Rural depopulation

Finding land, working a small plot or anything else countryside related
jaman
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Rural depopulation

Post by jaman »

Rural depopulation is something that is increasingly being talked about due to Japan’s demographic situation, but similar situations are seen throughout the world as people naturally gravitate towards population centers.

The average age of farmers in Japan will pose a pretty large risk and will be felt in a fairly short time frame (a decade or 2 if not sooner).

There was a previous thread (https://japansimplelife.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=521) that discussed some strategies for combating it.

This thread is to get the viewpoint of those actually living the country life on what you think about the problem.

- is it actually a “problem” that needs to be “fixed”?
- should the communities that don’t adapt be allowed to organically die out (and organically be re-established eg due to COVID driven urge to get out of town)?
- do you see any material impacts around you? What does a typical affected town look like? (Eg over n KM from a population center so it can’t be used as a commuter village/town? Or not unique enough to be used for tourism?)
- is there a place for government run policies vs community driven or bottom up initiatives? Tax breaks? Giant concrete museums in the countryside?

Sorry this is a huge topic so the first post is a bit all over the place. Also even though it is about rural depopulation it probably ties into the over centralization of Tokyo and how that risk can be mitigated.

Interested in your thoughts!

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Zasso Nouka
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Rural depopulation

Post by Zasso Nouka »

Probably there is no easy answer short answer but let's get the ball rolling.

For sure the age of farmers has to be a concern but and this is a very big but if more mechanisation can be introduced in time it may not be a problem. I'm not 100% sure if it can or not but at the annual farming expo at Makuhari Messe there are more and more drones and robots being introduced each year, I personally can't wait till there is a robot that can go out into our fields and do my work while I laze on the sofa, whoops sorry, devote my time to overseeing the farm.
jaman wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 8:19 pm
- is it actually a “problem” that needs to be “fixed”?
Interesting question, where we are in north Chiba it's not a major problem yet but may become one over time. Yes the population is declining but not at an alarming rate, however deep inaka seems to be affected far more. I reckon a lot of those villages you see up in the mountains won't be around for much longer.
jaman wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 8:19 pm
- should the communities that don’t adapt be allowed to organically die out (and organically be re-established eg due to COVID driven urge to get out of town)?
From what we've seen on this forum there definitely seems to be communities that actively don't want newcomers, I reckon let them die out and disappear. If that's what they want then they can't be forced to save themselves
jaman wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 8:19 pm
- do you see any material impacts around you? What does a typical affected town look like? (Eg over n KM from a population center so it can’t be used as a commuter village/town? Or not unique enough to be used for tourism?)
That's probably best answered by someone else as we aren't yet suffering too greatly in this area.
jaman wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 8:19 pm
- is there a place for government run policies vs community driven or bottom up initiatives? Tax breaks? Giant concrete museums in the countryside?
There are municipalities hoping to attract remote workers

Shigotabi

But that relies on Japanese companies embracing a remote working culture, have a butchers at the picture below. The building on the right is Google that has fully embraced remote working during the pandemic and the building on the left houses CyberAgent, Mixi and other Japanese online companies. I think the contrast is quite stark and perhaps a lot of Japanese companies aren't quite there yet.

Image

From what I've heard from friends back in Europe many of them expect to continue remote working now even after the pandemic is completely over and their companies are looking to significantly downsize their office space making some quite substantial savings on rents and running costs. Many of them are already thinking of moving to smaller towns.

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Rural depopulation

Post by VanillaEssence »

I think this is a fascinating topic and something I’d really like to look more into. I wrote a paper on why turnout is low in Japan which touches on some rural issues. I’ll post some of my notes here. Sorry it’s very poorly formatted because I’m on mobile and can’t copy and paste from Notion properly, I can send a better one later if you would like. I can also direct you to the sources I consulted if anyone is interested in reading more on a particular point, tho most are behind paywalls. I can also DM the paper itself if anyone is really that curious.


