Local Government Efforts to Win over the Baby Boom Generation Begin in Earnest
Enticing Urban Seniors into Appreciating Rural Lifestyle with Employment Support, Housing Placement, and 'See-for-yourself' Tours
The Japanese baby boomers born between 1947 and 1949 will start to reach retirement age in 2007. The retirement of a group of 6.8 million people — a group that grew in the period of post-war economic recovery and went on to form the backbone of Japanese industry during the years of high economic growth — is expected to be accompanied by some significant economic impacts. Forecasts of a 15 trillion yen windfall in additional spending are balanced by concerns about whether or not the rich experience and technical prowess of the baby boomers is going to be passed on to following generations. The retirement of the baby-boomers is gaining the attention of both the government and industry.
For many local governments struggling with shrinking populations, the advent of this huge number of retired people represents a golden opportunity for regional recovery. Rural depopulation problems were caused by the flux of large numbers of young people who went to work in Japan's urban centers during the economic boom years, depleting the populations of farming and fishing districts and threatening the basic day-to-day necessities of their day-to-day existence. Ageing and declining populations are problems faced by nearly every region in Japan, and the overwhelming shortage of leaders in primary industries such as agriculture is a particular source of anxiety in underpopulated districts.
Against this backdrop, local governments have started to draw up their own plans, 'retiree-catching strategies', which encourage the baby boomer generation to permanently or temporarily reside in these areas. Most research shows that around 30% of baby boomers who have lived in urban areas such as Tokyo or Osaka want to live in the countryside or go back to their childhood home when they retire. The battle to attract the baby boomers has begun, matching the needs of local governments struggling with underpopulation and the dreams of those approaching retirement.
Why don't you spend your golden years here?
Hokkaido Prefecture, which last summer launched a project targeting baby boomers and encouraging them to settle in the wide open spaces of northern Japan, worked with 76 local municipalities and villages to set up a system offering support for employment in the agriculture sector, and established consultation centers in each city, town and village offering advice about moving to Hokkaido. Consultation centers were also set up in Tokyo and Osaka, and seminars about working in agriculture, which also offered attendees advice about this subject, were held six times in Tokyo and nine times in Osaka. Technical guidance, provision of farmland and housing, and initial financing support are essential parts of the system to support employment in agriculture. Cooperation between the municipalities and villages and the prefecture performs a vital role here. Tour operators were also commissioned to provide 'see-for-yourself' tours lasting anywhere between three nights to as much as a month. With its 'wide open spaces' image as its selling point, Hokkaido Prefecture is fine-tuning its system for accepting new residents and looking at strategies to encourage people to move there based on the feedback from people who participated in the tours.
In contrast to Hokkaido's attempts to lure people with the wide availability of land, the southern Japanese prefectures of Miyazaki and Kochi are pushing their temperate climate and easy way of life. Miyazaki has spent around 40 million yen on activities to persuade urban residents to move to the prefecture. Information about the municipalities and villages and programs through which people can gain experiences of these localities is presented on the prefecture's website, and they hold symposiums about exchanges and moving to the area. In order to let people from other prefectures know about the benchmarks of Miyazaki's relaxed pleasant way of life — its temperate climate, wealth of natural assets, and low prices — the program depicts a process starting with a short stay followed by dividing time between the city and the countryside, eventually finishing with permanent residence in Miyazaki.
Kochi Prefecture has set up a 'Shin Inaka Business School (new country business school)' on the Internet, aimed at those wishing to make a fresh start in agriculture. Without pursuing the usual school format, this 'online agricultural college' is a system that enables urban residents to receive tuition in agriculture while carrying on their jobs, and provides essential know-how and skills in agricultural management. Those interested are able to participate in on-site agriculture training sessions that take place for three days and are held over weekends seven times a year. They are taught about handling farming machinery and harvesting vegetables, and are invited to visit practicing farmers. Kochi Prefecture is also considering the establishment of a village aimed entirely at people approaching retirement age.
Prefectures along the Sea of Japan such as Fukui, Tottori and Nagasaki are also in hot pursuit of baby boomers. Fukui Prefecture, struggling with a lack of local leaders in the agricultural and fishing sectors, has launched a website aimed at encouraging people to move into the area from other prefectures under the slogan 'We're a candidate for your country home'. While Fukui's acceptance system for helping people to start working in agriculture is similar to other prefectures, one unique feature is the way that they are pushing the link between good health and life in Fukui by pointing out that the life expectancy of men and women there is the second longest in the nation.
Tottori Prefecture is working on a project that seeks to let people from outside the prefecture know about the charms of Tottori's farming, forestry and fishing, as well as its traditional arts, through a variety of first-hand experiences. Under this project, people from outside Tottori who wish to move to farming or fishing villages are able to gain hands-on experience of work in these sectors and are offered somewhere to stay, and some financial assistance towards their stay. Those satisfying various conditions, including that they stay for at least one month, are paid 100,000 yen a month during the first year of their experimental stay with accompanying family members receiving 30,000 yen a month each.
Nagasaki Prefecture has invested 100 million yen in a major five-year project to promote living in the Nagasaki countryside. The project has designated areas across the prefecture as 'model districts', and provides financial support for the costs that local governments incur by providing see-for-yourself country tours, and accommodation and land for new residents. According to one of the prefectural officials in charge of the project, "The priority issue during this first year is getting people to know about the attractions of Nagasaki, employment and housing information, and the municipalities' support measures." Nagasaki Prefecture will relay this information via its website and e-mail bulletins, and by hosting forums in Japan's major cities on a frequent basis.
How about a second home?
A common feature of the various efforts made by local government located in areas a considerable distance from Japan's major cities, is their call for people to consider moving there to spend the latter part of their lives on a permanent basis. Meanwhile, the more easily accessed prefectures are encouraging a country lifestyle based on 'weekend residence'. Chiba, Gunma, Tochigi, Osaka and Aichi are all carrying out similar measures and pushing ahead with the promotion of forms of residence that will enable people to enjoy dual residence, farm at the weekends, and stay long-term or short-term.
Fukushima Prefecture offers the prime example of enthusiastic measures to promote twin residence. Fukushima launched a project this year, which seeks to expand the number of new permanent residents and dual residents; in addition to those moving into the prefecture on a permanent basis, it offers support for dual residence, allowing city dwellers to enjoy living in the countryside on weekends. In conjunction with the participating municipalities and villages, support staff, who assist those interested in working in agriculture, have been appointed in each locality as a part of the efforts to help local farming. The idea is to encourage city dwellers' understanding of farming techniques and local customs, and thereby help the concepts of dual residence and weekend farming to take root. Recently the prefecture also opened a support center in Tokyo offering consultation on dual residence and living in the countryside.
Last year, Nagano Prefecture launched a system offering 'foster parents' for people wishing to move to the prefecture and take up agriculture. Under this system, veteran farmers wishing to support the entry into agriculture of inexperienced people were advertised for throughout the prefecture. After being carefully selected by the prefecture, these farmers and agricultural groups were registered as 'foster parent farmers'. Since the situation of those wishing to take up agriculture varies greatly — in terms of where and how they want to work, and how much experience they have — the prefecture has to choose a 'foster parent' appropriate to the needs of each applicant. The 'foster parents' help by accepting the applicant, providing them with instruction about cultivation techniques, securing the requisite farming land for them, and giving advice once the applicant has actually started farming. Nagano Prefecture has also assigned four dedicated coordinators who provide a consultation service addressing precise details such as where people wish to farm and what type of agriculture they wish to pursue.
Japan's local governments are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to win over the baby boomer generation.