January 14, 2021
In Japan, overcrowding in cities and rural depopulation are serious long term social problems. These problems are compounded by a declining birthrate and an aging population. Many young people in rural areas tend to migrate to cities in pursuit of their dreams or a modern lifestyle. So, the question must be asked, are urban areas more attractive than rural areas?
※Three major metropolitan areas include Kanto (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba), Chubu (Aichi, Gifu, Mie) and Kansai (Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Nara).
Source: Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan
The Appeal of Rural Areas
To date, migrating to rural areas was very difficult when taking into consideration the education of children and the living environment. It is more convenient to live in urban areas when factoring in work location, childcare, medical support, and transportation, to name a few.
The social impact of COVID-19 has changed how rural areas are perceived. Because of the spread of telecommuting and online classes, the movements of people in big cities has gradually decreased. Also, crowded areas in urban cities increase the risk of infection, so the option of working in rural areas has become more appealing. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for local governments to reanalyze ways through which they can begin regional revitalization.
The Future Trend of Travel
In the era of COVID-19, travel to far away destinations has been seriously hampered. Kaji Hoshino, a representative of Hoshino Resorts, a Japan-based international operator of ryokan, has suggested a new way to travel and revitalize depopulating areas through what is called "micro-tourism". "Micro-tourism" is a new travel style in which travelers visit nearby tourist spots within an hour from one’s home, stay at nearby hotels and inns, and explore the local attractions.
For Japanese people who have moved to urban areas to pursue an urban lifestyle, “micro-tourism” can be a way through which travelers can discover many attractions that were previously unknown, despite their close proximity. Therefore, this local tourism movement decreases the amount of money and time spent on travel, and it will lead to the rediscovery of the local charm of a region and improve local affection.
Source: Hoshino Resorts “Micro tourism”
Promoting Local Consumption
The restaurant industry is also an important way in which rural economies can redevelop. During the state of emergency, a movement for local consumption spread throughout Japan to save hard hit local restaurants.
According to a survey of changes in consumer behavior caused by the spread of COVID-19 by Sumitomo Mitsui Card Co., Ltd., crowdfunding and Furusato Nozei (Japan’s hometown tax donation program) has risen sharply since April 2020. In this crisis, people who want to help others in need are becoming increasingly motivated.
During the pandemic, restaurants communicated to consumers that ordering take-out was the best way to support local restaurants and encouraged people to order takeout.There are many ways to promote local restaurants, the most influential being through the use of SNS. Several local restaurants started to use the hashtag “yell” (eeru in Japanese) in order to convey the urgency of the situation on advertisements.
Restaurants would sell takeout to people who were interested in their region and would post their food on SNS in order to promote the local food. Customers would buy the food and post it on SNS with a hashtag for the region, thereby encouraging consumption from local restaurants. This campaign does not require complicated procedures or approval from the local government, so it is easy for restaurants and consumers to participate and this movement has spread to several areas in Japan. The Beppu Yell Meshi movement conducted in Oita was a prominent example. The movement aimed to promote specialty dishes in Beppu through the cooperation as mentioned above by restaurants and citizens.
Rediscover Attractions in Your Hometown
The impact of COVID-19 has not been solely negative, it has also led to opportunities to support regional rediscovery and tourism. Local attractions have been promoted by citizens through the micro-tourism movement and local consumption movements such as the Beppu Yell Meshi.
In order to promote both micro-tourism and local consumption, communication with consumers is essential. The key to successful regional regeneration is to support local businesses, wherever you live. Also, providing a sense of contribution and a feeling that an individual is supporting the local community is important. These feelings of fulfillment from support local economies will be one of factors that drive rural revitalization movements. If these movements spread in Japan, even after the pandemic ends, Japan will become a more attractive country that highlights the charm and individuality of each region. In addition, every local area has potential charm, and respecting the individuality of each area can lead to the regional revitalization in Japan.