The Effects of Social Networks on Voting 900 words)
13. 1385 Socially and culturally homogenous societies can more easily produce cohesiveness and collective action.
Heterogeneity has a negative effect on voter turnout.
BUT 1.668 In Japan few individuals are aware of which parties their social network members support. Japan's parties often overlap ideologically (and there are many) so more difficult to infer which party one supports than in the United States.
1.668 Communication in homogenous groups reinforces pre-existing beliefs with cognitive confirmation bias. These discussions incur little information load or stress. Shared political opinions/candidate support has mobilising effect
Working Notes 6

14.451 Mobilisation is easiest with strong social capital/strength of social networks
14.456 In Japan, Groups more important than "atomistic calculations" of individuals for mobilisation. Koenkai play lead role in mobilising votes by lobbying organisations such as local ag coops, small business associations or neighbourhood associations to vote for their member
13. 1387 electorate size negatively correlated to turnout - this author argues this is because of reduced heterogeneity 1. Yamamura disagrees about role of homogeneity, mention this)
1. 661 Political discussion occurs in all networks. It is a low-cost way to gain political knowledge or insight. Often occurs where politics are not main topic of conversation but by product of other topics:
1.662 ie issues like taxes, garbage collection, crime prevention. These conversations can take place without political baggage and citizens can participate even if they do not see politics as an important part of their lives
1.663 casual conversation does not necessarily lead to serious political deliberation. Does lead to exposure to different points of view, thinking about issues which may lead to political participation
1.665 Factual knowledge comes from political discussion + media exposure
20.1040 Social networks one of the most notable aspects of Japanese voter mobilisation
14. 454 Social networks allow for low-cost mobilisation. Groups advertise "word-of-mouth" much cheaper than phone banks or door-to-door canvassing. Happens within the group/circle don't need to reach out beyond that
23.67 Japanese frequently trade favours with each other and there is culturally instilled feeling of necessity to repay favours to "keep the books balanced". Link to UR 10.4445
Koenkai structures mirror family structures, which (family) are the
Working Notes 7

most important social networks in Japan.
Voters feel an obligation to vote for the candidate with whom they have the closest personal connection.
22.132 Japanese pork-barrel politics favour well organised special interest groups such as JA and Koenkai who can mobilise votes and contribute financially to campaigns in return for stable and predictable partnerships with specific actors in bureaucracy and government
14.456 Koenkai play the lead role for mobilisation
14.456 District in Hokkaido, 1986 election. Incumbent predicted in newspapers to lose, so his koenkai mobilised unions and agricultural groups to vote for him. His opponent expected to easily win so did not engage much in mobilisation. He won
20.1041 Koenkai (candidates' support groups) are most powerful in rural areas. Koenkai members are more likely to vote 1982 2.3x, 1993 2.6x) than non-members.
In rural areas, abstention from voting is not seen simply as refusal to vote, but as refusal to vote for a specific candidate which has potential ramifications such as social ostracism. In these areas, elections are not abstract national exercises but very much local affairs
There is an inverse relationship between population size and turnout (int. 3.653 holds true)
26.884 JA told members to vote for particular candidates and recommended workers act in candidates' koenkai
The Urban-Rural Divide 900 words)
13. 1388 LDP has relied on support on the Agricultural sector and on their koenkai. In small communities there is a high social cost for members of these groups who don't vote/vote differently
26.876 Japan in theory competing internationally, but lots of support for farmers in place: high import tariffs, production subsidies, price
Working Notes 8

support/stabilisation → Import quotas for rice are controlled and administered by MAFF Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries)
26.878 These protections have allowed continued of small and inefficient farms that would not be internationally competitive so practices has not changed much + 22.131 Ag Protectionism has been a major obstacle of Japan's genuine interest and pursuit of free trade (eg problems with TPP
26.878 1960 34.4m households in Japan were farm households, + now below 1.33m 27.)
21.428 From Early Meiji Period until 1950s, the average size of a Japanese Farm was only 2.4 acres. Total number of workers in ag sector was about 15million, roughly 4050% of the population.
13. 1389 As social norm decays, power of interpersonal pressure to vote declines
13. 1395 Population turnover especially detrimental
11.439 Urban population is better educated and better educated families tend to migrate to cities
26.885 Social Bonds eroding in local communities with migration to cities and diversification away from farming
20.1037 Places where voting is emphasised as civic duty, citizens may vote fit in + voting as obligation and appropriateness of other political participation higher in rural areas 11.445
20.1041 Koenkai (candidates' support groups) are most powerful in rural areas. Koenkai members are more likely to vote 1982 2.3x, 1993 2.6x) than non-members.
In rural areas, abstention from voting is not seen simply as refusal to vote, but as refusal to vote for a specific candidate which has potential ramifications such as social ostracism. In these areas, elections are not abstract national exercises but very much local affairs
There is an inverse relationship between population size and turnout (int. 3.653 holds true)
Working Notes 9

