October 21, 2014


Kochi's Challenge -- A Prefecture Tackling Depopulation (Part 2)

Keywords: Aging Society Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.145 (September 2014)

Photo: Kamegamoririndo
Image by As6022014 Some Rights Reserved.

A previous issue of the JFS Newsletter (No.144) introduced comprehensive efforts by Japan's Kochi Prefecture, quoted from a speech by Governor Masanao Ozaki promoting industry, entitled "Kochi's Challenge -- A Prefecture Tackling Depopulation." Kochi has been experiencing the problem of depopulation, which is common throughout the nation, but it is happening earlier here than in other prefectures. This article introduces a variety of other ideas being considered and efforts being made by this prefecture.


In the Kochi prefectural government, we are promoting all kinds of policies to deal with depopulation. The prefecture's five basic policies are: economic revitalization through implementation of an industrial promotion plan; radical enhancement and acceleration of fundamental measures against the predicted Nankai Trough earthquake; creation of Japan's healthiest, most long-lived prefectural population; enhancement of education and support for child-raising; and improvement and effective use of infrastructure. We also have two overarching policies, one that involves enhancement and strengthening of measures to help semi-mountainous rural regions and another that constitutes a radical enhancement of measures to counter the falling birthrate while expanding working opportunities for women.

For example, to tackle the problem of the shrinking economy and outflow of the young, the government is promoting an industrial development plan for revitalizing Kochi's economy. We are putting efforts into "outbound sales of local products," and "welcoming resettlement into the prefecture." We are also enhancing education, for example, by creating places for young people to study. We aim to make the prefecture the best place in the nation for education, with the most opportunities for learning. Regarding the issue of isolation due to the simultaneous decline and aging of the population, the government is promoting a plan for creating Japan's healthiest, most long-lived prefectural population in an attempt to realize a "Kochi-style" well-being.

To deal with decline in the semi-mountainous regions of Japan, we are enhancing and reinforcing measures to help these areas, such as by establishing local centers to protect people's livelihoods and create industries. In response to the accelerating decline in the birthrate, we aim for radical enhancement of measures to counter the falling birthrate while expanding working opportunities for women and offering one-stop, comprehensive support for challenges at each life stage, from matchmaking and marriage to child-rearing.

The problem of depopulation in rural areas is partly due to social factors such as differences in numbers of migrants into and out of these areas, but it is mainly due to attrition -- that is, the number of deaths surpassing that of births. Therefore it is not an easy problem to solve, and what matters crucially is how the younger generations, who play a major role in the birthrate, can remain in their local areas.

We are also trying to promote migration into the prefecture to help alleviate the decrease in population. We are conducting a wide range of campaigns to lead people to the prefectural website, where they can get information on moving to Kochi. We have posted six staff members to provide advice on resettlement and social interaction, and 22 local counselors in 18 cities, towns, and villages, for close support in promoting more migration to the prefecture among people who see the website and become interested in visiting or living in Kochi.

The number of new arrivals has more than doubled -- from 121 households with 225 people in 2012 to 468 people in 2013. In a ranking of prefectures to which people want most to move, released by a non-profit organization in Tokyo, Kochi Prefecture was not listed among the top 20 until three years ago. It has gradually risen, however, reaching 12th place in 2012 and sixth in 2013.

We also put a strong emphasis on attracting human resources. Attracting people is more important than attracting businesses. This is because even if a local government tries to start a new business as part of a municipal action plan, it will be of no use if there are too few people who can participate. Even in the context of sightseeing, if a community lacks the capacity to accommodate tourists, it puts across the impression that it does not want more visitors. Therefore, by promoting resettlement of people into the community, we hope to provide manpower for such efforts.

We endeavor to promote forestry, too. I think Kochi's strongest advantage is its forest resources, which cover 84 percent of the prefecture's area. If good use could be made of these resources, Kochi could become a resource-rich land, but one of the biggest hurdles is costs. In particular, Kochi's hills are steep, making it expensive to cut trees. The big challenge will be how to compensate for such costs to make it profitable.

