Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Industrialization fueled by cheap domestic labor spurred rapid economic growth in Japan from 1954 until 1990, and also radically influenced the demographic composition and regional economies of the country. Because the countryside was the central provider of factory labor, the population of rural communities - mainly agricultural producers - has declined and is suffering from rapid aging. Abandoned arable land in Japan is on the rise, and has reached 400,000 hectares, or twice the size of Tokyo. Factories built during the time of industrialization have largely relocated abroad, and employment is hard to maintain. Regional economies are hollowing out, and are burdened with severe problems.
Real estate and stock market prices in Japan were greatly inflated during the Japanese economic bubble. After this bubble burst in the early 1990s, putting an end to the period of rapid economic growth, corporations started to increasingly seek short-term profits. They proceeded to cut costs to streamline operations. Many corporations abolished the systems of lifelong employment and seniority, and merit-based evaluation became mainstream. As a result, interpersonal relationship within corporations became tenuous. Employees felt isolated, leading to low motivation levels and high mental stress. It is said that 10% of employees in the Information Technology industry, most of them city-dwellers, suffer from clinical depression in Japan.
In the early 1970s, then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka accelerated the building of factories in the countryside under his “Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago.” On the other hand, agriculture was on the decline in rural communities. In the process of streamlining operations, companies relocated factories from the Japanese countryside to overseas in pursuit of cheap labor costs, making employment difficult to maintain. The big challenge for local municipalities today is to find ways of rejuvenating regional economies other than factory building and public works, which were the methods widely used during the period of rapid economic growth.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Japan underwent high economic growth from 1954 to 1973, capitalizing on low-cost labor and industrialization through public-private partnerships. The labor sourced from agricultural communities permitted this economic growth in the first place. However, it also caused individuals to migrate from rural areas to urban centers, with depopulation accelerating in these regions. As a result, more and more laborers deserted arable land in aging agricultural communities, leading to the decline of rural economies.
Hisashi is working to rejuvenate the declining regional economy using a method that utilizes abandoned areas and natural resources. Hisashi partners with corporations to provide a human resources development program that rejuvenates the economies of these rural communities, and the well-being of visitors from the cities. The corporate employees living in cities regularly visit the rural communities to cultivate once-abandoned land and grow crops. The program collaborates with local small-scale enterprises to produce processed goods using the harvested crops. Through this program, abandoned arable land is being reused, and such local businesses as inns, restaurants, food processors, and the forestry industry are regaining dynamism. In addition, corporate employees are enhancing communication, motivation, and team building skills through collaborative work in rural villages.
Hisashi started his efforts in Yamanashi Prefecture, and his efforts are now underway in prefectures such as Miyagi, Fukushima, and Mie, which are partnered with corporations. The NPO “Egao Wo Tsunagete,” founded by Hisashi, supports these activities by training former prefectural mayors that have significant influence over municipalities. This has developed the movement of “one company for one village,” which aims to rejuvenate rural communities all over Japan by connecting one village to the workers in one corporation to accelerate the expansion of the rural community revitalization model.