20.1041 there is still rural gap but its has grown smaller (negligible in 2005
26.888 Agricultural Sector has been described as LDP's largest vote gathering-machine
21.431 Farmers were effective mobilisers because of existing village structures + JA
21.429 LDP targeted distributive benefits to farmers who would vote and mobilise for them. When pork-barrel projects came to their communities, farmers would often seek employment opportunities in these projects on top of their farm work.
21.428 Japan's farms are almost all small 2.4 acres) and unprofitable + 21.429 so rely on subsidised capital from the government especially for the purchase of machinery or irrigation
26.884 JA told members to vote for particular candidates and recommended workers act in candidates' koenkai
21.430 JA Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives) is the centre of collective bargaining between farmers and the government. Almost all farmers are members of JA and use their services. JA also provides banking and insurance services
26.885 Power of JA eroding with capitulation to Uruguay Round agreement, local ag unions increasingly dissatisfied with central unions which act as central primary policy bodies. JA focused on "natural" membership not on "rational choice" incentives for membership (-not good for LDP, less able to unite their members
21.426 There is argument that producers more subject to market forces since Uruguay Round Agreement, these 21. argues that more important is 1994 electoral reforms. When Victorian Britain transitioned from MMDs to SMDs, 'the Corn Laws' were abolished and the policy gradually transitioned toward free trade
Working Notes 10

20.1042 Malapportionment significant feature of urban-rural divide. District magnitude) Not uncommon to find a district/electorate/seat with twice as many voters as another - disparity higher than most other countries. This makes citizens of these electorates more likely to determine election outcome (higher P so there is more incentive to go to the polls. + 3.653 District magnitude boosts turnout + 26.879 farmer's voting power has continuously been overinflated and conservative governments have not wanted to redraw constituency boundaries as they are advantaged by farmer's vote + 26.882 this disparity has increased as rural population has decreased
1990 HoR Election ratio of most densely populated to least densely populated constituency 3.381
22.133 1994 reforms increased inter-party competition but because 2/3rds of seats are SMDs and SMDs lead to disproportionate results, did not fix malapportionment, disadvantages third-party from acquiring large numbers of seats
20.67 Me: Since voters feel obliged to vote for candidate with whom they have personal connection, higher turnout with smaller population of the electorate may be because of this personal connection + 25.702 voters in rural areas more likely to have personal connections with politicians
11.435 Participation can be higher or lower in rural areas depending on the country. Typically higher in cities (eg in Germany/USA. 433 Not directly comparable by country because of different nature re: compactness and industrialisation
In Europe, social mobility differences seen as underlying cause of differing turnout
Compactness of urban societies makes voting easier, Japan's rural areas are also compact
11.436 in Japan Urban Residence correlated with lower turnout
11.438 Modern technology (media) moves Japan's population toward homogeneity, but rural residents are more dependent on informal communication. Japan's compact hamlets have a high density of social
Working Notes 11

