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Crumbling infrastructure rapidly rendering rural communities unlivable

30 Comments

To stretch their pensions, Japan's retiring baby boomers -- and even younger people who want to escape the urban rat race -- have been exploring retirement in the countryside. But monthly magazine Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu (August) warns that the promise of idyllic pastoral living is a pipe dream. And the pipes are cracked. Literally.

In May, an advisory group to Japan's Ministry of Finance issued a request to residents near the Sea of Japan that went, "Snow removal is costly, so during winter, won't you please move to the flatlands?"

It was essentially asking people to leave their homes vacant during the winter months, and as an incentive to do so, was reportedly pondering offering the residents financial assistance.

In a nutshell, the national government was clearly in the process of making moves to abandon rural areas.

According to data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, some 647 of Japan's towns and villages have been designated as "depopulated areas." Collectively, these now account for some 60% of the nation's land area, and rather than make efforts to revitalize these locales, government policy appears to be inclined to simply abandon them.

In the year 2000, people from rural communities moving to the nation's three major urban areas numbered around 50,000; by 2016, that figure had risen to 1.7 million. Last year, JR Hokkaido closed 18 of its stations due to low passenger demand. JR West is also hurting for revenues. Collectively these signify the beginning of the end for the nation's rural railway lines.

A shift from trains to buses, however, raises another problem. Some 40% of vehicular bridges in Japan are reaching age 50, and local governments, with no budget to repair or demolish them, are forced to just ban their use, effectively cutting off the districts they serve, along with the small supermarkets and other businesses that serve the residents.

With the bridges gone, people are also unable to commute to nearby jobs, further putting pressure on them to relocate.

According to other data, by 2025, about half the operators of businesses age 70 or older are having difficulty to find successors, this despite the fact that they are operating profitably.

According to the Financial Service Ministry, of 106 banks based in rural cities and towns in 2019, 54 were operating in the red, and of these, 23 had reported deficits in five straight fiscal periods.

Coupled with the aging population and lower birth rate, the decline of commercial businesses, companies and the banking sector spells looming economic collapse.

As for the quality of rural medical treatment -- don't ask. Almost no locales are able to offer 24-hour care, and even at normal working hours on weekdays the hospitals are severely limited in their services. Getting an ambulance at night or on weekends is an exercise in futility; if one comes at all, the waiting time is likely to be an hour or more. The elderly who have the financial means to afford medical care move to the cities, further depleting the population.

Towns and villages are becoming depleted of people so rapidly that three years ago, one district lacked enough people to warrant an assembly representative even after eight communities merged. Four years ago in the same area, four communities had enough people for a representative; eight years ago it was three communities. Not that many people want the job; at a monthly salary of 150,000 yen, local assembly members wages are so low, they are forced to moonlight at outside jobs.

Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu's advice to rural residents: don't leave the countryside; you're probably better off leaving the country.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

30 Comments
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Sadly, correct.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

"....don't leave the countryside; you're probably better off leaving the country."

Japan and it's near total aversion to immigration. Large scale immigration would rejuvenate many of the depopulated areas, but the vast majority of Japanese would prefer these areas become empty and revert to their natural state rather than become home to foreign communities, as seen in the UK, for example.

1 ( +23 / -22 )

Japan is turning into Norfolk.

For the last two years I've been reading endless pieces on here encouraging people to leave the cities, for economic reasons, because of Covid, to improve their mental health and wellbeing, and to save the planet.

So is the official line now, move to urban areas with large enough populations to sustain services?

Incidentally, if you move to the 'flatlands' and leave your home to the snow over winter, the pipes will freeze and burst, and the mould and damp will finish the job. Uninhabited houses decline rapidly.

@JeffLee Residential immigration is clearly not on the cards - the government don't even want tourists spending a week there.

