Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Villages on the Edge

The evening edition of the Mainichi Shimbun has a story about Daigo Township's desperate offer to anyone willing to live there: 800 to 1700 square meters of land, rent free for 20 years.

But that is not all. If you hire local contractors, the township will pay 500,000 yen of your construction costs. It will pay the first three years of your property taxes (koteishisanzei). It will pay 80% of the cost of your septic tank.

The current offer is for 15 plots; the township has reportedly received around 1000 inquiries.

I have introduced Daigo Township in an earlier post. It is one of my favorite places to visit in the Kantō. The people there are truly lovely and the scenery is largely unspoilt.

But getting to and from Daigo...ay caramba!

The newspaper article says that Daigo is three hours out of Ueno by train. What it neglects to add is that is an "ideal" travel time, assuming you are starting from the station and assuming you can make a perfect connection in Mito. To give a sense of the loneliness of Daigo, suffice it to say that during the "evening commute" hours, the trains come once every hour and 8 minutes. Off peak, the wait between trains is over two hours.

All of which is an introduction of a new phrase I heard an announcer say the other day when heavy rains washed out the roads to Oshiozawa district of Nanmoku, Japan's most elderly (56% of residents are over 65 years of age) township. It is genkai shūraku - "villages that have reached their limits" - towns that through population loss to the cities; the loss of industries due to competition and elimination of protective regulations; loss of public works projects; the increasing fraction of the population either retired and never employed; the increasing fraction of the population that is either sick or frail; and the stubborn unwillingness of the oldest persons to abandon their now remote and lonely homesteads -- are on the brink of bankruptcy and social collapse.

The genkai shūraku are not necessary little Yubaris - cities that secretly borrowed and borrowed and borrowed to pay for their out-of-control operating expenses, guessing that no matter how badly they indebted themselves, the central government would bail them out. These are towns where the young and industry have left and the elderly refuse to leave--leading to an utterly predictable socio-economic implosion.

Which makes one part of the Daigo land offer story perplexing. The township has been most serious in trying to attract recent retirees wishing to leave the big cities. After living their whole lives in urban areas, city slicker retirees are going to expect a lot more in terms of services and conveniences than Daigo can ever offer. Having retirees move in also means you are just kicking the can down the road a few meters--in a decade, the newcomers will be as much as a burden on the municipality as those old folks already taxing the social welfare system.

What a fall from grace for a town once represented in the Diet by one of the Seven Magistrates (shichinin no bugyō) of the Tanaka faction!


A few more photos from Daigo, from September 2006.

Harvest time
Kita ageha
From the summit of Mt. Nantai looking west

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always your post on the sociology of Japan's small and dying townships manages to be both informative and poignant. Bravo.