interaction and group activities - opposite is true of urbanites 11.452 This is what increases turnout, not because voting physically easier
11.439 There is more support for leftist parties in cities. Urbanites are more concerned with cosmopolitan politics and feel national politics and affairs are relevant to them
11.440 While education correlated to turnout and greater media consumption, lesser educated rural population are equally interested in national elections. + This is because rural residents are more aware of direct benefits politics can deliver to them, also more likely to have personal connection with politicians 4412.
11.444 Urbanites alienated from politics, comparatively fewer social contacts especially with policymakers, responded to survey that they felt apathetic because of this → also true in rural areas where candidate has weak connections with local networks
11.4223 Modernisation theory predicted that expansion of media exposure would increase political participation but in Japan it led to alienation → Urban residents are typically more pessimistic and cynical about politics than R residents possibly because of more awareness of scandals and electoral law violations reported in media
Try to find out if this is still true
25.700 Media in Japan is focused on national affairs - Little coverage of individual candidates' campaigns + little clear information about candidates mainly focused on party messages 701 + This led to increasing partisan importance whereas before focus was on candidate that that partisan affiliation 699
11.443 Urban cynicism may also be because left of centre parties have basically been in opposition since 1955. Constantly out of power and give feeling of hopelessness among left-party supporters re: changing status quo with vote
11.4445 Cultural continuum of trading favours stronger in countryside, therefore rural voters more permissive of electoral law violations whereas
Working Notes 12

urbanisation leads to idealism so politicians held to stricter standard which may also explain urban cynicism
22.131 2017 Japanese policy actors are deeply embedded in long-term relationships of mutual obligation with special interests
22.132 JP strong relationship between the electoral system and corruption. Politicians seek specific policies in exchange for votes
24.258 in 1985, 26.6% of farmers 65. 2005 58.
22.131 Ag sector received strong backing and support from LDP and LDP controlled MAFF in exchange for votes. Still (in 2017 able to defend its public monopoly
25.699 Industrialisation of countryside has changed the demographics of rural constituencies + 26.879 Falling population in rural districts led to changing demographics, even in rural areas farmers are outnumbered at less than 30% of the electorate
21.431 This effect was negated at least in part by the fact that the people living in these urbanised rural areas still had immediate family members who were farmers and who would mobilise them to vote for a pro-farm candidate
21.429 Most farmers are part time
21. 430 60s-70s construction companies that relied on government subsidised projects provided seasonal work for farmers → farmers went to metro areas in winter months. From mid 70s, incumbents elected in farm districts tried to bring these projects into their home districts, and by 1980s most seasonal migration had ended (because huge number of construction projects in rural areas.
14. 457 Groups can also play key role in demobilisation. retaliation for 1987 law cutting the price of rice by LDP, farmers abstained from voting 1989 Upper House elections.
Still exists but are rural residents still permissive? Has media exposure
changed this?
Working Notes 13

20.1045 Daytime population of electorate leads to higher turnout (as opposed to bedroom communities where people work elsewhere and just sleep there) - people more likely to have sense of ownership and integration into that community. True for cities too, but this effect likely to explain part of higher turnout in rural areas. + Feelings of solidarity/loyalty to rural areas strong, weak in cities 11.439.
The Lasting Effects of the Bubble 900 words)
Effect of Bubble on Social Networks (ie JA membership)- on Politics/bureaucracy
13. 1386 Income inequality undermines collective action
24.239 2009 Election DPJ won decisive electoral victory ME With highest post1990 turnout) with promise to end pork-barrel spending (ie roads, bridges, agricultural projects) and to replace that spending on social welfare, science&tech, etc
24.240 Long standing criticism of pork-barrel spending on things like rural airports that serviced few people and dubious "tourist attractions" that attracted more government investment than tourists
24.240 This targeted spending guaranteed LDP would maintain power and provide them with an "unassailable electoral core". Most infamous character: Tanaka Kakuei
This targeted spending peaked in the 1990s → spending on public works and agriculture as stimulus increased in this period despite evidence it produced less stimulative return on investment. Sharply declined after this
24.241 Pork-barrel spending is direct government spending to electoral districts or narrow economic constituencies in return for political support - clientelism
Ministries had (and still have to lesser extent) strong connections to specific industries - amakudari etc
22.132 actually became easier after 1994 reforms as a district only having a single member made it easier to target
Working Notes 14

