A rural relocation fair
Apr. 25, 2017
For decades, rural communities around Japan have watched their populations shrink as residents head to major cities in search of work. But now, increasing numbers of city dwellers are looking to move to the countryside. Organizations that help people relocate to rural areas have reported a surge in inquiries over the last few years.
Matching prospective residents with a community that meets their needs can be difficult. Faced with a lack of information, many people are giving up on their dreams of a better life in the countryside.
A citizens group in a city in southern Japan is holding a relocation fair. It brings together host communities and potential residents to help them find a good match.
Hitoshi Ichiki is attending the relocation fair. Ichiki is 30 years old and lives in Saitama Prefecture on the outskirts of Tokyo. He works for an event planning company and started to think about relocating to the countryside when his son was born.
Both Ichiki and his wife's families are from Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan. They want to raise their child in a familiar environment with a strong community spirit.
"It's lonely always being at home alone with my son," says his wife, Nao. "I have no one to help me."
"Time spent with the family is priceless," says Ichiki. "Ideally, I want to spend time with my family while working."
Ichiki's biggest concern is the work environment where they want to relocate. He struggled to make a decision due to worries over finding work, and if the community would accept them.
It was then that he learned about the relocation fair. He hopes to find a community where he can work with his skills through the event.
Applicants for relocation submit their resumes and other relevant information to the recruiting organizations, which can be non-profit organizations, municipal governments or local businesses.
The groups choose who they want to come to the community. If they choose the same applicant as another organization, they draw lots to decide who will make the final pick.
The event was arranged to create a chance for both parties to get to know each other face to face.
"It's a chance to consider what I can do there, and to look into a new way of life," says Ichiki. "I hope to be able to meet people who we will be connected with in the future."
Organizations looking for relocation applicants also have high hopes for the conference. The city of Nichinan in Miyazaki Prefecture is grappling with a decline in population as more young people move to the big city.
The city has been campaigning to promote relocation, but it has difficulty attracting people between the ages of 20 and 50.
Saika Kanbe of Nichinan City's Regional Development Division says, "Although we have succeeded in attracting retired people wishing to live a quiet life in a good environment, we also hope to attract people who want to come here to work as well."
The city is collaborating with local IT businesses to recruit talented people through the conference.
One company renovated a 140-year-old house for its new office. It plans to relocate its current office in Tokyo to Nichinan this summer.
The company plans to promote local products using the internet, but its biggest challenge is securing staff.
Toshiaki Okawa, an executive officer at the IT company, says, "When recruiting, it is a major hurdle to find people who will accept working in Nichinan."
Before the conference, the company studies the profiles of the relocation applicants.
The company hopes to recruit people who have both IT skills and are interested in rejuvenating the community.
On the day of the conference, 11 organizations and 33 applicants took part in the event.
Ichiki is also attending. He intently watches the selection process as the first nomination is being announced.
The Nichinan team selects a graphic designer, Yuuki Nakano, who is in her 20s and is based in Tokyo.
But Nakano is also chosen by 4 other teams, so her selection is determined by a draw.
The Nichinan group is unable to recruit Nakano. The team then chooses a data analyst who is also in his 20s. This time around, they are successful.
Meanwhile, Ichiki is selected by an organization in Kagoshima City.
The organization is involved in community promotion activities by arranging events in Kagoshima City. The organization said it would help Ichiki find work upon his relocation.
Ichiki says, "I'm really looking forward to fostering ties with people other than my family. It's exciting thinking about how these new relationships will develop in the future."
NHK Kagoshima correspondent Yuuta Oikubo covered the story and joined Newsroom Tokyo Anchors Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio for a discussion.
Shibuya: Has anyone actually relocated after taking part in this kind of event?
Oikubo: Yes. This year's conference was the second one. The first was held last year. Four people from that event have since moved to Kagoshima.
They visited the region after the fair and made their decision after meeting the local people. Since moving to their new communities, they have played a major role in revitalizing them. One person from Tokyo designed a website to publicize local tourist spots overseas. Another is working to start a new business to increase the earnings of local people.
Beppu: What happens if an applicant later feels that, "Wait a moment, this is not really the place I wanted"? Do they nevertheless have to relocate?
Oikubo: No. Applicants are not obliged to move to the communities that selected them. The Kagoshima group that organized the fair says both sides should start by talking to each other to discuss what kind of community they want to build together. The event is designed to provide an opportunity for such dialogue.
More than a quarter of Japan's population is now concentrated in Tokyo and its surrounding areas. Meanwhile, rural areas are becoming less populated. I feel the relocation fair is more than just a way of increasing the number of residents. It helps promote a discussion about what kind of community they want to build, and who they want to build it with.