1 ( +15 / -14 )

The overall mind set that you need a train/bus station 2 minuets from your front door and a smattering of stores within walking distance of your dwelling, needs to change. Convert the inefficient patchwork of farms into larger ones that can produce more food, timber and sustainable products. If Japan wants to remain Japanese, it needs to encourage its young people to want to work and live in a non urban setting and provide them monetary incentives to do so. There are millions and millions of people in the world who live in areas where your neighbor is miles away and they thrive. A low head count is no reason not to have utilities and services in an area, the rest of the world does it, but somehow Japan is stuck in the paradigm you need thousands of people living elbow to elbow in order to make things work.

25 ( +26 / -1 )

The constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to live wherever they want.

We are in the urban countryside with more limited services than living in the city but we have what we need. Large stores, hospitals, schools, health clinics, gyms, and two rail stations are not far away. Bus services. We do not get snow in the winter.

The people who live here farm and grow vegetables and would never move.

14 ( +17 / -3 )

wallaceToday  10:37 am JST

The constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to live wherever they want. 

Nowhere is that written in the Constitution.

-13 ( +2 / -15 )

painkiller

you can read up on the constitution online.

Article 22. Every person shall have freedom to choose and change his residence and to choose his occupation to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare.

Freedom of all persons to move to a foreign country and to divest themselves of their nationality shall be inviolate.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

A handful of others that similarly have depopulated areas, old or damaged bridges and other infrastructure related to travel, small food markets, inadequate access to quality medical care.

With that incredibly broad criteria, you've essentially included every country on the planet. Depopulated areas? You mean any country which has experienced urbanisation is third world? Any country with old bridges is third world? Come on.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Why is the central government encouraging former residents from Fukushima abandoned towns to move back even without any infrastructure and places with many hotspots?

painkiller

you seem to have zero experience of living in the areas outside of the major cities. I was born out in the wilds which are still going strong. There are villages that become abandoned because the residents die out or villages with a very small number of residents.

Millions of people worked all their lives and paid taxes.

If you think Japan is a third-world country why are you even living here?

Where do you think the farming happens, not in Tokyo?

9 ( +11 / -2 )

painkiller

which places in the countryside have you lived and for how long?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

It's fairly easy to live in rural areas but you might need to set up a compost toilet. You can always collect rain water for drinking after you filter it

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Some of the most beautiful natural areas and some of the warmest, most general people anywhere are in rural Japan. It's a shame that a lot of these places just won't have enough of a population base to survive, but unfortunately, this pattern has been known for several years [if not decades] and there just hasn't been enough change to make a difference.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

*Most generous, not general. Sorry.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Live very rurally in UK and now have added rural living in Japan for half the year.

Limited services and infrastructure in both which is not a problem for me at all. In fact that's kind of the point and the charm of living in rural areas.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

wobot: I have tank water collected from my roof, I have no filter, I don't have town water and can not drink town water. Town water taste awful. As for toilet I have septic tank system which drain off, Sound like you never live away from town. My town is 20 km away used be 8km but they close down the road to save money. I understand.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My wife is fiom Aomori, We both live in Ishikawa in a small town in Okunoto on Noto pennsula and have lived here for many years. We have been living here raising our family here because we want to be close to nature and Love this way of life. It works with both of our spiritual practices and love the environment around us and would never live anywhere else in Japan.

We view the city mainly, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoay as a place to have fun once in a while to go shopping, however we not ever live there because we do not like that lifestlye and its not congruent to us.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

@藤原

Sounds nice. I envy you.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

藤原

I am in agreement with your comment. Nice area. I have visited there. Beautiful views of the winter alps.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Crumbling infrastructure rapidly rendering rural communities unlivable

This is sad that such a large geographical area of Japan has been neglected.

Aa the article notes, damaged infrastructure, lack of adequate 24-hr medical facilities, this is the standard if you head an hour or so outside the major cities in Japan. These third world nation standards are forcing people to have to consider relocating but because of their low salaries, that is near impossible.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

painkiller

in your own country, there are more than 35,000 bridges in need of immediate attention before they collapse and kill people. Trump promised to prepare the infrastructure but he never did.

https://youtu.be/EdvJSGc14xA

Which parts of the Japanese countryside have you lived in?

There is a major hospital 5-minute walk from our home. Schools and welfare facilities. Transport and shopping. Shows how little you really know.