24.241 Criticisms of pork-barrel spending and ministries sharply increased as Japan's economy weakened
24.243 pork barrelling only available to ruling party as they control finance 31.612 also agrees)
22.133 Rural areas were dependent on redistributive benefits and since LDP had almost exclusive control of these benefits they systematically won rural constituencies with low ratio of population to representative
24.244 PM Koizumi imposed cuts on pork-barrel spending, successors were politically weak and short-lived. + 24.248 Bubble led to decline in pork barrel spending in 2008 spending on public works fell to 2.9% of the budget less than half its peak in the 1990s, 20012007 Ag/forest/river management contracts fell almost 52%, gov tried to reduce private industry's role in public works contracts. + 250 Koizumi cut retirement benefits for Amakudari, weakened links between the Ministry of Finance and government-linked financial institutions that were amakudari magnets by privatising them
24.249 J bureaucracy one of most lightly staffed, constant number of jobs from 1967 to 2000. In 2007 Japan had 32.5 public servants per 1000 residents, 78 in US, 79.2 in UK
24.245 1960 Japan had 12000 ag statisticians, in 2000 still 5,979 despite less ag and much improved IT. Koizumi targeted them: 3493 in 2007 249
24.247 Austerity meant as tax revenues increased government spending did not in attempt to reduce the size of the deficit
24.248 1960 5% of Japanese were over 65, By 2006 65 20.8% of population - highest among advanced industrial countries → pension pressure/healthcare etc + shrinking economy
24.255 1989 end of cold war made it much easier for opposition party to come into power made it much easier for an opposition party to come into power (re: US security alliance)
24.257 "The popping of Japan's financial bubble discredited the old system of political economy."
Working Notes 15

Deflation following bank bankruptcies in 1997 reveal damage of bubble. From 1991 to 2008 real economic growth avg just 1.2%
2008 gov brought in less tax revenue than in 1987
30. LDP membership peaked in 1991 at 5.47 million + 28. 1.08m end 2019 (so this may show political apathy or + 29. could be problems within LDP such as not letting rank-and-file members choose PM Suga 2020
-end cold war means USA doesn't need to keep LDP in power Income inequality - https://ideas.repec.org/p/cfi/fseres/cf284.html
Turnout decreased more for 20s age-group in 1990s
11.440 While education correlated to turnout and greater media consumption, lesser educated rural population are equally interested in national elections. + This is because rural residents are more aware of direct benefits politics can deliver to them, also more likely to have personal connection with politicians 4412.
11.444 Urbanites alienated from politics, comparatively fewer social contacts especially with policymakers, responded to survey that they felt apathetic because of this → also true in rural areas where candidate has weak connections with local networks
11.4223 Modernisation theory predicted that expansion of media exposure would increase political participation but in Japan it led to alienation → Urban residents are typically more pessimistic and cynical about politics than R residents possibly because of more awareness of scandals and electoral law violations reported in media
25.700 Media in Japan is focused on national affairs - Little coverage of individual candidates' campaigns + little clear information about candidates mainly focused on party messages 701 + This led to increasing partisan importance whereas before focus was on candidate that that partisan affiliation 699
11.443 Urban cynicism may also be because left of centre parties have basically been in opposition since 1955. Constantly out of
Working Notes 16

power and give feeling of hopelessness among left-party supporters re: changing status quo with vote
Conclusion 250 words)
Summary, what I did in the essay, the contribution this makes to this field Wholistic explanation for why voter turnout is low in Japan
Global variables: Do your conclusions confirm this or have you found something new?
Fit somewhere:
25.697 Conservative politicians emphasise their record and positions than party affiliations
Further research: Campaign finance laws
Stuff about 1994 reforms etc a bit more under URD.
LDP domination is reason for low turnout because: porkbarrel spending and control of electoral system weakened other parties – growing cynicism
Income inequality grew both during the bubble, and in subsequent years. This has reduced voter turnout as more homogenous social groups are correlated to
Working Notes 17

higher turnout.

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Rural depopulation

Post by VanillaEssence »

TL;DR JA has been a bad influence. It prevents new farmers easily entering agricultural sector, and has promoted shitty farming practices. It also does not benefit farmers in the prices they pay for produce. Japanese farms are too small which makes farming profitably difficult. Countryside enjoy pork-barrel spending during the boom years but that has mostly dried up now.

