NIRA Research Report No.970105
A Study on the Issues of Hilly and Mountainous Areas in Japan (Phase II)
The hilly and mountainous areas consist of land mass ranging from mountainous areas to the plains and account for seventy percent of Japan's territory. These areas cover about forty percent of the total number of farmhouses and the estimated gross agricultural output, as well as about eighty percent of the forest area.Thus, these areas play an important role in the supply of food, environmentalpreservation, available space for living and leisure, and the preservation of regional culture.
The hilly and mountainous areas, however, face a severe situation. Due to the steady decrease in Japan's fertility rate and an increasingly aging society, there is apossibility that it will be difficult for many parts of these areas to maintain communities and to preserve the environment.
NIRA creates proposals for future measures to be adopted by the hilly and mountainous areas while keeping in mind that these areas should be viewed not only as places to spend leisure time but also as suitable areas to live and work. NIRA has actively researched and evaluated these areas and has concluded that the mix of climate, nature and culture steeped in history renders an environment capable of supporting a variety of lifestyles. To develop the future of the hilly and mountainous areas, NIRA proposes to promote the attractiveness of the region by examining measures to realize new lifestyles and disseminating information.
In some of the hilly and mountainous areas, not only is the fertility rate declining, but some native residents are feeling as though the significance of living in the region has been lost. On the other hand, an increasing number of city dwellers want to enjoy various country lifestyles in spite of some inconvenience and want to make contributions to the regions. This desire to contribute to the hilly and mountainous areas stems from a diversified sense of values; a longing for an enriched lifestyle, and an increasing awareness of environmental preservation and coexistence with nature.
In response to such new movements, the hilly and mountainous areas welcome U-Turn people (U-Turn refers to the movement of people who were born in rural areas, who then relocated to a large city for either school or work, and eventually returned to their home town) and I-Turn people (I-Turn refers to the movement of people who were born and raised in a large city and who later relocated to rural areas.) with the expectation that their personal resources, i.e., urban-influenced insights and experiences along with a wide range of viewpoints will become a driving force for the revitalization of these areas.
The twenty-first century is expected to be an era when decentralization will increase and the principle of self-determination and self-responsibility will spread. In such an era, respecting people's lifestyle choices based on their needs as well as relying on individual initiative and planning ability, will do more to revitalize the hilly andmountainous areas than pursuing large-scale projects led by the central government which may include the relocation of metropolitan functions. In this case, it is necessary for the central government to change people's awareness and to improve their living environment so that everyone can freely select their own lifestyles. Local governments need to establish support systems for information and living and to make efforts to increase the attractiveness of the hilly and mountainous areas. Moreover, it would be important for each local government to participate in the establishment of a network in order to make the best of people's energy, and to implement unique and appropriate measures based on a long-term and wide-ranging view.
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