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Monday, September 8, 2014

Demographic Withering in Japan's Countryside

Thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing me to an article on NDTV about the withering away of communities in rural Japan. This is not necessarily a new story, because the rural population of Japan has been declining for some time, just as Japan's total population is on the verge of decline. In this story, the interesting thing to note is how long an offer of "move here and get a free cow" has been out there without much interest from anyone:
The tiny Japanese community of Mishima was desperate to reverse its shrinking population so officials came up with what they hoped would be a game-changing plan: free cows.
Anyone willing to pack up and move to the remote southern village of 379 residents would get a no-cost calf or 500,000 yen ($4,900) in cash.
Mishima's bovine brainwave has fallen well short of expectations, however. "The programme has been going for more than 20 years, and so far there has only been one person who took us up on the cow, and that was two decades ago," village official Shingo Hidaka told AFP, adding the cash had only a handful of takers.
Of course, most people living in cities could probably buy a cow if they wanted one, so a free cow is not too big a deal. What is interesting to me is the idea that it might somehow be a tragedy if these rural communities die out. Japan mirrors Italy and other low fertility countries in having young people head off to the cities, leaving the elderly to cling to the rural life as long as possible. Is that bad, or is it just part of the overall urban transition?


  1. You raise an interesting question. I would point out that urban populations tend to be the ones that keep alive traditions and preserve (or conserve) much more of the local flavor of a culture or region. I doubt that Japanese culture will die out, because Japan is so homogenous, but Italy? Italy is a main destination of immigrants from Africa and Asia so I think that Italian culture will die, gradually, to be sure, along with its villages. What do you think?

  2. My view is that traditions and "culture" of rural villages are typically things that we don't mind seeing left behind--prejudice, ignorance, and intolerance, for example. The younger people working in agriculture, mining, and forestry (rural occupations) are likely to be suburban in terms of their lifestyle, and that part of culture will be maintained and shaped. I am less pessimistic than you, however, about Italy. It is hard for me to imagine that immigrants will kill off Italian culture, although we do have to keep in mind that Italy has a lot of regional differences in culture, some of which may be more resilient to change than others.