The Yomiuri Shimbun
Use cultural power to promote migration to provincial areas
The excessive concentration of people and industry in the Tokyo metropolitan area continues. How can we create a flow of people to provincial areas where the population is decreasing?
Attracting people by utilizing their inherent cultures and uncovering alluring features unique to particular areas will be an important consideration.
According to a 2015 population migration report compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, people who moved into the Tokyo metropolitan area numbered nearly 120,000 more than those who had moved out of it. For 20 straight years, the number of people who moved into the metropolitan area exceeded the number of those who moved out.
Among Japan’s three largest urban sprawls, however, more people have left the Osaka and Nagoya areas compared to those who have moved in.
In its comprehensive strategy for “vitalization of local economies,” the government aims to equalize the figures of those moving into and out of the metropolitan area by 2020. However, if nothing is done to change the current situation, it will be impossible to achieve this goal. Genuine efforts must be made to promote the migration of people to provincial areas.
How can the attractions of provincial areas be made to shine and conveyed elsewhere? First, the number of visitors to those areas should be increased by organizing sightseeing, homecoming and migration tours. In addition to migration, the return of people to provincial areas must be carried forward by aiming to realize “residency in two areas” — or the lifestyle of moving back and forth between urban and provincial areas.
The cultural powers rooted in each area should be used. There are various kinds of cultural resources — such as history, cultural property, traditional arts, customs, local cuisine and scenery — but some provincial areas have not yet identified their values.
Discovering hidden assets
Both the public and private sectors should unearth hidden cultural resources and disseminate information about them domestically and internationally in a variety of creative ways, including promotional videos.
Good use should be made of “Japan Heritage,” a system launched last year by the Cultural Affairs Agency.
Under the system, cultural resources scattered in provincial areas that are connected by a “story” are considered heritages. So far, 18 resources have been recognized following applications from local governments.
For example, the Shikoku Henro, straddling 57 municipalities in the Shikoku region, is considered a piece of heritage based on the culture of pilgrimage routes. Akari Mau Hanto Noto (Noto peninsula of dancing lights) is a piece of heritage focusing on the Kiriko Matsuri traditional lantern float festivals handed down in six Ishikawa Prefecture municipalities.
Such heritages should be developed as tourism resources. They are expected to have the effect of attracting not only Japanese people but also visitors to Japan from abroad.
Local governments must work jointly with local residents to find candidates for Japan Heritage. Such efforts would also help local people create a sense of pride in their regions, and nurture human resources to lead development of those areas.
It is also important to consider the increasing number of vacant houses and retail premises, and abolished school buildings, as assets, and try to reuse them as accommodations and operational bases for migrating workers and other people.
For example, the village of Higashi-Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, renovated a vacant house into a shared office last year. Working conditions in the mountain village became popular via the Internet, and five people have already migrated to work there.
According to a survey by the Cabinet Office, nearly 40 percent of urban residents in their 20s indicated that they wish to settle down in farming, fishing or mountain villages. The attractions of working in traditional village culture should be presented to young people wishing to live outside of urban areas to entice them into provincial areas.
The government should place importance on vitalization of local economies with cultural power. We expect the central government to help local governments tap their cultural resources and connect such efforts to a correction of the excessive concentration of people and industry in the metropolitan area.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2016)