackle various challenges, for example, by creating a system to support old people and developing new local specialties.

The program is the brainchild of Kanji Takahashi, Koya's deputy mayor. "We hope they will find solutions to these challenges and continue living in the settlements after their three years are up," Takahashi says.

According to a survey by the central government, about 2,600 of the roughly 62,000 settlements in cities, towns and villages nationwide are in danger of disappearing.

On the other hand, there are many city dwellers who want to leave the hurlyburly of city life if they can. These are people who want to raise their children close to nature and seek a spiritually rich life--even at the expense of having less money to live on. Others simply want to spend their retirement years in a rural, laid-back environment.

Local communities and governments need to figure out how to attract such urbanites to their areas. Outsiders who are willing to support local development are more important for the survival of local communities than state subsidies. The wisdom and stimulus provided by outsiders can generate energy to move communities from within. Thus, outsiders could be entrusted with the role of planners for regional development.

Efforts similar to those described above are being made in many parts of the nation. The administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, which has pledged to promote decentralization, should pay more attention to these developments.


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