The population of our area is increasing because it's a great place for young families and children. There are very few apartments. Only large houses with beautiful gardens and wide roads.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Farming happens in the countryside, not in the big cities. Fishing happens in small places around the coasts.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

RedstormToday  07:30 pm JST

in your own country, there are more than 35,000 bridges in need of immediate attention before they collapse and kill people. Trump promised to prepare the infrastructure but he never did.

What are you talking about? This article is about Japan.

There is a major hospital 5-minute walk from our home. Schools and welfare facilities. Transport and shopping. Shows how little you really know.

Really? Argue with the author of the article who wrote:

"depopulated areas." Collectively, these now account for some 60% of the nation's land area, 

And

As for the quality of rural medical treatment -- don't ask. Almost no locales are able to offer 24-hour care, and even at normal working hours on weekdays the hospitals are severely limited in their services. 

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I wonder if the current situation could lead to a tipping point: Given the enormous difference in the price of housing between urban and rural areas together with the partial acceptance of working from home, I wonder if there might not be an increase in outward flow. It seems that once that trend starts, it could really get some traction. Perhaps the outbound flow has only embraced the "rural" life of Kanagawa.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"depopulated areas." Collectively, these now account for some 60% of the nation's land area,

I was confused by that sentence, considering only about one third of Japan's land area is inhabitable; the rest of it being mountainous.

This one was also a bit sketchy:

A shift from trains to buses, however, raises another problem. Some 40% of vehicular bridges in Japan are reaching age 50, and local governments, with no budget to repair or demolish them, are forced to just ban their use, effectively cutting off the districts they serve, along with the small supermarkets and other businesses that serve the residents.

With the bridges gone, people are also unable to commute to nearby jobs, further putting pressure on them to relocate.

Is the author suggesting that those districts are only accessible by one vehicular bridge? And by banning their use, those local governments are cutting the people off from everything, including their jobs, and all basic necessities?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

^and does the author mean to suggest that 100% of those 40% of bridges are being closed? Overall, a pretty poorly written article, in my opinion.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

藤原Today 06:59 pm JST

My wife is fiom Aomori, We both live in Ishikawa in a small town in Okunoto on Noto pennsula and have lived here for many years. We have been living here raising our family here because we want to be close to nature and Love this way of life. It works with both of our spiritual practices and love the environment around us and would never live anywhere else in Japan.

We view the city mainly, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoay as a place to have fun once in a while to go shopping, however we not ever live there because we do not like that lifestlye and its not congruent to us.

It doesn't matter what you want though, there's a practical aspect to this situation. It's economically unsustainable to maintain roads and other critical infrastructure you required to live where you live.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This article is translated from a sensationalist Japanese tabloid.

I live in a town of 8000 but it has three clinics where I can get an xray the same day. My daughter had a CT scan within two hours after getting concussed falling off the back of the sofa. By contrast, my mother had to wait three weeks for a confirmatory x-ray before her arm could be taken out of a sling. That's in a suburb of a large UK city with a catchment of around one million. Yes there are completely remote "potsun to ikkenya" type places in countryside, but most people live in "machi" which are towns or mura that are still towns because they have populations in the thousands, which is far too many for a "village". These places have access to healthcare, schools, post offices, and even basic public transport, possibly in the form of on demand taxis.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu is not a mag I would buy and read.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This article is translated from a sensationalist Japanese tabloid.

The Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu is not a mag I would buy and read.

Love to see how posters in here prefer to shoot the messenger instead of the ,message.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

where I can get an xray the same day. My daughter had a CT scan within two hours

@kohakuebisu You obviously mix up apparatus medicine with real professional treatment. Of course you get x-rays and CT everywhere because those machines have to run the whole day and are very profitable after the investment costs have been played in. They would love to come to your door every five minutes even if you lived on top of Fujisan for X-raying and CT-scanning you multidimensionally inside, outside your body and maybe even your house from roof to basement or the garden as a bonus offer , if those machines weren’t such heavy. It’s just only a money printing system. The real problem is that chances are very low in your small countryside town that you also get the according professional treatment after those many X-ray shots and CT scans have been taken.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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