The important thing will be to use all parts of the trees, from the roots to the crowns. For example, we can try to make money from wood resources by not limiting them high quality timber for construction wood, but also using middle quality timber for laminated wood and low quality, which used to be discarded in the past, for paper and biomass fuels. Horticultural agriculture in Kochi Prefecture relies on heavy oil, which means we wind up paying 6.6 billion yen (about U.S.$6.53 million) to the Middle East. If that amount of money went into the forests of Kochi instead, it would make a great difference.

Two wood biomass power plants are scheduled to start operation in April 2015, converting low quality wood into profitable products. At the same time, Kochi wants to use middle quality wood for making cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. CLT panels are made of layers of woods with the grain oriented at right angles to each other. Woods fibers withstand force from an orthogonal direction, but when force is applied in a parallel direction, wood tends to buckle in a direction orthogonal to the grain. Thus combining the wood panels orthogonally creates wood strong in both directions. In Austria, Italy and other European countries, more and more mid- to high-rise buildings are being made with CLT panels.

Once established in Japan, this technology could bring tremendous environmental and economic benefits. For example, if 10 percent of the total floor space of Japan's mid- to high-rise buildings were replaced with CLT wood, it would fix 1.456 million metric tons of CO2, which corresponds to 5,600 hectares of forest area. Moreover, if the amount of CO2 emissions avoided at the time of construction is included in the calculation, it works out to the equivalent of 5,805 hectares of forest being created in an urban area. If timber from forest thinning is used, it means 95,000 hectares of forest can be thinned for this purpose, creating about 4,000 jobs in the wood industry and about 12,000 jobs in forestry. We urge support for using wood in the construction of facilities for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Another important challenge will be building mutually-supportive networks in semi-mountainous areas for the purpose of stemming population outflow and to help people get by even in areas with declining population. The major stumbling block in terms of welfare policy is vertically divided (un-integrated) administrative structures. For example, institutions for the elderly are limited to the elderly only. Institutions for the disabled provide services only to the disabled, and institutions for children are only for children.

In semi-mountainous areas, the absolute numbers of each group are small; therefore, providing services to all groups at one location will be essential. That is why we are building facilities called "Attaka Fureai" Centers (meaning "warm connections") that can provide all needed services. Currently, we are building 200 of these centers across the prefecture to provide various services. By creating bases called "Shuraku Katsudo" Centers (meaning "community activity") in different communities, we believe we can help Japan continue to be able to earn foreign currency, protect domestic agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and always ensure enough food.

Lastly, for countermeasures to the falling birthrate, Japan can be divided into four areas: places with many young people, places with few young people, places with a good environment for raising kids, and places with a deficient environment for raising kids. The issues to be dealt with differ completely among these areas. The areas with many young people and a good environment for raising kids need to promote greater economic support and create a society that encourages child birth. In areas such as Tokyo's 23 wards with lots of young people, but lacking a good environment for raising kids, eliminating the waiting list for nursery schools seems to be a big issue.

On the other hand, neither Kochi Prefecture nor Kochi City has a big problem with children waiting to enter nursery schools. The issues they face, however, are declining population and unemployment of young people. Thus the critical point will be how to help young people find marriage partners, especially by creating meeting places for the dwindling numbers of young people.

When people talk about local revitalization, they often tend to focus on one initiative, but one initiative alone can never solve the problem. We need a comprehensive system. I don't think the depopulation issue can be handled outside the framework of a large system.

I hope businesses will support rural communities in semi-mountainous areas in their development of CSR activities. I recognize it is a daunting task to face the depopulation issue, but it is also challenging. All of us involved need to do our very best.

Speaker: Kochi Prefecture Governor Masanao Ozaki
Edited by Junko Edahiro