I would also say that city dwellers are used to the conveniences of city living - especially rail transport. I think it would be hard for City dwellers to move places with no or little public transport. I hope work from home helps rural populations but it’s going to take a lot to repopulate. I’m very far from an expert on this topic so I’d really like to research more.

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Post by jaman »

Fascinating insights. I think Japan is lucky that it is quite compact and well developed so even remote areas are not that far from civilization (vs Australia for example).

@zasso love the image comparison!

I believe Hyogo and Niigata are national strategic special zones for agriculture, promoting among other things making it easier for private sector to buy up farmland, and farming automation etc. Does anyone know if it has had any measurable impact? It would be interesting to A/B test areas in Japan (eg comparing the result of allowing private non-farmers to buy land in one region, vs allowing companies to buy in another, and measuring along lines of population/output/income/akiya etc). This kind of testing is common in my line of work (tech) and quickly allows you to determine what works and what does not.

There’s an interest article on JapanTimes showing the interest in rural land has gone up somewhat (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2020/ ... 19-nature/). It will be interesting to whether this leads to any lasting impact.

Ultimately though, the primary goal of the government in Japan (and most other places) is probably “growth” (in terms of GDP etc), which is most efficiently achieved by concentrating everything into the big cities and over promoting tourism. Increasing focus on national food self sufficiency and being ecological may be a step in the right direction but unless these goals are given a monetary value equivalent to GDP and friends, they will always be secondary.

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Post by Zasso Nouka »

I honestly have no idea how to encourage people to move to the countryside but think it may be more of a cultural shift rather than anything government does but could be wrong.

It would seem to me that currently young people move to the big cities because that's where the good jobs and bustling nightlife are and whilst companies maintain the current office working environment that would be hard to change. That maybe a positive that comes out of Covid-19 providing things don't go back to normal after it has been cleared up.

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Post by donguri »

I've been living in northeast Aichi for the past 3 1/2 years, the town population is currently at about 3,100 and we lose about 100 every year. When the population reaches 2,000 or so, it can no longer be a self-sufficient town and either enters "village" status or becomes subsumed into a larger neighboring city. That means that we have far less say in the town affairs, we become way down the list of concerns for the city government and local programs /incentives are likely to disappear.

Maintaining infrastructure is another challenge as population and tax revenues decrease, and one of the biggest issues is the lack of health care. Until the past year we had a functional hospital, one where people could be hospitalized, receive dialysis treatments and so on. Its services are gradually being whittled away and a new hospital that is basically a super clinic is being built. Medical services are a big deal, obviously, for the aged population already here, and lack of them are a huge drawback for potential new residents.

Our town has quite a lot of requests from potential new residents, and we get a few new folks each month, but the pace of people dying and those moving (graduating school, work, elderly moving to the city with their adult children for medical services....) is greater than the new faces. Furthermore, it takes time to get people moved in to a rural area. Unless it's a U-turn situation, newcomers need help with finding a place, often times that's an Akiya that requires a good deal of repair and maintenance, getting people in the community on board and introductions made.... a lot of the aspects that make life here good are also the points that slow change down. There is no easy to rent, move in next week mansion here.

Tourism may help local businesses, but it doesn't change the population. That said, I'm not particularly interested in some big company putting up a factory and bringing in a bunch of workers either.

Personally, I like the small town scene and don't care much for conveniences, if I needed those, I would've stayed in the city. It's all a grand balancing act. For our town, we could benefit from a bit of population growth.

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Post by DocDoesFarming »

jaman wrote:
Wed Dec 09, 2020 8:19 pm

- do you see any material impacts around you? What does a typical affected town look like? (Eg over n KM from a population center so it can’t be used as a commuter village/town? Or not unique enough to be used for tourism?)
Seeing loads of shuttered up shops in the town or village centres where we are is a bit depressing, they definitely look dead or lifeless at times.
As far as Schools go because of the decrease in children they have one large school that is a Kindergarten, Preschool and Middle School all in one. Before moving to where we are we had a tour of Tenei village to see what that area was like, they had a fairly large school that was housing only 4 or 5 students, all of different ages.
Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.