Japan encourages locals and foreigners to drop in on smaller towns and the countryside

Almost two decades ago, Yoshifumi Yano worked at a travel firm in the bustling city of Osaka and, upon hearing that a certain hotel known for its onsen – or hot springs – was put up for sale, impulsively decided to visit the smaller town of Wakayama Prefecture. Yano experienced the hotel’s amenities first-hand and, after having spent one night there, purchased the business becoming one of the first “I-turners” in the area. An “I-turner” is someone who dwells in large buzzing cities having to adjust to a fast-paced environment but eventually moves into smaller and less condensed towns either for a more peaceful environment or to seek for better opportunities in areas with significantly lesser competition.

 

Photo credit to: https://www.japantimes.co.jp

Yano says, “I have young people on my staff who have moved here from the city for the same reasons that I did…They can live more cheaply, have more time for themselves and get more recognition for their work. They have changed their mind about life in a small town.”

 

The government of Japan has been taking active measures through the promotion of tourism in order to encourage people to move back into smaller towns. This is due to one of the country’s major concerns that local nationals and foreign tourists alike are attracted to the sights and sounds of large metropolitan areas and as a result, smaller towns would be left deserted or abandoned.

 

Developing tourist attractions while maintaining cultural heritage in the outskirts of large cities have resulted in people gradually moving back into these smaller areas. Having a lot of sites in small towns registered with the UNESCO World Heritage list is also a huge factor in bringing in more tourists from all over the world to visit these attractions.

 

With this, the government of Japan hopes to encourage more “I-turners” and maybe even “U-turners” – one who has been accustomed to living in large cities but moves back into his hometown. Brendan Barrett, a professor at Osaka University, adds that, “A move from Tokyo to the countryside can be very attractive, but the challenge for the I-turn or the U-turn family is to be sure that their employment prospects will be stable…Sadly, in a situation where the population of rural communities is rapidly shrinking and aging, the local tax base will continue to decline and public services contract and job opportunities will disappear.”

 

Reference: Doing the ‘I turn’: Japan taps tourism to lure city dwellers to emptying villages

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